A Hispanic Woman
By Madiha Kark
On a Monday afternoon, about four weeks ago I walked nervously towards the Liberal Arts building at McLennan Community College. It was sometime in 2013 that I had last stepped into a classroom before completing my master’s degree. There were two reasons I was walking into Spanish 1411 that day. First, my lovely husband not so subtly pushed me into it. Second, I wanted to speak to my grandmother-in-law on FaceTime. She is a small (under five feet) adorable lady who speaks Spanish and has a heart the size of Texas.
Full of dread, tired, looking for a single excuse to quit… I walked into that class a little less than excited.
Before I saw Seir Lopez, I heard her. I heard an excited voice “Hola chicos, ¿Como están? ¿Bien? She walked in quickly, but not rushed, a bright full smile on her face, her jet black hair flowing in the air like a well maintained mane. “This is going to be difficult,” I thought.
Seir has a way of making you interested in a language you’ve never learned. As far back as she can remember, it’s always been like this. She has always loved to teach. When she was child, the importance of education was stressed in her house. She was born in Mexico, but moved to Waco with her family when she was four. Her parents had humble beginnings, they were self-taught and hardworking but didn’t have much education. Being new in the United States they wanted to give their kids the opportunities they didn’t have. One of the rules they had in the house later shaped Seir’s identity. The children could only speak Spanish at home; English was reserved for school.
Seir struggled through high school and even thought about dropping out, but her parents were adamant to push her towards higher education. When the time came to choose a college, MCC was always her first choice. It was affordable, had a small community and wasn’t going to be overwhelming. “From the first semester I felt right at home,” she says.
At MCC, Seir had a chance to be on both sides of the desk, as a student and as a teacher. She never felt she had a free pass because it was a community college and the classes were easy. “I have had some of my hardest courses at MCC and I have the utmost respect for the professors.” Even today she remembers the mentors who guided her and credits them for their role in taking her where she is today. She now teaches at Baylor and MCC but doesn’t find any difference in the standards of teaching.
I don’t remember too many details of that first day of class, I just remember what happened after. I went home and my husband, being the supportive man he is, gently and with a hint of guilt said it was ok if I wanted to drop the class. I had had an 8 a.m. – 8p.m. day. What he wasn’t expecting was my answer. “I am not dropping the class, the professor is so much fun,” I said with excitement.
It’s not easy making nearly 30, 20 – 40 year olds excited about learning Spanish. My first impression of Seir was that she was sassy (in a good way) but fun. “I try to integrate my bubbly personality and my passion for teaching Spanish. I take my craft very seriously,” she says. It took her time to develop her teaching style. At first it was too strict or too lenient. After 12 years in the field, she has had time to reflect and tweak her methods. “It comes from experience,” she says humbly.
Behind all that experience is a lot of hard work and persistence, traits that were instilled in her from a very early age. Seir was the first in her family to go college. She ate self-motivation for breakfast and spent the last year of her high school constantly outside her advisor’s office. “I couldn’t ask my parents for help with SATs or scholarship applications, I had to do that myself.”
She was a pre-med major at MCC. She wanted to be a doctor because she wanted to make more money. “When you are young you don’t realize what you love, you just think about what would make money.” A Spanish class at Baylor helped her find her true passion. She got a zero on the first assignment in that class and it lit a fire under her. Seir was determined to prove to the professor that she was better than that. She promised herself to never get a zero again. She succeeded. It was a turning point in her life. “It was tied so closely to my roots, my identity and who I am, a Hispanic woman.”
If someone says she can’t do it, “It lights a fire under me and I rise to the occasion. I’ve always been a leader type figure.”
For Seir, Spanish is not just her language, it’s at the core of her identity and who she is. She thanks her parents for insisting on their rule of speaking Spanish in the house. It helped her form her own identity while being a part of American culture. Their mantra was “know who you are and where you come from.”
I am still taking her class, and this article doesn’t mean I get preferential treatment or a pass on an assignment! It has given me an opportunity to know a Seir a little more personally and for that I am grateful. Gracias maestra!
Madiha Kark is a Marketing, Communications and Photography Specialist at McLennan Community College. She holds an M.A. in Journalism from the University of North Texas. She loves to travel, cook, and read nonfiction books.
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