María Guadalupe and her friend Shoshana stand at the beginning of the 2017 Oakland marathon.

Courtesy of María Guadalupe

María Guadalupe and her friend Shoshana stand at the beginning of the 2017 Oakland marathon.

Running Through María Guadalupe’s Life

All I knew about my new Spanish teacher was that she introduced herself with six names, lived in El Cerrito and had a dog named River Song. Initially, I was somewhat nervous to interview her as I was not expecting her openness and enthusiasm.  Quickly I learned that María Guadalupe Muñoz Ordóñez Gutiérrez y Bernal, most commonly known as, Profesora, María Muñoz or María Guadalupe is not only an encouraging teacher but also comes from an incredible family, is an avid runner, culture enthusiast, and literature devotee.

Courtesy of María Guadalupe
María Guadalupe and her family pose for a portrait.

Immediately it was clear that María Guadalupe is passionate, an attribute that was heavily incorporated into her upbringing. María Guadalupe, her mom, and her three sisters came to meet her father in the United States when she was seven. Chico, California and all of its glory was unfamiliar at best:  “I  remember the first time I went into a grocery store in the United States; we went into a Lucky’s and I was like – what’s this- it was big and it was different.”

María Guadalupe’s arms and eyes open wide as she reflects her emotions as a young seven-year-old. Many aspects of her life were different in the United States than her familiar upbringing in San Miguel Mimiapan, a tiny town in Mexico that is barely recognizable on most maps. María Guadalupe grew up with her extended family living just next door. Every face in town was recognizable and a strong sense of community surrounded her world.

Moving to Chico, she was put in an environment where she faced adversity: “For the first year, I was in second grade, and for my first academic year, my teacher, through no fault of her own, couldn’t communicate with me, just sat me in the back of the class and ignored me.” Over the course of the next year, María Guadalupe and her three sisters learned English, primarily through T.V. and the new people around her. Grocery stores and big schools became a norm and she and her family adjusted to their new way of life.

Once high school came around, María Guadalupe completely adapted to life in Chico. She smiles and laughs reminiscing of her days of high school cross country and AP English: “The fact that I could run after school and clear my mind, it was what I channeled my energy into. I remember running in 100-degree weather, I don’t know how I did it, but I loved it.” Running with her friends and bonding over the classic running movie Prefontaine (if you have not seen it, I would highly recommend, runner or not) created not only a community for her but also a lasting lifestyle. María Guadalupe didn’t stop running when she graduated her senior year; on the contrary, her passion for the sport broadened. Currently living in El Cerrito, María Guadalupe wakes up at 4:00 AM to run before her long commute to Marin Academy. She cherishes this time as a similar reflection to what it was when she was in high school.

Courtesy of María Guadalupe
Sun rising on María Guadalupe’s favorite run in the Berkeley hills.

We begin talking more in-depth about running as I myself am an avid runner. She is quick to point out that she is, “honestly the slowest runner you will ever meet in your life; it was true then it is true now.” I am instantly impressed and can tell she is humble when she later mentions her daily runs are anywhere from 7-16 miles.

Running isn’t the only passion that María Guadalupe has held onto into her adult life. She hasn’t lived in Mexico since she was 7-years-old but makes an effort to incorporate her family roots in her daily life. Now living with her sister and her 13-year-old nephew, she believes it is important for her nephew to understand where his family came from. Though he rarely agrees to watch movies in Spanish, preferring Avengers, María Guadalupe always has “rock en español” or Natalia Lafourcade playing in her house. She tries to engage her nephew in festivities: “I make an effort to celebrate Mexican holidays that I knew existed but ignored…we make a big deal about el Día de Independencia and Día de Los Muertos, they are important to share with him…I need him to understand that this is an important tradition.”

Family and culture have been at the core of María Guadalupe’s life since she was young, so preserving these morals help make her who she is. Whether it be her annual attempt to make tamales when her nephew gets the baby Jesus on Rosca de Reyes, or creating an elaborate altar on Día de Los Muertos for her grandparents, María Guadalupe cherishes her family and culture.

It is not a surprise that María Guadalupe is now a Spanish teacher at MA due to her passion for Spanish culture and language. Growing up, however, she never dreamed of being a teacher. Entering college she wanted to be a neurosurgeon while also finding a way to serve the Latino Community. She began taking a Spanish class, as she was confident in her conversational Spanish but lacked perfected grammar. She soon realized language was where she was meant to be and gave up her scholarship to pursue her interest.

María Guadalupe decided interacting with people through teaching Spanish would be better for her than interacting with others in the medical field. She had already tutored many students and had translated books and movies for some of her close friends, so the adjustment had already begun.

Observing María Guadalupe in the classroom, her passion and dedication to teaching are evident. Her class is full immersion, yet she explains things in varied ways, using hand gestures and affirmations of “muy bien” to make sure all students understand the content of the class and feel comfortable learning the language. I can say first hand, María Guadalupe’s class is never the same, full of interesting literature, videos, and conversation.

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