La Chancla: Inception of a Personal Dual Language Vision

“If dual language educators, school administrators, and district leaders don’t support and/or understand dual language programming and biliteracy instruction, students will never reap the full benefits of being in such a program.” – Dr. José Medina; January 12, 2018; SDCOE Dual Language and English Learner Conference; Keynote Address

As I sit to type this article, I find myself feeling exhilarated, having just delivered a keynote address that focused on the importance of cultural proficiency in serving language learners, as part of a dual language and ESL conference in California. I am blessed to be able to serve in such a capacity, and also, because my vision for dual language service is clear in my mind and my heart, thanks to my Abuelita Juanita, her chancla (slipper), and the motto that she lived by – lo que se dice, se hace. That which you say, you do.

Photo: La Chancla: Inception of a Personal Dual Language Vision

Some kind colleagues, have once or twice, referred to me as a transformational leader. Humbled by their words, I often tell them about my greatest mentor – my Abuelita Juanita. In my mind, I am and continue to be…Junior (Yu-nee-or), my Abuelita’s leadership student who needed her strong mentorship. Juanita was with me, on that California keynote stage, at times, speaking through me, although physically she has been gone for several years now. You see, she is the one that taught me about transformational leadership and growth mindset, long before those were educational buzz words.

My Abuelita Juanita was 94 years old when she passed away in May 2015. She died several days before I was to walk in the graduation ceremony where I would officially receive my doctoral degree. La Juanita, as I lovingly sometimes called her, was so proud that one of her grandchildren was a Doctor of Education. She told me that she wanted to see a lot of pictures of the ceremony so that she could show them off to everyone she knew. Juanita also asked me if all the teachers at HPES and RBES, where I used to be a dual language school principal, knew that I was graduating. You see, my Abuelita knew she was “famous” because everyone I worked with, every audience I addressed, understood that she was the one that taught me the mantra that I live and serve by, “lo que se dice, se hace.”

I was already living in the Washington, DC area, but I was able to travel to El Paso, Texas and cross the Puente Libre to see her in Ciudad Juárez in February 2015. She and I had spoken on the phone and she asked me to come see her. She said, “tal vez no dure más de unos meses, Junior; quiero verte una última vez.” She wanted me to come see her because she did not think she would be alive for more than a couple of months and wanted us to be together one last time. My Abuelita had not been well for a while, and I replied that I would take some days off from work to visit her, but only if she promised to get well – that this, would be one of many more times that we would get to see one another. On Valentine’s Day, I hugged my Abuelita Juanita for the last time. My greatest leadership mentor and teacher had passed away.

Photo: La Chancla: Inception of a Personal Dual Language Vision

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At the time, I did not anticipate that her words, and this scene, this chancla act of love on her behalf, as she taught me about the importance of leading by example, about assisting others with honor, would be the impetus for my service as a dual educational leader.

It started with Juanita’s chancla. When I was little and my Mamá and Papá were working at the textile factories, my Abuelita would take care of my brother Gilberto and me. When I would misbehave or lie or not study or not do what I said I would, la Juanita would grab her chancla and chase after me, saying, “Junior, lo que se dice, se hace. Ya te dije, tienes que saber vivir la vida con honor para que puedas inspirar a la gente.” Once in a while, I would see the chancla fly by me, as she reminded me that if I was not a person of my word, then no one would follow or be inspired by me. At the time, I did not anticipate that her words, and this scene, this chancla act of love on her behalf, as she taught me about the importance of leading by example, about assisting others with honor, would be the impetus for my service as a dual educational leader.

Throughout my life as a son, a husband, a brother, an uncle, a friend, a teacher, a principal, and now serving on behalf of the Center for Applied Linguistics – across the country and abroad, my Abuelita Juanita has and continues to be with me. Wherever I serve, I speak of my mentor Juanita López Arellano Rosales Hernández. She was born in 1921 in a small town near Durango, México where she was never given the opportunity to go to school. My Abuelita never went to college, never owned her own home, never read to me as a child, never showed up to Grandparents’ Day at school, and never knew how to help me with my homework. And, although she could only write a couple of phrases in Spanish at the time of her death, you must understand – she taught me so much more about serving those that need it most, inspired me to be the best educator/advocate/human being, and taught me more about vision and leadership than any educational research article or Ted Talk video ever could. If given the opportunity, she would have made an amazing dual language teacher and leader.

Photo: La Chancla: Inception of a Personal Dual Language Vision

Juanita was forced to marry a man she did not know, while still a teenager. This was a common practice at that time in her small town. By the age of 28, and having given birth to 5 children, she escaped her abusive husband and relocated to Ciudad Juárez. Alone and with little money, she crossed the Rio Grande each day in search of a better future for her children. One by one, she managed to bring each of her first five children from Durango, to her new border city. My Mamá and my three youngest uncles would be the result of her new life and marriage in Ciudad Juárez. My entire life, I saw la Juanita working, working, working, and working. She was a maid, a tortilla maker, a seamstress, a flea market sales lady, a baby sitter, a single parent, a hustler, and an Abuelita. Her dignity and grace was strengthened by her beautiful dark and calloused hands. And, as she threw la chancla, offering me wisdom gained by life experience, she ensured that one day, I would be able to stand in front of many, as a dual language educational leader, striving to create educational access for all students, and tell her story.

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QUOTE: We can all strive to inspire. We can all grow from working side by side with each other. And above all, we can aspire each day, to be people who do, what they say they will do.

There is a dual language school in Texas, where, although I am no longer the principal, to this day, all know the story of my Abuelita Juanita. When you walk into the cafeteria, or a classroom, or the library, you can state, “lo que se dice,” and students will reply, “se hace” and come to a level zero for additional instructions. The students at the dual language school can tell you about Mr. Medina, the founding school principal, and his Abuelita Juanita. They all understand how with a chancla and a motto/vision, we can all learn to be leaders. We can all strive to inspire. We can all grow from working side by side with each other. And above all, we can aspire each day, to be people who do, what they say they will do.

Photo: La Chancla: Inception of a Personal Dual Language Vision

In the third edition of the Guiding Principles for Dual Language Education (GP3), the resource used most widely across the country and abroad, to implement and continuously improve dual language programs, there is a focus on having a strong vision for a dual language program, the need for clarity when delineating the program structure, and finally, the importance of having dual language educators/administrators fully understand the three pillars of dual language. La Juanita never had the opportunity to read this resource, nor did she find out before her passing, that her nieto, her grandson, Dr. José Medina would be one of the authors. However, my Abuelita always understood, much like delineated in the GP3, that in order to serve, one must do so with integrity, passion, and clarity of vision. After all, ¡lo que se dice, se hace!

  • The Guiding Principles for Dual Language Education was written as a service to the dual language field and is available free of charge at www.cal.org/gp3
  • Follow me on Twitter @josemedinajr89 and use the hashtags #LoQueSeDiceSeHace #JuanitaIsWatching

One thought on “La Chancla: Inception of a Personal Dual Language Vision

  1. It is a vey eye-opening story that should reflect how small details in our lives might help us impact other people’s lives

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