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It’s A Wonderful Life 1

It’s A Wonderful Life: An Autoethnography

Juan Jacinto Hernandez

Texas State University – San Marcos

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It’s A Wonderful Life: An Autoethnography

As time passes one sees the changes that have occurred in the world and within ourselves. The

visions of yesterday and today help us predict and even determine outcomes for our future.

Reflecting on my past gives me an understanding of why I am who I am, while at the same time

giving me insight into what I need to do to make changes, individually and as a citizen. Although

events and experiences do not wholly make up a person, they are precursors and effectors of

many choices we make throughout our lives. Excerpts of my life may foretell where I am

headed, but different decisions to these events could have easily foretold a polar opposite or very

different future. Destinies are created, not foretold.


When discussing my life, the upbringings of my father and mother are critical in the role

they play for my future. My grandfather, Pedro Hernandez, was a hardworking man who came

up from Mexico with his father during the Mexican Revolution to find work. He moved near

downtown Dallas in an area where many Mexican immigrants moved to named Little Mexico.

While living here, he noticed the lack of Mexican foods and products that were needed in the

community, so he began finding the products in various markets and selling them from his home.

By the time he was forty, he had an established store, became very distinguished amongst the

community, and married my grandmother, Socorro, who was only eighteen. The following year,

1934, my father, Juan, was born.

Although my father grew up in wealth with his four other siblings, my grandfather remained

humble and taught him work ethic, but some parts of his life do give glimpses of being

privileged. My father completed his Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration at North

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Texas State University. When attempting to find work in the late Fifties in Dallas, he faced

racism during the application and interview process and was never hired to work. He began

working for my grandfather at the store, and finally took over the store throughout the Sixties

and late-Seventies.

He met my beautiful mother, Hermila, in the early Seventies, and married her in 1971, of

whom they bore my sister, Juliana, in 1973, myself in 1974, my brother, Macario Fidel, in 1976

and tragically, my deceased brother, Ernesto Jaime, in 1977. My mother went into deep

depression when her son of only two days died of health problems. Her life is a tragic life. Born

in 1944, she grew up very poor in Mexico in the city of Saltillo, Coahuila. She entered illegally

to the United States with her sister in the Sixties. In Dallas, she worked at Sears doing tailoring

orders. She met my father through mutual friends at a party. They had us shortly, thereafter.

After I was born, my father decided to buy a house, but needed to determine what area he wanted

to raise his children. This, I believe, is a critical point for my father. One of his final two choices

would be a destination of who we would become in regards to our environment. The two choices

were a prominently white and wealthy area of Dallas known as Turtle Creek and a middle class

neighborhood that was going through a change in demographics known as Oak Cliff. According

to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Turtle Creek neighborhood, in the year 2000, was 11.6 percent

Latino, 2.7 percent Black, and 89.2 percent white. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Oak

Cliff neighborhood, in the year 2000, was about 72 percent Latino, 14 percent Black, and about

13 percent white. He decided on the latter, stating that he did not want us to be sheltered in a

community that separated itself from the rest in terms of class. Making more than $200,000 a

year, my dad could have easily afforded to live anywhere in Dallas, especially in the 1970’s. My

parents still currently reside here.

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When my mother lost my brother, her depression became so unbearable, that she attempted

suicide. My dad put her in one of the best psychiatric hospitals, while at the same time having to

take care of the store and us. He decided that my mother and our family were more important

than the store, so he sold it to my aunt. My father began his own menudo business that only

required a few days of the week to work so he could try to take care of my mother and raise us.

Growing up, and even today, my mother is in and out of depression, manic and bipolar, with

suicidal tendencies and attempts. When she is well, she is full of beautiful life and one of the

most exuberant persons anyone can know. Only those who are near her know why she is

sometimes unresponsive and melancholy.

Early Years

Through all of this, I was very successful in school. Never missing a day of school from

kindergarten through the eighth grade, I thoroughly enjoyed our Catholic school which is located

in Oak Cliff and is predominantly Mexican-American. I received my first ‘B’ grade in the sixth

grade and was valedictorian of St. Cecilia’s Catholic School in eighth grade. My father always

pushed us to do our best, and although my sister and brother struggled, I had the gift of a

photographic memory that gave me an advantage in school. I began teaching at an early age.

Among other things, I would record stories for my brother on cassette tapes so that he could

follow along with his book. I was a very quiet and shy student, so I was always looked as the

ideal student. Teachers would support me and use me as an example for all to see.

As the valedictorian in 1989, I was given a half year scholarship to Bishop Dunne Catholic

High School in Oak Cliff. The day I received the award was bittersweet. Although I had earned

all but one award that evening, my father asked me why I had not won that one award. This
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caused me to intrinsically question my father of what his motives were. Was I doing this for

him? Why did he not congratulate me on all of the other accomplishments? Is he intentionally

attempting to hurt my self-esteem? It was a small turning point in my life to make the decision to

slightly rebel. I began high school with a different perspective.

At Bishop Dunne High School, the population of students was about 45% Black, 35% Latino,

and about 20% White and Asian. I easily made friends with many of the students from all

backgrounds. It was my first encounter with students from other cultural backgrounds that were

not Mexican. I went to parties at the mansions of my White friends and hung out at the library or

restaurants with my Black and Mexican friends. I began to falter in my grades early on. I was

making A’s, B’s, and C’s my first couple of years, when I was expected to make only A’s. At the

time my father was not making nearly as much money as before, but he had put over $300,000

invested in a food company to save up for our college tuition. Around this time, everything


A New Life

The year was 1991. Although the year began as most other years with the typical changing of

grade levels, the same friends, a predictable future, it changed my life forever. This is the year

my father lost all of our college money when the food company went bankrupt, my mother had a

relapse of her manic/bipolar depression of which she had to be interned to a mental hospital

again, and I had to, for the first time in my life, go to public school. This series of events changed

my entire outlook on life.

Halfway through my school year as a junior, I left a sheltered Catholic high school into a

public high school in my area. I saw the other face of Oak Cliff. It was not a nurturing
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environment that I entered but more like an unfamiliar jungle with familiar faces I saw everyday,

but never noticed. I grew up in their neighborhood, but their views of the world and their future

were very different. This was a time when gangs were prevalent and peer pressure was very

difficult to overcome, even I succumbed. My morale and enthusiasm began to wane in just weeks

of being in this new world. Students not respecting teachers. Teachers not respecting students.

The teachers and students both seemed to be in their own survival games – the teachers in the

school, the students outside of the school. It’s funny that at the same time their safe havens are

the polar opposites. I could scarcely remember any of my teachers at Sunset High School, but I

do remember them giving us the answers to exams the day before the exam. I learned more about

myself these two years than all of my years in private school. I did prevail, went to community

college, struggled, but continued and completed my degree in education at Texas State

University in 1999. I did not get into the field of education because of the wonderful teachers I

had in private school, but for the teachers I have forgotten in public school.

The University

Texas State University allowed me to see myself for who I really was – someone who wanted

to make a change. I joined M.E.Ch.A., a Chicano student organization that allowed me to express

my perspectives on injustices that I experienced on campus and in this new world of a university.

We began a newsletter that brought different issues out into the school population. It caused

negative and positive reactions, and was ultimately able to shut down a conservative newspaper

on campus. With a fellow Mechista, we soon began a Latino fraternity on campus called Sigma

Lambda Beta that was already internationally established, but not on our campus. We gathered

other men who were interested and began the process of becoming members. A life changing
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moment occurred in the Spring of 1998 when on our way to one of our meetings, the car with

two of our brothers following us crashed into a tree killing both of them instantly. Witnessing the

deaths of two close friends made me realize how precious and short life could be. I am here for a

reason, for I was supposed to be in that car that day, but my fraternity brother chose to ride in the

car. To this day, I am the Texas Alumni Association Chairman for our fraternity in the hopes that

young men with some of my ideals and beliefs will find a place of community and brotherhood

in a place that can be so alien to many. The experience of the university allowed me to pull

another part of myself out of my shell which gave me the courage to be self-expressive and more

apt to giving than receiving. It gave me a lesson for the real world.

My Careeer

I wanted to return to my neighborhood to give as much as I can by putting a stick in the wheel

of oppressive education that is still prevalent in many schools. The only way to do this is to live,

build relationships, and be a symbol in the environment you want to change. I want to be an

insider looking still deeper in. I came back to Dallas in 2000 with an agenda. I worked at John F.

Peeler Elementary School in Oak Cliff for 6 years. I wanted to do the most I could do with my

bilingual students and help them become the best they could be. The first year I taught, I

developed an afterschool program with my students and parents. I would take up to eight

students with a parent twice a week to the library in downtown Dallas. They would read books,

learn to use the computer, read with me, read with the volunteer parent, etc. We would also take

special trips to museums, the movies, special events, etc. I wanted to expose them and their

parents to as much as possible so they could see what is available within their community and

their world. At the micro-level, I wanted to make them conscious of their environment, and give
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them a vision to change their perspective of alienation from what their new world had to offer

(Freire, 2000). The following year I began the Cub Scouts program at our school to get the boys

at our school involved in new activities after school and on the weekends. I began getting respect

by most of the students and staff at the school as an unselfish teacher who truly wanted the best

for his students. The following year I was nominated and chosen as Teacher of the Year for our

campus. I was also hired by the Boy Scouts of America to become a Program Manager. This

would entail working on a weekly basis after school with five to seven different groups of boys

at as many campuses in the Oak Cliff area. This also became next to impossible to do because of

my starting a Master’s Program at SMU for Bilingual Education. Scheduling meetings, student

trips, camping trips, and night classes became a whole job in itself. I did the Scouts for about five

years, my Master’s degree in two years, and student trips all six years of my career in Dallas.

I was enjoying everything about my life in Dallas. Knowing my community, my students, my

scouts, my colleagues, and being near my family made me content. It all changed when I made a

trip to San Marcos to attend an alumni event with my fraternity, Sigma Lambda Beta. I met my

beautiful wife, Yvette, again for the first time (I had met her before three years earlier). I came

down every weekend to see her in San Antonio, unless I had a scouting event. We fell in love

quickly, and on February 15, 2006, I asked her to marry me. We were married seven months later

on September 23, 2006. Because she was so close to her family, I did not want to marry and take

her back to Dallas right away. I began working with Northside ISD in San Antonio as a second

grade bilingual teacher in August of 2006. I did not feel at home at all. It was an alien world to

be in San Antonio. I felt like I was starting all over, and everything I did in Dallas was gone. I

was not involved in any programs. I did not know the students, the community, or the staff. All

of the teachers treated me like I had no experience. I did not feel valued as a person or as an
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educator. The only satisfaction I received at school was my students. They received me well and

showed me their strengths. We bonded quickly and they are the ones who have made me feel as

being a part of the community.

The Possible Future

Last Spring, I had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Guajardo through my brother. We emailed

and talked briefly about the doctoral program at Texas State University. I was convinced that this

program would give me a better understanding of what I would like to do as an agent of change

for my community. When I was accepted into the program, our plans to move back to Dallas

changed. I decided this would be an opportunity to gain knowledge at a more in depth level that

would give me the will and strength to continue the struggle to give the best to my community.

At the present time, I am currently still working at NISD but with a different outlook on the

school and its environment.

The future holds unexpected hurdles, but with experience comes knowledge. This knowledge

is the springs that will bound you over anything, and not bound you down. I hope to gain the

wisdom to become a revolutionary in the realm of education. My brother and I would like to

form a school in the Oak Cliff area that is specifically designated for youths who do not seem to

fit into the current educational system. As Noddings(2007) states about Dewey, everyone who is

related to the process should have insight and a voice in its decisions. We want students who

have the will and resolve to find purpose in their lives. We want parents who share in the

educative process, as contributors within the schools and as citizens in their community. We want

educators who share the same principles while at the same time offering new and creative

approaches to fulfilling a promise to students of an education that is not taught to them but
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instilled by them and for them. As an educator, I believe we are solely meant to sustain and exert

a passion for learning in our students so that they may become successful life long learners that

exhibit the qualities of critical thinkers.


Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum Int. Pub. Group.

Noddings, N. (2007). Philosophy of education. (2nd ed.). Boulder, CO: Westview Press
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U.S. Census Bureau. (2007). Fact Sheet. U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved November 7, 2007, from

U.S. Census Bureau:****00







U.S. Census Bureau. (2007). Fact Sheet. U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved November 7, 2007, from

U.S. Census Bureau: