Much to celebrate, much to mourn

One of East LA’s most celebrated educators, Jaime Escalante, passed away March 30 in Reno, Nevada from complications of cancer. Mr. Escalante, the former Garfield High School teacher, proved that supposedly “unteachable” Chicano students could excel given high expectations, high patience, and perseverance in providing them the right skills. The 1988 movie “Stand and Deliver,” starring Edward James Olmos, dramatized the important impact of Escalante’s persistence as a math teacher to prove no child has to be “left behind” if they are respected, challenged, and given the human-to-human resources that good teachers provide in the classroom. Mr. Escalante, a native of Bolivia, came to the US at age 33 without knowing English. He was already an accomplished science and math teacher in his country, but he returned to school to master English and become a certified California teacher. I’ve had a history with Garfield High—as Mecha Central organizer in Eastside schools in the early 1970s (when I met my first wife, a Garfield alumni)—and later as a speaker to students there and other schools over the years. Most recently, I’ve taken part in community partnership meetings surrounding the new Esteban Torres High School that is supposed to draw around 400 to 500 students from the overcrowded Garfield campus (and other local campuses). A few months ago, we were asked by the creators of teacher-community pilot schools to bring Tia Chucha’s Cultural Center & Bookstore to the new campus. East LA currently has no bookstore for the close to 200,000 people of the unincorporated areas (and around 500,000 to a million people if we include the other Eastside mostly Mexican/Central American communities of Boyle Heights, Lincoln Heights, El Sereno, Highland Park, among others). As part of LA Unified School District’s Public Choice process, Esteban Torres High School will be home to five teacher-created pilot schools—the East LA Performing Arts Academy, the Humanitas Academy of Art & Technology, the Social Justice Leadership Academy, the Renaissance Academy of Urban Planning and Design, and the Academy of Engineering. Support for the design teams came from the Humanitas initiative at Los Angeles Education Partnership. LAUSD School Board finally accepted this proposal—although much work still has to be done. This is something to celebrate. The community partners include Inner-City Struggle, which has fought for years for the new school, Pan American Bank, Bienvenidos (which plans to build a wellness health and mental health clinic), East LA Classic Theater, the LA Education Partnership, as well as Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore. Plans to open the school in the fall have moved forward, although the bookstore/cultural space component may not happen for another year or two. I also need to note that Tia Chucha’s on Sunday, March 28, celebrated our 8th anniversary at our Sylmar site. Around 300 to 400 people came through throughout the day. The Young Warriors, our youth empowerment project, provided certificates and stipend checks to about ten young people from middle schools and high schools nearby for taking part in a two-month workshop curriculum sessions at Tia Chucha’s. We had Danza Azteca (including workshop participants, lead by Monique), Son Jarocho music (from our workshops, lead by Mapache), and a drumming circle that included workshop students. There was also an Open Mic that brought poets, performance poets, guitarists, singers, and others to the stage. In the end, Trini read her poem and both Trini and I gave thanks to all those who came to celebrate our “dream of community empowerment”—Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore. We should also celebrate that on March 31, President Barack Obama signed a proclamation declaring March 31 as a national holiday honoring Cesar Chavez. This is long time coming and much deserved. And Trini and I celebrated twenty years of marriage on March 31 with a nice dinner downtown accompanied by my brother-in-law Tony Cardenas, LA City Councilperson, and his wife Norma and their children as well as our two boys (and a couple of significant others). c/s

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.