April 2016 Inspired2Educate Winner

Elizabeth Ramos Torres, Math Educator
Colorado Early Colleges Parker
Parker, Colorado

Being an immigrant in this country has been a difficult journey. I grew up in a small town where there were very few other Latinos. Racism and xenophobia was a normal part of everyday life. Due to the stress of not being white, I began to internalize the racism and hate myself. I despised my skin color, eye color, and hair color. My name is Elizabeth, and I remember distinctly yearning to be a blonde like one of the Sweet Valley Twins named Elizabeth. I remember sitting on the bus just admiring how beautiful this Elizabeth was in comparison with my ugly self. Somehow, I hated who I was and wanted to be another person. I was ashamed of my language, culture, and everything that was related to my Hispanic heritage.

Then I started 4th grade with Mrs. Vasquez. She was a large woman who was tall and rotund. She spoke both Spanish and English, which was amazing, because I realized that there were other people who were bilingual like myself. She taught us Colorado history, including the history about the Spanish and English settlers, the miners, the Mountain Men, and of course the Native Americans. It was through being a student with Mrs. Vasquez that I realized that I had a rich cultural heritage and history to celebrate. She helped me to realize that I was Native American and Spanish. She also helped me to gain pride in my family, my heritage, and myself. It was from those days on that I began to dream that one day I could become a teacher.

Mrs. Vasquez essentially helped me to stop hating myself. She also planted the seed of education into my soul. I remember I won a contest that year for reading the most books in the entire 4th grade. I was also identified as gifted and sent to another school once a week for gifted and talented classes. I can also say that I finally mastered the English language with help from Mrs. Vasquez.

In essence, I am thankful to have had a teacher like Mrs. Vasquez. She helped me to survive in a neighborhood where immigrants were not always welcomed.

Years later when I began to teach elementary school, I even used some of the same methods that Mrs. Vasquez used for classroom management and as projects. I came full circle and got to teach 4th graders in Denver Public Schools about the Spanish and English settlers, the miners, the Mountain Men, and of course the Native Americans.

Today years have passed and I still have fond memories of Mrs. Vasquez and her vivacious personality. I truly believe that today in my Math classes where I teach high school students, I emulate Mrs. Vasquez in certain ways and am proud to say I am an immigrant who is a teacher.