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Check Out Susana Elizarraraz’s Story

Today we’d like to introduce you to Susana Elizarraraz.

Hi Susana, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
My parents immigrated to the United States in 1984. They immigrated in the name of education and livelihood. As a child, my mother instilled the importance of education in us. My parents knew how tough life could get without the opportunity to pursue an education – they both had to drop out in the 6th grade to work for their families in Mexico. My father talks about the dream of becoming a doctor, my mom, a teacher, following in the footsteps of her mother.

Throughout my life, my family’s hardships put a stamp on my determination to get an education and support my family. Throughout my K-12 experience, I, too, began to hope to one day become a teacher – especially as I supported my mom in navigating a disability (she is hard of hearing). I would come home from school, bright-eyed with the possibilities given through education, and try to teach my mom to learn to read and write. Though we didn’t quite get there, I, naturally, became a teacher.

My school experiences made it obvious that more diversity was needed – I saw very few girls who looked like me in my books, very few girls whose mother’s were like mine, whose families were experiencing the struggles of immigrating to a new country and learning to navigate systems like those in the U.S. This motivated me, even more, to get into education and I pursued my Bachelor’s in Elementary Education. As the first in my family to graduate from high school and pursue post-secondary, I continued to see the barriers in place in education that make it difficult for families like mine to access it.

After attaining my Master’s in TESL and teaching for six years, I saw more than ever the difficulties that BIPOC communities face to navigate education and pursue their goals. I transitioned over into a non-profit, now working as the Vice President of Educator Supports of the Latinx Education Collaborative supporting educators working to navigate systems to support students like me and beyond.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle-free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
One of the greatest challenges I’ve faced is navigating higher education as a first-generation student. I was ill-prepared to take on the challenges of being an adult – paying bills, working full-time, maintaining a car – and to add onto that the difficulties of being a full-time student were almost too much. At 18, my mother, little brother, and I moved into an apartment, we were on our own.

I had to learn how to use a check, how to read a lease, and how to navigate healthcare for my whole family, while also learning how to build a school schedule, what credit hours meant, and the overall nature of higher education. The way I was able to manage this I credit to my mentors and to my mother – all people who were there for me in different ways. My mentors, to help me navigate a system they had (or were), and my mother to help keep me safe and healthy.

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
The Latinx Education Collaborative is a non-profit working to increase Latinx educators in K-12 classrooms. We do this through community building, educator pathway exposure, and pipeline development. My role is Vice President of Educator Supports, so it is my job to use my experience as a teacher but, especially, the voice of our community members to support their needs. Whether it’s providing professional development opportunities or making space for our educators to be who they are, we use their experiences to help shape our day-to-day.

I am most proud of how committed our organization is to integrity, authenticity, and personal growth (three of our five values). These three values in particular mean that we are always listening and always learning to ensure that the supports we give are what is needed. Ultimately, we value community (our 4th value) and will do what it takes to foster a positive one too, hopefully, result in impact – student, school, family impact (our 5th value).

Is there any advice you’d like to share with our readers who might just be starting out?
My advice for someone starting out is to not be afraid to make mistakes. Through my college experience and in my early career, I thought that I should know it all. I thought that by serving my community and being a resource for other first-generation Latinos and my students that I had to know everything.

I spent many days anxious and worried about potential missteps because I didn’t want to let my community down. I would advise someone starting out to look at mistakes as opportunities – opportunities for learning and network building. A chance to learn and adjust, so that when we look to mentor or service, we have the experience that will lend to the way we do so.

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