The HUB of New Mexico had the pleasure of meeting Ruben Quezada, author of the popular book For Greater Glory: the True Story of Cristiada the official companion to the 2012 film of the same name, published by Ignatius Press. The Cristiana is a chronicle of the Cristeros War (1926-1929); a war by the people of Mexico against the atheistic Mexican government.
Ruben shared with us the story of the teacher that changed his life when he first moved to the United States from Mexico. We are posting his story here to encourage all teachers out there to let you know – YOU DO MAKE A DIFFERENCE! Thank you to Ruben’s teacher, Mrs. Martinez, and the impact she had on this very talented and very successful man! Thank you Mr. Quezada for your inspiration!
YOU’LL BE ALRIGHT RUBEN
A Teacher’s Comforting Words
by Ruben Quezada
I’m walking through the school halls next to the school Secretary on my way to my new classroom. I was new to the school and new to this country. America. I was scared.
As we approached the classroom, the secretary said something in English I didn’t quite understand as I stared at the classroom full of kids.
Before walking in I straightened myself up and tried to get rid of the lump on my throat. No luck!
As we went in, I saw all these faces staring at me and I could feel my face turn red from embarrassment. I walked to the back of the classroom and sat there waiting for the teacher. When I finally came face to face, little did I know what a difference she would make in my life. It was my first day of school in America!
I had just arrived from Mexico. It was a Monday, November 1st 1976. We had arrived in Azusa, a small town near the San Gabriel Mountains in Southern California on Halloween night 1976. I still recall my first reaction to this new lifestyle and these new surroundings. “There’s no way, no how, will I ever get used to living here. I want to go back home. I miss my friends and lifestyle in Mexico.”
My parents brought us here from Mexico as my father’s work possibilities diminished in Ensenada. Having a large family to support, the need for work was immense and he had a responsibility to fulfill.
I on the other hand, wanted to go back. I missed my friends, my school – my life. I often thought of the friends I left behind in Mexico. The language barrier I encountered would only make my life here worse. My days in class were spent in deep thought while the teacher would continue with her class projects and my recess breaks were spent in isolation, and often crying.
Mrs. Clara Martinez was her name. She was my new teacher. Her kind smile made me feel a little bit better. She looked at me and saw the frightened little kid inside and said in Spanish, “No te preocupes Ruben, todo esta bien” (“Don’t worry Ruben, you’ll be alright.”). I sighed in relief. Finally, someone understood my fears…and spoke Spanish J.
During class time Mrs. Martinez would give her lesson to the class and afterwards would take time in between her lessons to teach me the ABC’s and 123’s. She once said it was like teaching a baby how to speak. She really took extra care to make sure I learned it quickly, and efficiently. As my first year in school rolled on, I began to blend in with the kids the best I could. It was a new language and culture, however I still thought of my home and friends in Mexico, for I still missed them terribly.
I was fortunate enough to have Mrs. Martinez again for 6th grade as well. By the time I finished elementary school, I had a comfortable grip on this new language and I was now being transferred to middle school. When I found out about school ending I asked: “What is middle school?” She said: “You have to go to another school. You passed!” I said: “If I have to go to another school…then I don’t want to pass! I want to stay here with you.” She laughed and just patted me on the back as she ushered me out of her classroom. As ridiculous as it was, I didn’t want to pass 6th grade. It was like my security blanket being yanked away once again. I wanted to stay.
I think I was the only 6th grader who cried while walking home from school that last day of summer in 1978. Reality settled in and I knew I had to move on.
Fortunately, some of my friends were going to the same school and I thought I could just hang around them and I’d get by just fine. In 7th grade I had a nice teacher who couldn’t speak Spanish, but I was comfortable there and I was determined to make it through. Many times during my embarrassing moments in class due to my mispronunciations I felt like running back to elementary school to Mrs. Martinez. Man did I miss her! Even though I struggled, I was able to pass on to 8th grade.
Summer of 1979 passed and I had to register for my new classes as an 8th grader.
Same process each year: Review your classes, your classroom and your assigned teacher.
When I read which teacher I was assigned to……………my jaw dropped! It was Mrs. Martinez! She had actually transferred from elementary to middle school and I was in her classroom once again! I was so overwhelmed. I’m pretty sure I was the only 8th grade student yearning for summer to end in 1979.
That year was without doubt the best school year I can ever recall. I had my favorite teacher, I had mastered English very well plus I had more friends to have fun with and enjoy. I also joined the soccer team and the little extra popularity certainly helped. We were league champs in 1979 & 1980 and my name was actually on a trophy. Life was great!
Before my 8th year graduation in June of 1980, Mrs. Martinez had a nice chat with me. She told me that she was very proud of what I had accomplished in four years and she told me to really try hard and graduate from high school. When I questioned her comments…she gave me plenty of advice and I remember her saying once again: “Don’t worry Ruben, you’ll be alright.” Only God and Mrs. Martinez were my true heroes that helped me overcome the barriers. That afternoon I should have thanked her profoundly for the years of love, protection and dedication she had given me, but at that very moment, I didn’t think of the right words to say. I was just a kid. And I just walked away with a simple goodbye.
I moved on to high school and I oftentimes thought of her. I graduated from Azusa High School in 1984 and followed my education to a community college. It was there that I began to realize of what she had truly done for me. It was her patience and love of this Mexican Kid that truly made me succeed.
It’s funny how we treasure the true value of a friend until they are gone – especially a teacher.
Now, after high school graduation I realized I had missed the opportunity of a lifetime to let her know how much she meant to me and what a difference she had made in my life. I had spent many days trying to locate Mrs. Martinez but to no avail. Last I heard was that she retired and had moved to Arizona.
A few years back (1996) I got booked on a business trip to Arizona and I thought of her once again. I called the local school district to see if they had any information to contact her. Unfortunately, due to employee privacy, it would take some time to get that information. When I arrived in Arizona, I spent the little free time I had calling from the local directory phone book trying to locate her. No luck.
About three days after I returned from my trip to Arizona, I arrived home from a tough day at the office and I was listening to my phone messages when I heard this: “Hello Ruben, my name is Dan Martinez, I am Clara Martinez’s husband. We received your letter and she has been meaning to call you, but she is very shy of taking credit for helping so many children in her life. Right now we are visiting California, and as you probably know, she is now retired and we are living in Arizona. We are staying over at my mother’s house for a couple of days. It is now 4:00pm and Clara doesn’t know I am calling you, but we are having dinner at Marie Calendars near your house. If you receive this message within the next hour or so, it would be nice to surprise her”
I could not believe my ears!
I drove up to the restaurant like a maniac praying they were still there. As I walked in I rushed right in without checking with the hostess. She must have thought I was rude or crazy. I went from table to table trying to locate the same kind-faced woman and her kind smile I remember from long ago.
Nothing! They have probably gone home by now, I thought. I could not believe it!
When I realized they weren’t there…………I began to walk towards the exit, when a man touched my shoulder and asked: “Are you Ruben?” he asked. I said, “Yes.” He said: “I’m Dan Martinez… I knew it had to be you”. I asked: “Where is she?” He pointed towards a booth and said, “She’s in there. Go and surprise her.”
Before walking in I straightened myself up and tried to get rid of the lump on my throat. No luck!
I felt like I was about to meet her for the first time and I became the little fifth grader all over again.
When she saw me she cusped her hand over her mouth and cried. I moved over to her side of the table and we just hugged. We talked for about half an hour and caught up about our past, and our present. It was one of the greatest moments of my life.
I was finally able to thank her for all she had done. Before we parted that evening she said those warm, tender, assuring words I had heard many years ago that made me feel safe, “Don’t worry Ruben, you’ll be alright.” My eyes welled up with tears as I smiled at her and walked out the door feeling pleased.
It has now been twenty years since that wonderful surprise and I can rest assured that she knows how much of a difference she made in my life.
To Mrs. Martinez and all the wonderful teachers in the world – – thank you for taking the time to help those frightened kids…who simply need a word of comfort. Your efforts will never be forgotten.
By the way Mrs. Martinez…………….I’m doing all right!
Your grateful student,