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Editors' note: Author Mayra Vasquez-Chavez is an English major at ASU. During 2018-2019, she served as an intern in the Department of English communications office.
My sister Livier Ojeda is many things: an ASU alumna, a daughter, a teacher. Becoming a red T-shirt-wearing-activist for education reform was something she didn’t expect.
Ojeda was born in Colima, Mexico and immigrated to the United States when she was seven years old. She’s lived in Arizona since, but has retained a connection to her first home. “I never lost my roots,” she says. “I still love to listen to Mexican music, speak the language, and watch telenovelas.”
Transitioning to a new land was not an easy feat as Ojeda entered the school system with little assimilation to American culture. Having to learn a new language and adjust to a new environment while keeping up with the academic material—with few resources and little help—are just some of the barriers immigrant students face. In the midst of a growing and heated immigration debate, it’s becoming more difficult for immigrant students to succeed in school.
Ojeda’s own immigration experience gives her great empathy for these students, believing they deserve to be welcomed and supported in the classroom, “We’re here to thrive. We have dreams that we want to accomplish. We want an education and a chance for opportunity.”
In the end, Ojeda mastered the education system she once struggled to navigate; she became the first person in our family to graduate with a college degree, having earned a BA in elementary education from ASU in 2006.
Ojeda says she owes her fifth-grade elementary teacher, Mrs. Camacho, for driving her educational and career aspirations. “[Mrs. Camacho] was so enthusiastic, caring, and a role model for me to look up to as a kid,” Ojeda says. “That’s how I wanted to be.”
No one expected the pace of change their activism would spur, or its continued resonance into the next political cycle.
It’s this power of teachers to inspire students that perhaps led to their power in politics in 2018, as the Red for Ed movement swept across the nation. A place like Arizona, where the K-12 public education system consistently ranks poorly, was destined to become a movement epicenter. An education system with overcrowded classrooms, underpaid teachers, and inadequate resources makes it difficult for the most prepared student to succeed, let alone those who face barriers like language acquisition, poverty, or lack of home support. That’s precisely why Ojeda and so many other Arizona teachers were at the forefront of Red for Ed, proudly donning red shirts and accessories. “It was time to do something for the education system.”
But no one expected the pace of change their activism would spur, or its continued resonance into the next political cycle. Ojeda acknowledges the importance of the small successes achieved but recognizes that the movement isn’t close to being done yet, “We did it for the kids. Students deserve a better education and teachers deserve better resources. We’re still working to get those things.”
Image: A Red for Ed flag at a protest hosted by the Arizona Education Association at the Arizona State Capitol complex in Phoenix, Arizona, April 30, 2018. Photo by Gage Skidmore on Flickr.