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A Blessing to Us- Karen Cordero and Linda Marquez

Linda Marquez is a mother who is committed to getting the best for her children. When her oldest child, Jorge, needed help with Spanish and math, she said she prayed and prayed for help. Jorge was born in the U.S. and was 10 years old when the family moved back to Oaxaca. Although he could speak Spanish, he didn’t read or write it. He also needed help with math. Although there were private options available, they were all expensive. Finally, Linda’s sister told her about a place her own children had gone for years – The Oaxaca Learning Center. Linda says it was literally the answer to her prayers, but added “I don’t know why it took my sister so long to tell me about it!” Jorge is now almost 21 and attending university where he is studying music.

Linda’s daughter, Karen, was about 3 when the family moved from Los Angeles to Linda’s home state of Oaxaca. Linda would have preferred to stay in the U.S., where she felt there was more opportunity, but her husband wanted to return to Mexico. One of Linda’s concerns was that a good education was hard to get in Mexico. This has proven to be true for both her children, but TOLC has been there to offer what has been lacking in the public schools. “The Oaxaca Learning Center has been a blessing to us,” she told me.

Now Karen, who is 14, is a student at TOLC and loves it. She especially appreciates the open and accepting atmosphere at the center, where “all opinions are valid.” The fact that TOLC offers a psychological education, as well as academic, is a big draw for Karen. She has attended most of the workshops offered by the center – from abuse in relationships, to gender equity to painting– and feels that they have helped to expand the students’ vision. Her mom agrees, saying that a big advantage is that TOLC helps students see opportunities that they couldn’t imagine before, and the center helps them meet people who can help them. Karen expressed gratitude to the donors, teachers, and the founder – Gary Titus – and recognized that “not everyone has this great opportunity.”

And it is a really great opportunity for a young woman who loves learning so much. When asked what her favorite classes were, Karen replied: Spanish, English, music, art, chemistry, and math! When asked if there’s any subject she doesn’t like, she said she likes history, but doesn’t like having to memorize all the names and dates. She attends school in San Lorenzo Cocaotepec but says the atmosphere is very chaotic. She prefers her classes at TOLC: English on Monday and Wednesday evenings, intercambio on Tuesdays, tutoring in math and physics on Saturday mornings and occasionally online English classes on Sunday. She looks forward to returning to in-person learning in January, 2023, where it is easier to avoid distractions!

As if her studies weren’t enough, she also plays piano and sings, designs and sells bracelets, and bakes and decorates cakes. Sometimes her dad says she has no time for him, but with a maturity beyond her years she says now is the time for learning and she needs to take advantage of it. “I’m busy, but it’s okay.” Although her mother worries sometimes that Karen doesn’t have enough free time, she says that it’s important for her daughter to learn as much as she can now while she’s young and can learn fast, has the center to help, and doesn’t have the added burden of work.

Besides her natural intelligence, talent, and motivation, Karen has the good fortune to have a supportive family. She is very close to her older brother, who is constantly encouraging her. She and her mother “talk about everything,” in English, as well as in Spanish. Linda has dreams for Karen - she feels her daughter has the talent for something big - but insists that Karen can do whatever she wants. Her mother just wants her to be happy. At that, Karen got a mischievous smile and asked if she could be “a Barbie.” We all had a good laugh.

As our interview was ending, Karen suddenly had something important to add. She said she wanted everyone to know that she loves languages, and has studied several, each for a different reason: English, because her mother is fluent; Korean, because she likes Asian cultures; Hebrew, because it is uncommon; French, because it was offered at TOLC; and Danish, because it’s the origin of her name. I could only think to myself how fitting it was that this ambitious young woman would not be content with only knowing two languages!

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