Name: Dr. Maria S. Quezada
City: Covina, CA
Title/Profession: CEO California Association for Bilingual Education
“My name is Maria Quezada, and I believe in the importance of helping children achieve their potential.”
Maria Quezada has spent her entire life struggling with the issue of bilingual education in California. It started when she was five years old, newly arrived from Mexico and suddenly thrust into a pre-school class taught entirely in English. It was a defining moment for the little girl from Guadalajara who would grow up to get her PhD from USC and run the state’s leading advocacy group for multi-lingual instruction.
“My mother said I cried for six months,” Quezada recalls. “We didn’t want to go to school, my sister and I. You don’t understand anything. You feel lost, and you miss your home country, your grandparents and your aunts and uncles. Absolutely, there’s a lot of trauma there.”
Today, Quezada invokes her own childhood experience to shape her vision for education in a state where the number of immigrant students is still on the rise. As CEO of the California Association for Bilingual Education (CABE), Quezada pushes for better resources, especially more trained bilingual teachers, to deal with California’s multi-cultural student population. But she knows she is pushing against the tide, considering the state’s budget crisis and the English-only climate that led to the repeal of bilingual education in 1998 through Proposition 227.
“Swimming upstream? That’s the story of my life,” says Quezada. “We always seem to be fighting the same battles.”
Quezada believes the ability to speak other languages is crucial, not only for a student’s individual performance, but the collective future of all Californians.
“I dream of having this be a multi-lingual state where languages are honored and seen as resources for our society,” she says. “Yes, we would be foolish to not have our kids learn English. But we’re also very foolish because they are losing the language resources that we could use in our economy.”
Among CABE’s most popular programs are its teacher-training workshops, filling the void left by the state’s inability to adequately prepare bilingual teachers. CABE also gives parents the tools they need to participate intelligently in the education process so they, in turn, can help their children succeed.
“I know children have that potential,” says Quezada.