Persistence makes perfect

A Spanish professor walks into the Pierce campus to begin teaching every day on time, without fail. Even though some Pierce professors can relate to this experience, many may not relate to the two hour commute this professor has taken for the last four years. 

Ever since Spanish professor Marcelo Mejía-Pérez began teaching at Pierce in 2016, he has traveled from Santa Barbara to Woodland Hills every morning to give his lessons. This is just one of many ways Pérez incorporates persistence in his life, a trait he’s had from a young age. 

“I was raised always thinking that I could always accomplish anything that I wanted,” Perez said. “In my case, I never thought that anything was impossible. I just thought that I might not get there as fast as other people, or maybe I cannot be as good as other people and that was fine. But I always thought I could.”

As a child, Pérez never dreamt of becoming a teacher but teaching opportunities always found a way to him, and he said he could rarely refuse. 

At the age of 15, Pérez had his first teaching experience teaching civics and language to adults for two months in rural Mexico. As part of a government program targeting adult education, Pérez earned a small wage but did not yet discover his love for teaching. 

Pérez moved to Porterville, California at the age of 15 with his parents and siblings. 

He only planned to work for a few years before returning to Mexico. But a year into their stay, a devastating freeze damaged that year’s harvest and left his family and most of Porterville unemployed. 

With no job and no ability to move, Pérez began taking night classes and that’s when his passion for education truly began. 

“I started going to night classes and I met this wonderful teacher, and I don’t know what she saw in me,” Pérez said. “But she actually took me to her house and she would sit me down and force me to read English, like articles from Times Magazine, or Reader’s Digest or just the newspaper.”

She helped Pérez learn English, apply for a United States work permit and enroll for city college. Pérez said her generosity feels like a debt he cannot repay.

“I think there’s still a lot that I can do,” Pérez said. “I don’t think you know at the time how the decisions that you make are going to make affect the students. I don’t think my teacher realized to what degree she was going to affect my life.”

Pérez is the oldest out of nine children. He has six sisters and three brothers. 

Blanca Meija-Pérez, his little sister and eighth-born sibling, has looked up to her fun and hardworking brother since a young age. 

“He was always very adventurous, so he would always plan family trips,” Blanca said. “Thanks to him we got to explore California.”

Aside from planning trips to the outdoors, Pérez would also help Blanca Meija-Pérez with her studies.

“As a kindergartner I knew no English, but even then I remember him kind of motivating me and telling me with his limited English,” Blanca said. “He would sit down with me and teach me my ABCs or even count with me, it was very helpful.”

Blanca said she saw all that her big brother did to make the transition a better experience for her and the family.

“That transition was very difficult for my siblings,” Blanca said. “What he did, going to work and going to college and learning English, was very helpful in motivating us and letting us know that we could do the same.”

Pérez has shown his commitment to his students and education throughout all his teaching experiences, and teaching at Pierce has been no exception. 

Margarita Pillado, Chair of the Modern Language Department, praised Pérez’s dedication and commitment to his students.

“Montecito was flooded,” Pillado said. “He had an eight o’clock class every day and had to drive five hours on alternate routes to come to campus and teach. And he did not miss a single day.” 

Coworkers and colleagues alike did not let this go unnoticed. Professor Rafael Orozco-Ramírez attributes this to Pérez’s character as well.  

“He actually spent a week or two at a friend’s place in the valley because otherwise he wouldn’t be able to come to work,” Ramírez said. “That was just a show of his dedication and his commitment to work.”

With a great drive and passion for helping his students succeed, there may be one thing that Pérez loves more, and that’s his passion for running. Pérez has run multiple marathons and achieved runner’s high but ultimately believes his love for running stems from one main desire—to remain persistent.

“When you’re in the middle of it, you’re just thinking, why the hell did I sign up for this,” Pérez said. “Everyone gets tired and you walk in and you hate it, at some point. But I think in my case, I like to because I need to find something that reassures my persistence. I’m always looking for those experiences where I need to be persistent at something. So I can apply that same experience in other areas of my life.”