The Real Lives Behind Your Mentors

By Mara Durán

Little do we know about the lives of the teachers at Pima Community College (PCC). We don’t stop to think about who they are or how they have managed to get where they are. The truth is that all people come from a cultural background that we can learn about to enrich ourselves through their experiences full of struggle, growth, and inspiration. 

Meet Guadalupe Annette Cruikshank. Her family and friends know her as Lupita, but everyone calls her Guadalupe at work. She is a professional woman: dynamic, kind, grateful to life, and a Spanish and translation teacher at PCC since 1998. 

She is also a Pima graduate. Guadalupe remembers experiences at Pima that enriched her learning. She mentions that her teachers and classmates played a vital role in her development, which motivated her to return to Pima to become part of the institution’s teaching staff. 

“I am literally a product of Pima, it is an environment that distinguishes itself by helping students improve their lives through teaching and the diversity of opportunities it offers for student development,” she says.

One of Guadalupe’s first accomplishments was receiving her degree as a Bilingual Secretary with an associate’s degree in Business Administration and International Business at PCC. She continued her education at the University of Arizona with a Bachelor’s degree in Latin American Studies, a Master’s degree in Spanish Language and Literature, and to top it all off, a Doctorate in Latin American Literature.

What she enjoys most about her job is seeing the progress of the students, helping them better develop and adapt to the demands of a college education. She feels delighted when she sees the result of her efforts when her students graduate. She says she feels great satisfaction when she learns that her students put the Spanish language into practice at work, when traveling, or even with other families. “It gives me satisfaction to know that I have been part of their intellectual growth and that I have somehow inspired them to see the world differently and positively.”

Although Guadalupe is originally from Tucson, she spent her childhood in Magdalena de Kino, Sonora, Mexico, where she attended school from preschool through high school. She learned to speak perfect Spanish at a very young age, but that did not give her any school community privileges. The children called her “gringa” because of her American features. She was even physically assaulted when she entered high school. 

She emigrated to the United States to continue her studies. She encountered an equally bleak picture. “Even though I knew English, I kept an accent,” she says. “So I was treated as a foreigner here too.” 

At her job, supervisors discriminated against her for being “Mexican,” assigning her more work without a pay raise. “It was difficult to be a foreigner in both countries. They didn’t accept me in one environment or the other. The teachers were neutral and treated me well.”

This experience made it very clear to her how important it is to take care of people; to help them adapt to new environments and how good treatment towards others makes a big difference in our passage through life. 

Guadalupe recognizes that it was easier to excel in the United States because she could work during the day and study simultaneously at night in Pima. Continuing on to college required maintaining the same pace because she had to support her mother and her home. Guadalupe explains that, unlike American students, her classmates in Mexico only had to focus on school which allowed them to finish college faster. She also mentions that foreign students in the United States can work only at the school they attend, which helps them learn about other aspects of American culture. 

Guadalupe’s great-grandfather, grandfather, and mother were also teachers and served as inspiration in her development. “I saw them as silent heroes who imparted their knowledge for the good of all,” she says. “I bring in my blood the love for teaching. My grandfather Plutarco read me books. He taught me the alphabet and numbers before entering kindergarten. He bought me a microscope where we saw butterflies and ants; also a globe where I learned geography.”

For Guadalupe, educating is a beautiful slogan. “Through teaching you can change the world, open people’s eyes to new perspectives, stories and cultures.” In her case, speaking a second language is a door that opened new perspectives for her. She also considers it an opportunity for her students to have a better economic remuneration.  

Guadalupe knows that the journey through the classroom as a student or teacher generates stress, which, when not handled properly, impacts each person’s performance. She recommends her students to “take a deep breath, analyze the situation, look for the positive side and make a plan to solve the problem with patience and success.” She believes that the experiences we live through lead us to learn, mature, and develop patience and empathy.

There are no lives without problems. Going through difficult situations is our daily bread. However, learning to raise our voice to ask for help, express what we feel, and above all, not stop fighting to achieve our goals is important, although it is a complicated task. The good news is that we can all get ahead. Such is Guadalupe, who was a victim of bullying and discrimination when she was in school. It was challenging to set limits. “I learned that brute force is not essential. I did not deserve that treatment from my classmates. I could defend myself. I learned that the strength of words was more powerful than physical strength and that the more I excelled in my studies, I would achieve greater personal and professional success in my future. As I grew up, I learned to help others avoid discrimination and report bullying so that the people who perpetrated it would be reprimanded.”

Guadalupe recalls that hostile comments came from sources steeped in ignorance and jealousy, so it is essential for students and anyone else to focus on their goals. Once they achieve what they want, they can set new goals, for life is a constant learning process. “There are always new things to try that will bring us more satisfaction and fulfillment,” she says.  “There is always hope for something better. I would like to continue to encourage and guide students to pursue a career that will be fulfilling; to provide them with professional and financial stability and be an example of inspiration to others in the future. As they say, ‘pay it forward.’”

The law of “we reap what we sow” comes to life when we see our efforts’ results. This is what Guadalupe’s story reflects. She has built a combination of several factors: the fruit of her dedication, the passion for doing something she loves, the learning from her mistakes, the determination not to let herself be defeated, and the recognition and use of her talents to achieve it. Surely the next time you think of her, you will think of a generous person who, despite adversity, got ahead and helped others balance and succeed in life through education. May this be a small formula to reach your goals.

 

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