Born: San Luis Potosi, Mexico
Primary Language: Spanish, English, a little French
Work: Teaches Spanish at Ivy Tech Community College
Education: Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering from Instituto Tecnologico de San Luis Potosi; certifications for English as a foreign language and Spanish as a foreign language
Family: Husband, Jose Contreras, works at Cummins Inc.; son, Jose Arturo Contreras, 26, graduated from Indiana University with a degree in graphic design; daughter, Leticia Contreras, 22, student at Ball State University, majoring in early childhood education
Hobbies: My main hobby is helping people, and I have found a lot of opportunities to do that. I volunteer at Developmental Services Inc., also at Volunteers in Medicine, (BCSC) Family School Partners and at Classico Monetaria, a program that helps Hispanic people get their elementary and secondary school certification. I am also a member of the Columbus Parks Foundation and of the Patient Family Advisory Council at Columbus Regional Health.
● Why did you come to the U.S.?
I came here for my husband’s job as a technical adviser at Cummins.
● When did you come to live in Columbus?
We came to Columbus eight years ago.
● Tell me about your work.
I developed the higher levels (Spanish III and IV) to be taught online and now they are approved to be taught statewide at Ivy Tech. It surprised me when they asked me to certify to teach Spanish online because I thought to learn a foreign language online would be very difficult.
It happens that you have all the tools to get it done. They do recordings, I record my feedback, and they have all the skills they need to learn the language.
● What do you like best about your job?
What I like most is that I have been able to develop a close relationship with people that I have never seen, and that’s really cool. Since my main purpose in life is to help people, it is very rewarding. Sometimes a student will tell me it’s the last class they need to get a degree, but they will be traveling and need to do it online. I have people taking classes from different places around the country and around the world.
I have had students take the class from South Korea, Italy, London and there was a very dramatic case of a girl taking a class from Egypt during the riots. She wasn’t able to deliver assignments because a bomb destroyed the Internet server and she was worried, but I told her not to worry because she had a great excuse. The best compliment I have gotten from my students is that I am more than a teacher, I am a friend.
● What were some of your first impressions of the U.S.?
My first impression was everything was so big and bright. The first trip was to Chicago and at that time San Luis Potosi was 700,000 people, so Chicago was a lot bigger. I made the usual trips from Mexico to San Antonio, Austin, Brownsville and Orlando to Disney World with my kids. I like the organization because most of the cities here have well-planned infrastructure.
● What were some of the most difficult things to adjust to?
Being away from my family was difficult because 90 percent of my relatives live in San Luis Potosi, and I am very close to them. My parents are still alive, I have three brothers and two sisters and about 18 nieces and nephews and five great-nieces and -nephews. Being away from them, even though I was with my husband and my kids, was very hard.
● How have people reacted to you in Columbus?
It surprised me at first because when people heard me speaking to my children in Spanish, if they had children, they would grab them and take them away. I didn’t understand, but later someone explained to me that they had the wrong idea about Spanish-speaking people. Many of the Hispanic people working here at that time worked on the farms, and there was a general idea that people speaking Spanish were here illegally.
Now there are a lot of well-educated Hispanic people who have moved here, so I think the (perception) of Spanish-speaking people is changing. Now, I can tell you that besides that experience in the first months, I haven’t had any other bad reaction from anyone. I started working with the kids around town and letting them know that not everyone speaking Spanish was here illegally.
● What do you miss most about your home country?
Definitely my family.
● You have been in this country for a long time. How do you stay connected to your home culture and friends/family?
I try to go back to Mexico twice a year. When I had my kids, every week I took them to a different member of my family. Everyone in my family knew my kids, so I wanted my kids to know everyone in my family. Then I started family gatherings, and we meet once a year with everyone on my mother’s side and later in the year with everyone on my father’s side.
As you can imagine, the reunion is huge because there is always somebody new, somebody who got married and unfortunately somebody who has died, but we all get to see each other. Also, thank God for the Internet. It keeps me working, and it keeps me connected with my family.
● What advice do you have for people coming to Columbus?
Columbus is a special place in the United States because it’s not a typical American city.
The diverse population makes it easy to connect with your own cultural experiences, and CAMEO is a good way to do that. You can learn as much as you want, and you don’t face the issues that the big cities have, but you have everything you need here. You go downtown, and you feel great just walking down the street.
● What is your favorite place to visit and why?
I love to go back home to San Luis Potosi, but we also have a second place in Puerto Vallarta, (Mexico). We bought a time-share when my kids were very young, and we used to go twice a year. Right now it’s just my husband and I going there, but we feel like we are home. Even though it’s a tourist place, it has a little-town flavor, and we love to go back there.