Last week Jaime Escalante died at the age of 79. We got to know him thru the movie "Stand and Deliver." He was such an inspiration to this Latina.
I owe a bit of my science career to Senor Escalate. See the movie came out in 1988 and I'm betting that I saw the movie in 1989. This means I saw it at that critical time as I was moving from middle school to high school. This is the point where many girls with mad math skills bail on math and science. There are a number of theories, but the most prevailing one is that the social pressures to be "not smart" overwhelm girls and well, we kinda fulfill that framework.
My freshmen year of high school my algebra teacher asked me to consider taking two math classes sophomore year so that I could finish calculus senior year. WHAT? Yup, I was being asked to take geometry plus algebra II with trig in one year. And I did it. Well, at least the two math classes and was on track for completing calc senior year, but I bailed due to a super rough junior spring semester with a crazy teacher who killed my math-esteem.
But while my teachers were super supportive, I kept hearing Senor Escalante's voice reminding me to have ganas. So while I didn't take 5 math classes in 4 years, I did do 4 in three.
What Senor Escalante really did for me is show me in no uncertain terms that as a Latina, I matter as much as anyone. The scene where he goes to see Ana's father at his restaurant...well, I can't even begin to express what that scene meant to me. While I was raised by my parents to believe that I could and would do anything I set my mind to, I was keenly aware that as a Latina, as a girl, there was a cultural indifference to my success.
Thus seeing in a movie, a Latino man stand up to another Latino man for the benefit of an up and coming Latina, gawd, I knew then that I couldn't let my gender or ethnic background hold me back. That despite this overwhelming feeling of dread, I could do it. Because no matter what his students looked like, how thick an accent they had, what kind of family they hailed from, he believed in them. And I was aware of my privilege, not as keenly as I should had been, but I knew I had advantages over the kids in the movie and the ones who lived doors down from me attending a different high school. For one, I knew calculus as offered in my high school. And if the kids in that movie could overcome their challenges, if Senor Escalante could believe in them and guide them to a new path, well, gosh darn it, I had nothing to complain about.
"Stand and Deliver" is often touted as a movie about Latino success, but many miss the explicit message that us girls can do it too. It may seem obvious with the gender make up of the class, but that one pivotal scene AND then Ana returns to class! Oh, hell...it marked a point where machismo was told to sit the fuck down and let us all thru.
I'll always know that a negative times a negative equals a positive, but I'll also always know that an educated daughter is worth more than a a couple of hands in the kitchen.