Jaime was born in La Paz, Bolivia. Both of his parents were teachers, so it was no surprise that their son came to love learning. He attended college and earned his teaching degree in mathematics. Becoming a teacher himself, Jaime soon got married and had a son. By the time he was in his early thirties, he had developed a reputation for excellence throughout his twelve years teaching math and physics in Bolivia. However, he wanted to provide a better life for his family, and decided that they should move to the United States.
Arriving in California, they moved into a single room that Jaime’s brother-in-law owned. Jaime needed a job urgently, but although he possessed the knowledge and experience to teach math, there was a clear barrier preventing him from doing so: he didn’t speak English. He would have to learn the language if he would ever be able to teach in America, but he also needed to support his wife and son in the meantime.
At the age of 33, Jaime interviewed with the gruff, sour-tempered manager of a local restaurant, who was hiring someone to clean and bus tables. Jaime got the job, and soon was sweeping, mopping, and scrubbing the restaurant’s dirty linoleum floor. The once-renowned Bolivian math teacher was the only non-English speaking employee at the establishment, and it represented a new challenge in his life. But he knew the situation wouldn’t be permanent, and tried to take what he could from it. He was anxious to communicate and interact with new people, wanted to learn, and was determined to make things happen.
Jaime decided to attend Pasadena City College, which happened to be right across the street from his job. He went to classes in the evenings after he finished work, taking English, math, and electronics, all while learning the language of his new country at the same time. He had always been a good student, but with a full-time job, a full load of classes in a new language, and a family, it was the most difficult time of his life. Every night after classes were over, he was in the library studying until the security guards asked him to leave.
Even though he was actually making more money in the restaurant than he had as a teacher in Bolivia, the family struggled. But Jaime was determined to reach his goal of being able to teach in the USA, and knew that the education he was getting would enable him to do so. For four years, he continued with the evening classes, until finally he graduated with a degree in Electronics.
After finishing school, a plant located in the northeast part of Pasadena offered him a job as an assembly line supervisor. He continued with his schooling, finishing a second degree in Mathematics, and worked his way up in the company. Eventually, due to his skills at solving production and electrical problems, he was offered a supervisor's job in a new plant in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Jaime declined the offer. Moving to Mexico was not his goal.
Finishing his education at Cal State, Jaime immediately received teaching offers from several Los Angeles school district officials. He had his pick from three senior high schools in different areas of the city that all had large Latino student populations. Finally, after all his hard work, he was going to be a teacher again.
Jaime went on to become one of the most famous educators in the United States. He began teaching at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles, where drugs, gangs and violence were everyday facts of life. Despite these conditions, Jaime was able to motivate a group of students to take and pass the AP calculus exam. At first, The Educational Testing Service invalidated the scores, believing the students had cheated, but the pupils retook the test and passed, making Jaime Escalante a national hero almost overnight. The story was dramatized in the movie Stand and Deliver, which depicted Escalante’s efforts to help the underachieving Latino students beat the odds and realize their own capabilities for success.
As you pursue your goals in life, remember the Passion First mindset, which teaches that, if you want to do something extraordinary, your dreams must leverage your strengths and interests, align with who you are, and matter greatly to you. When all of this is in place, you will feel your best and perform at your best. As Jaime Escalante put it, “What a person truly needs to succeed is el deseo de triunfar… the desire to triumph!” This sort of desire only comes when you take a stand and pursue your most authentic passions.
Until next week...