Colorado Association of Latino/a Administrators and Superintendents LA LUZ DE LIDERAZO - A MEMBERSHIP SPOTLIGHT May 2023
Welcome to the CO ALAS Membership Spotlight. Each month we introduce you to one of our many CO-ALAS members. Let’s see what they are doing and what’s on their mind! This month we are featuring Jesse Tijerina, Director of Cultural Excellence and Parent Engagement, Greeley-Evans School District 6. Jesse shares his professional career and current bio below. You can read the diverse experiences that have led to his various leadership roles. One of our shining stars!
Career Highlights & Education
I’ve stayed close to home since graduating from Fort Lupton High School back in ‘91. Lupton is the barrio that came with me on this road trip. Grades were always good and I ran a few thousand cross country miles during those years. However, it was skateboarding that I fell in love with. In the mid 80s and early 90s skaters were relatively small in numbers, so I either skated with a couple of friends or alone in a parking lot and a waxed curb. Dope days, FR, FR. At 19 I broke my ankle, underwent reconstructive surgery, and enrolled at Front Range Community College. A couple of years later I transferred to Metro, minored in Chicano Studies, and discovered Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima. And, that discovery changed the game for me. From then on, I devoured any Brown books I could hold in my Brown hands; they became mentors and continued to guide me toward my original self. They still do. After finishing up at Metro, I spent two years as an elementary librarian in Lupton reading stories about La Llorona, Tamales, Tortillas, and Abuelitas to beautiful Brown faces willed by the radical hope and prayers from those who love them. Next up was an 8th grade group of Little Homies at the same middle school I once attended. As their English teacher, the first characters I introduced them to were Antonio and La Grande. According to the teachers before me, they were “at-risk” and they were; although, not at-risk of failure. They’d spent the past seven or so years at-risk of being educated by teachers who didn’t believe in them nor saw their original genius. I noticed this on the first day of class. There were two English teachers; the teacher for group A and the teacher for group B. I bet you can guess which group I taught. I bet you can guess which group I was a member of when I was their age. Just like we had done before them, they reclaimed it as the Brown group. That first year in the classroom inspired me to spend the next four years teaching English to high schoolers in Brighton. We read the heavies of El Movimiento, wrote poems, I finished a master’s degree at DU, and helped bring two babies into the world. Before moving to Greeley I taught one more year. There was unfinished business in my hometown and by chance a position opened up to teach English Literature (aka Chicano Literature) at my alma mater. I came home to the classrooms that deprived me of Anaya, Soto, Cisneros, Burciaga, Lalo, and all the other Brown voices. The first lesson in my gradebook was Stupid America by Lalo. (read poem here) What if I’d found the writers who were telling my story (then) as a teenager? ¿Quién sabe? Greeley has been home for the past fourteen years; it’s where my kids have gone to school and where I’ve spent my time as a school and district administrator. More importantly, it’s where I found my Brownness and the blessings that come with it.
What is exciting about my job? Earlier this year, I met a 9th grader who goes by Flaco. He’s an expert on lowriders, loves to read, loves to write, and loves being Brown like the earth; just like the words stitched on his hoodie. I visit Flaco often, bring him books and journals, and we chill. Just the other day, I asked him, What’s a question you would like to ask your teachers? Without wasting a second, Flaco responded, What did you think of me, the first time you saw me? As always, his truth stunned me like a stiff jab and I asked, Why that question? Flaco said, When I speak, they make me feel unprofessional. I say words like vato, ese, ranfla, y carnal; it’s the way I speak at home and with my Homies. Teachers see the way I dress and comb my hair and think I’m not smart. He paused before knocking me out by saying, Tijerina, I’m glowing and they don’t see me glow! Geniuses like Flaco are what excite me about the job. Words from a consejero/a: “Ojos que no ven, corazón que no siente.” How does colorblindness strengthen the educational barriers for Brown children and their families? When does it become your responsibility to fill the colorsilence? Advice you would give a new superintendent or school leader: Show up!
If you catch me outside the office, you’ll find . . . ...me reading or hunting down rare Chicano books published at the height of the Movement. (Note: El Movimiento is alive and well today. We are the Movement.) Sometimes you’ll catch me pushing a skateboard. I was able to skate again a few years after the injury. Consequently, other bones have broken along the way and I venture to say there will be another before the wheels fall off. How does CO-ALAS add value? CO-ALAS is the real deal. I believe its value added remains immeasurable and yet to be fully realized. The long term impact will be amazing. Being a member of such an organization brings me the inspiration, pride, and courage to be a better educator for Brown students. Juntos, we are witnesses to the inequities and genius our children experience and achieve on a day to day basis. And in turn, they become our witnesses.