Azusa Adult School
Susana Martinez arrived in the United States in 1982, a discouraged, frightened, heartbroken, yet determined young woman. She came to the land of opportunity hoping to overcome sadness and to begin a fresh, exciting, new life. "I knew I could make it" she says, "I knew it would take hard work. I just didn't know how much hard work." That "hard work" and her steadfast determination has helped her to become an English speaking, voting citizen who proudly possesses a High School Diploma, which she earned at Azusa Adult School. She is a wife and mother of three young men, each one aspiring to higher education himself. An esteemed, valued, six-year employee of the Duarte City Library, Susana is a proud homeowner and taxpayer, and clings to the philosophy that, "The brook wouldn't sing if it weren't for the stones."
Though the years have been plagued with frequent periods of unemployment and financial droughts, Susana has never given up. Susana's feet literally kept her family on their feet as she walked them through "empty pocket" days; walked herself to school, to her boys' schools, to the market, to short-term jobs, and to pay the bills. Her energy bent, but never broke. No matter how difficult the challenge, she always moved forward, and moves forward still.
Susana's American saga begins with her first host couple, Marie and Leland. "You gave me safety. You gave me a home. You were patient with me. You didn't laugh at my English," Susana says of them. They gave Susana the start she needed and helped her with the practical side of life in America, like how to ride a bus, do the grocery shopping, use the post office. They even helped her with church.
Susana first enrolled at Azusa Adult School in 1994. "I didn't know what a big step I was taking the first day I came to Azusa Adult School," Susana said at her commencement. "I first came just to learn English, but before I knew it I was coming to Family Learning and the PALS (Principles of the Alpha Literacy System) lab. Then I was in ABE. All of a sudden, I was taking high school diploma classes," she recalls. She credits the encouragement of the Azusa staff for keeping her focused and on task, and supporting her through the difficult and discouraging times.
There were tough times. "I had to drop out a few times," Susana admits, "because there were other things pressing in my life." Fortunately, she had a "cheerleader" in LeAnn Killam, a Program Specialist at Azusa Adult School.
"She never gave up," Susana says of LeAnn. "We just kept working one step at a time. Everytime I saw LeAnn around town she told me, 'Come back. You have a dream.' I did."
She did go back, and passed the math proficiency test. Susana and LeAnn celebrated , "jumping up and down like children, hugging and laughing and crying," Susana remembers. "I knew she believed in me."
"The world out there began to believe in me too." Susana proudly remembers. "My skills got better and better. Soon I was able to get a good job. I work at the Duarte City Library. They have helped me so much too. I practice my English all the time and always ask people to tell me if I say it wrong. I like to learn. LeAnn always kept saying "keep working, keep working, keep dreaming." I did. Just like so many in my class, I had to work as many days as possible, but I spent my lunch breaks doing homework. Sometimes when I studied at night my head would fall to the table and my family would find me asleep on my books. There was so much to do. There was so much to learn."
As Susana stood proudly in front of the other graduates, family and friends, she finished her commencement address. "Yes, it was very hard work, but here I am, dressed in my dream. we have been able to buy our own home. My husband has a good job. I have a good job. Your country is now my country. Our oldest son graduated from Azusa High two years ago. Our next son graduates this week. I am proud of them of course. But I am very, very proud of us. It took a long, long time but tonight we are very happy. My own mother is here. She came today from Mexico. She came to celebrate. She came to celebrate with me, and I am celebrating with all of you.
"Look Mom — I'm graduating!"
Susana's next goal is to become a certified translator. If you call the Duarte Library it is Susana's voice you will hear greeting you in both English and Spanish. But, her greatest dream is also coming true, to see her three sons graduate from high school and pursue college degrees. A wonderful role model, Susana has encouraged them each step of the way.