Friday, September 21, 2018

Meet a Roadrunner: Maribel Valdez Gonzalez ’13 is a symbol for strong Latina women

Meet a Roadrunner: Maribel Valdez Gonzalez ’13 is a symbol for strong Latina women

Maribel Valdez Gonzalez was featured in Shepard Fairey’s “We the People” protest poster series.

(June 14, 2017) -- Meet Maribel Valdez Gonzalez ’13. This UTSA grad is making a difference as an educator by showing her students that everyone has the chance to change the world.

A San Antonio native, Gonzalez always aspired to become a teacher.

“That was my dream,” she said. “When I was a kid I just wanted to write on the board, but when I started to grow up I realized what a great impact teachers have on our lives. I wanted to be a positive force for others.”

Gonzalez wanted to earn a top-tier degree while staying close to her family, so she applied to UTSA and in 2009 began studying biology as an undergraduate. She immersed herself in the vibrant campus culture and diverse community, quickly finding herself at home.

As a freshman, Gonzalez also took a history course and found that it awakened her long-held passion for the field.

“As a teenager, I was fascinated by civil rights movements and I remember wanting to understand why the world is the way that it is today,” she said.

Gonzalez took a host of classes focused on different areas of history and became amazed by the different American communities and new perspectives she studied.

“I chose to switch my major to history without thinking about a career. I was thinking with my heart,” she said.

Gonzalez graduated with a degree in history in 2013 and for a time worked at The Culinary Institute of America, where she supported culinary students by tutoring them and helping to organize workshops, while also working as an activist and community organizer. She ultimately became a teacher through the program Texas Teachers and now teaches English at Armando Leal Jr. Middle School in Harlandale.

She credits her former professors, Lilliana Saldaña of the UTSA College of Education and Human Development and Rhonda Gonzales of the College of Liberal and Fine Arts, with shaping who she is today, especially as a teacher.

“It was a privilege to be their student,” Gonzalez said. “I learned a lot about reaching out to students because of them, but I also remember their depth of knowledge and their support.”

Gonzalez’s life took a unique turn in 2016 when her close friend, photographer Arlene Mejorado, photographed her as part of an art piece documenting Mejorado’s mother’s immigration story. In November of that year, artist Shepard Fairey commissioned Mejorado to submit photographic portraits of people for what would become his “We The People” series of protest posters. With Gonzalez’s permission, Mejorado submitted her portrait.

“I had no idea what she was asking me. I was just supporting her,” Gonzalez said. “It wasn’t released until just before the inauguration. She told me I had been chosen and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s great.’”

Soon, Gonzalez’s face was everywhere as a symbol of strong Mexican-American women.

“It’s very humbling and I try to be humble about it,” she said. “It’s not just me. It represents my community, so it’s humbling that my face represents a community that’s had to overcome a lot of traumas and policies that have targeted us.”

Some of Gonzalez’s students are aware of the poster, having discovered on their own that their teacher has become a powerful symbol for marginalized groups. She uses it as a tool to show them that anyone can make a difference to enact change.

“I still get insecure at times,” she said. “Then I look up and see the courage and bravery in that photo and I see all the best qualities of myself. It’s a reminder that I have to persevere.”

- Joanna Carver

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