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Students hear the actors of community difference


About 150 high school students around Odessa learned about the backgrounds of community figures on Tuesday as part of Leer es Saber, or Reading is Knowing.

Organized by Hispanic Heritage of Odessa and the League of United Latin American Citizens, the program took place at the Holy Redeemer Catholic Church and was billed as a Columbus Day reading program.

The event included presentations from Odessa Police Chief Mike Gerke, Fire Marshal Michelle Cervantes, Odessa High School Principal Mauricio Marquez and Marisol Chriesman, Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations and Manager of Endowment Compliance at the University of Texas Permian Basin.

The theme was AHORA, the immediate response to stroke victims.

Each dignitary described the journey that led them to this point.

Gerke grew up in Pecos on a family farm picking cantaloupe and cutting cotton. He planned to go to the University of Texas at Austin to major in chemistry. But between high school and college, he went to a party where his best friend was shot and killed. When he was 17, Gerke said he was a porter at his best friend’s funeral.

“… It wakes you up, so even when I was at UT I didn’t feel well. So I came home, I did a little work on the family farm, and at one point I said, you know what, law enforcement is where I need to be. And our theory of law enforcement and the Odessa Police Department is that there are bad people in this world. I think we saw it on August 31, 2019, when there was an active shooter. There were some mean people, but overall most of the people in this community are great people, ”said Gerke.

“So in law enforcement we say we have to focus on these really bad people and everyone else, you just make their life better…” he added.

Gerke asked the students to think about what they can do to make their community, their families and this world a better place.

Fire Marshal Michelle Cervantes was born in Alpine and raised in Andrews.

Cervantes focused his speech on the young women in the room.

She noted that it’s not easy to come in and move forward, but that changes dramatically as you see more women in positions of power.

She urged them to do what they want, to set goals, to make sure they finish school and not to give up.

“Because, again, it’s not easy for women. You probably have to work a little harder, but the rewards are great, ”Cervantes said.

Galindo said he was born in Odessa, but lived in Mexico for a few years. He said he had experienced the culture which helped him in his career as a law enforcement officer as he is fluent in Spanish.

“… But one thing I want to tell you is that you have to find something that you like.” When I was your age, when I was in high school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do either, ”said Galindo.

He added that he was blessed because he had an uncle who worked for federal law enforcement. He was able to take a tour of his uncle and realized that it was something that interested him.

“So I signed up for the academy and did what I had to do, and now, like I said, I’ve been here for 25 years. I like what I do. Every day is something new, something different. I like working with the community. Like I said, I love what I do, so my best advice is to find something that you enjoy doing and work your career around it, ”said Galindo.

Marquez grew up in Monahans. His parents came from Mexico to Texas and his father died when Marquez was 6, leaving his mother to raise Marquez and his three brothers.

” I was 6 ; my little brother was 8 years old; my older brother was 10 years old. Most people would say I grew up poor. We didn’t have much. But the truth is, I won the lottery on the day I was born… because I was born to a woman named Rosa Marquez, ”Marquez said.

He added that although they did not have the financial means, they had what they needed. He pointed out that there is a difference between what we want and what we need.

“And my mom always made sure we had everything we needed, what we called family. When I came home every day, and my brothers came home, there was always food on the table. Even though she couldn’t help us with our work because she didn’t speak English, ”she made them do their job, Marquez said.

He added that his mother knew that education would one day change the trajectory of their lives.

“When I was around your age I knew what I was going to do because I had an amazing mother who helped me along my journey. And then I had amazing teachers, coaches (and) directors who helped me along my journey. Like my head basketball coach. I just told you that I lost my father when I was 6 years old. My head basketball coach has become a father figure. Because I was pretty good, I was a team captain and sometimes I thought I was too good to train and he put me back in place, ”Marquez said.

He thanked his trainer for doing this and his teachers for helping him through the process.

Chriesman is also from Monahans. His parents came to the United States separately from Mexico.

“They met later in life in Monahans. They did not meet; they came with their family or their cousins, ”she said.

“I don’t know how many of you can relate to that. It’s a tough, tough life when you’re the first generation born here in the United States. We are stuck between two worlds. We’re stuck with our Mexican family, and I say Mexican because at the time my family came here, they were still Mexican. They were not Americanized. They have not been assimilated. They were there for a better life. And for that, I thank them. I wasn’t American either, because… the other students in my class called me Mexican. They would say there is the Mexican kid. Then they used the pejorative term because Spanish was my only language. I didn’t know English when I started school, so I was in these ESL classes. So I go back to look at my photos. I was with all my Mexican children. They came around the same time as their parents. And that’s what I was known for. I had planned my fate for me. All my parents could ask of me was (to have) at least a high school diploma. But after that, you’re gonna get married, you’re gonna stay home, and you’re gonna have babies. This is how I was brought up. They didn’t because they didn’t want the best for me. That’s all they knew, ”Chriesman said.

His parents did not push education; they pushed the work. She started working at the age of 13 in Monahans.

“It was difficult for me to participate in extracurricular activities because I needed to work, not pay bills,” Chriesman said.

She thanked her parents for this.

“They never took any of my pay for the bills. But they said if you want to play volleyball, if you want to be in the theater, if you want to go to the ball, if you want nice clothes at the start of the year, it’s up to you. It’ll really motivate you to be successful when you’re older because I wanted nice clothes, I wanted to play volleyball, I wanted to go to the ball. And they couldn’t afford it for me. My father worked in the oil field. The oil field of then is not what it is today. He didn’t make that kind of money, ”Chriesman said.

Her mother was a cook at Chriesman’s.

His family didn’t have a lot of money, but like Marquez’s family, they didn’t know they were poor and they had what they needed.

A teacher took Chriesman under his wing in his gifted and talented fourth-grade class and told Chriesman to push himself through.

All she wanted was to go to college, although she wasn’t sure what it was.

“I am the first person in my family on both sides of the family to have a bachelor’s degree. It’s in communication. My goal was to be a news anchor and I quickly realized that I didn’t want to get up at 2:30 am… ”she said.

She also said she was going to leave West Texas and never come back.

“Here we are. It’s that magnet, and you know what, it’s the best decision I’ve ever made in my life. I’ve had the most career opportunities here. I’ve worked in the not-for-profit sector I have worked with men and women with Chief Gerke’s office working on child abuse cases here in Ector County I have testified in court for these children. I stand up for kids and teens because I didn’t have anyone to do it for me. So if you want to go to college, I’ll make sure I find a way to get you there. I’m also the first one. from my family to have a master’s degree, a master’s degree in public administration, “said Chriesman.

She graduated at age 38 because she could not afford to pursue higher education after college.

“It was small steps to get to where I am now and I still have goals for myself,” she said.

She is now married and has 9 year old twins.

“If you go to school, get a trade, get a certification, you don’t just change your life, you change the lives of your children and the lives of your family,” she said.

Odessa High School sophomores Mia Madrid and Valerie Herrera, both 15, said the speakers on Tuesday were inspiring, especially Chriesman.

“They inspired me to work harder than usual, especially… the lady from UTPB really inspired…”, said Madrid.

OHS AVID Director Naomi Fuentes said it was extremely important for students to see successful people in the community.

“They need to see people like them in these positions,” so they know it’s achievable, Fuentes said.

She noted that it was also important that it doesn’t matter where you are from.

“You are not your situation. Your choices are what guides your life, not where you were born. I loved this post today, ”said Fuentes.


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