From his earliest memories in school, Jesus Gutierrez Jr. understood that he lived in two worlds.
In his personal life, he was Jesus. He spoke Spanish, listened to mariachi, and ate rolled up flour tortillas with butter. But in school, he was Jesse. He spoke English, listened to pop, and yearned for the ham sandwiches, potato chips and juice boxes that his classmates had.
Throughout his K-12 education, he lived this double life.
"I called these worlds my Jesus and Jesse worlds. The only time things would get complicated would be when those two worlds would meet," Gutierrez said.
It still hurts him to think about the choices he made whenever his worlds collided: He opted for the Jesse persona.
"School was a place where my culture was not respected; it was not deemed as worthy as the dominant culture I was immersed in," Gutierrez continued. "This led me to question the value of who I was and what I came from."
These early life experiences later fueled his drive to become an educator.
"I knew that by being a teacher I could become an agent of change that would not stand for having students experience the same indignities that I had to endure," he said.
Gutierrez began teaching English language development for one year at John Muir Middle School in South Los Angeles For the next eight years, he taught English language development and guided studies at Baldwin Park High School. He is currently in his first year teaching sixth-graders at Tracy Elementary, also in Baldwin Park.
It was on his first day as a teacher in South Los Angeles that Gutierrez knew he'd found his calling. On that day, he saw a mother kneel down and give her son the sign of the cross.
"That resonated with me because my mother practiced the same ritual with me every morning before I left to school," he said. "I knew at that moment I had the power and responsibility to fuse my students' home lives and their school lives in my classroom."
Today, his greatest satisfaction is seeing the success of students who have been marginalized by mainstream society.
"Seeing the transformation of students that walk into my classroom feeling insecure and demonstrating indifference walk out smiling with their heads held high is a true wonder."
--Alicia Doyle, Brand Publishing Writer