May 24, 2019
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Educational traditions

Part of the changing face of Fresno State can be explained by students who are first in their families to go to college. At a time when second and third generation Mexican Americans are plagued by high rates of pathologies like teen pregnancy, gangs, drug abuse and high school drop-outs, students like Teresita Rubio are running the counter-culture race of determinism.

A simple farm worker and seamstress, Rubio’s parents immigrated to Cutler from Jalisco, Mexico nine years ago. Although Rubio’s father, Salvador, now 63, had been working in the United States for much of Rubio’s childhood, the rest of Rubio’s family remained in Mexico, largely because her mother, Rosa, wanted to instill traditional Mexican values into her children. Rubio said those values were foremost Catholicism, then family and education, in that order.

“I’m glad my mom taught us those values. It’s who I am and I want to transfer that onto the younger generations,” said Rubio, who volunteers as a youth leader at St. Mary’s church in Cutler.

Familial support remains strong in the Rubio family. Nearly every weekend they gather at the nearby park or in one member’s home to share a meal. This time always includes organized activities, said Rubio. She and her sisters call and plan in the week ahead for little performances or activities to do with the children. Gathered together, the group nears 40.

Rubio, who is 13 of 16 children, was 14-years-old when she came to the U.S. Only two years later, at age 16, she graduated high school. Four years after that she had completed her bachelor’s degree and then, another year later, her master’s degree in Spanish. Now, at 23, she is completing her credential, hoping to teach first as a secondary teacher and eventually a college professor.

Rubio’s family may very well be an anomaly. Rubio’s three oldest siblings remained in Mexico, married with families by the time Rubio and her youngest siblings immigrated. Three others, including Rubio, have graduated from Fresno State with a master’s, each in Spanish. Rubio now has a niece at Fresno State pursuing a degree in pharmacy with a minor in math. Another in high school plans to go to Fresno State as a pre-med biology major.

Rubio said this reflects the value her mother places on education.

“Because she did not have educational opportunity, she is willing to do anything to provide that for us,” Rubio said.

Reflecting on her primarily Spanish-speaking community in Cutler, Rubio said she sees that there is a divide in value systems. Many of her parent’s generation do not see the value in education for their children. And in, turn, without parental support, Rubio says her peers lack the confidence or motivation to strive for more.

“I have friends who are in that position,” Rubio said, “They feel lost, like they cannot achieve what they want. Others don’t even want to try; they perceive it as too difficult.”

Many in her community, Rubio said, are also struggling with identity, something she said steers them towards pathologies, like gangs and dropping out of school, something she said she escaped by being rooted longer in Mexico.

“But, I know how they feel,” Rubio said, “They lack identity. When they come to the States at 10-years-old, they are not Mexican enough and they are not American enough.”

Rubio has come to see herself as a motivator, talking with peers or the youth mentors at her church, and hoping to convey that education is attainable and it is important.

“I make myself available, accessible,” Rubio said. “That is one of my main goals. If I can do it, they can do it. I am no different than them.”

Rubio acknowledged the difficulty in seeking education in her second language, but credited the help available, and moreover her willingness to ask for it, as stepping stones.

“The little things do not stop me from getting what I want,” Rubio said. “I don’t think there are any real barriers for students to get what they want. There is so much help, but you have to look and you have to ask questions.

“I didn’t feel that I was less than anybody else and no one in my family felt that either. We just had to work a bit harder because we came here later.”

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