I was fresh out of college, had earned a teaching credential and was in search of a job. I decided to see if teachers were needed at the high school from which I had graduated seven years earlier. The Academia Juarez is a small bilingual school located in the foothills of the Sierra Madre in Chihuahua, Mexico.
It just happened on the day I called the superintendent of the school system which had oversight of the Academy was visiting in the principal’s office. The superintendent, George L. Turley, was a former teacher of mine. “Is that Keith McClellan?” he asked the principal. “Tell him I have a position for him in Mexico City.” It wasn’t long before I found myself occupying an office on the sprawling campus of the “Benemerito de las Americas” school on the outskirts of Mexico City.
My official title was “Supervisor de Escuelas,” with responsibility for the operation of ten private Mexican primary schools located on the west coast and the southeast area of that fascinating country. My Mexican citizenship made it possible for me to work there. After three years in that role, I became the Assistant to the Superintendent and was assigned to open a new state-of-the-art library and media center on the Benemerito campus. A high school student was assigned to be my assistant. The pay he received made it possible for him to pay his tuition at the school.
Arturo Limon lived in a humble little shack on the side of La Chiquihuite Mountain that loomed over the campus. One day he was visiting an acquaintance on the campus when he was surprised by the campus director, Kenyon Wagner. “Are you one of our students?” asked the school official. Arturo knew he was in trouble. Access to the campus was tightly controlled by security
Being a poor kid, Arturo had become streetwise and knew how to survive in the alleys and marketplaces of the huge metropolis. He had acquired a meager education and wanted more but going to preparatoria (high school) was practically out of his reach.
Arturo, out of respect for the authority figure who looked down at his tousled mop of hair, dropped his gaze to his worn shoes as he responded to the man’s question with a timid, “No, senor.” Instead of the reproof that he expected, Professor Wagner asked him, “Why not?” Why not, indeed! Arturo enrolled at the school and was given a series of jobs, similar to other students, which helped him pay his tuition at the private boarding school. He eventually became my assistant.
While purchasing materials to furnish and stock the library shelves, I was invited by Encyclopedia Britannica Films to tour media centers in Illinois and Wisconsin. I told the agent that I would go, providing my assistant could go with me. It was Arturo’s first time out of the confines of Mexico City and his first of many airplane trips to come.
I was intrigued by Arturo’s creativity and writing ability. He was not only a competent scholar but he became a diligent, trusted and valued right-hand man. After I left the employ of that school system, Arturo married the lady who had been my secretary, graduated with a degree from the Autonomous University of Mexico, and moved his young family to the state of Chihuahua where he took employment with the Chihuahua state schools. He was assigned to work with the Tarahumara Indians of the Sierra Madre. He obtained a Master’s Degree from the University of Chihuahua and followed that up with a doctorate.
Doctor Limon has espoused many educational and social causes during his stellar career and eventually made an unsuccessful bid for governor of the state. The list of his scholarly publications and writings is impressive.
So, what makes the difference between the Arturo Limons of the world and so many other young denizens of the streets--that vast throng of undereducated poor? Is it something inherent in the person’s makeup that drives him or her to achieve some distant dream? Is it the opportunity that presents itself at precisely the right moment? Is it a combination of the two, or is it something else altogether? I don’t have the answer. But I will always marvel at Arturo’s insatiable desire to learn and to better his situation. And I will always hold Kenyon Wagner in high regard for being willing to ask an unknown kid, a shabbily dressed potential student, “Why not?”