Ana Maria Bañuelos Castro was born 1949 in El Paso, Texas. Her mother was Bertha Cisneros Bañuelos (b. 1917 in El Paso, Texas) and her father was Manuel Duran Bañuelos (b. 1912 in El Paso, Texas). Bertha and Manuel had seven daughters and Ana was second to the youngest. Ana grew up speaking Spanish in the home and English outside the home. Her parents and her siblings were all bilingual.
While her father Manuel was a teenager during the 1930s in El Paso, he worked as a delivery boy of payroll checks to miners in between El Paso and Chihuahua. He also worked for Greyhound bus. However, when Ana was fourteen years old, her youngest sister Virginia had many allergies due to the dry climate in El Paso. The doctor recommended that the family move, so Manuel transferred to working for Greyhound Bus in San Diego. The year was 1963. At first they moved to the North Park area and then eventually the family bought a home in Point Loma.
Bertha Cisneros Bañuelos (Ana’s Mother)
Bertha was only two years old when her mother died. Although Bertha loved school, having perfect attendance for the first eight years of her schooling and she was awarded a certificate for her discipline, her father died when she was fourteen years old. His death meant she had to stop going to school. Instead, she was sent to live with uncles and aunts who regularly told her that she would go nowhere. Only her grandmother Isabel Guerra Montes (b. 1871 in Ysleta, Texas) treated her with kindness.
Once married, Bertha instilled a love of learning into all her children. She was particularly proud of the fact that all her family on the maternal side could read and write during the late 1800s and early 1900s. This love of learning transferred to Ana who received her teaching credential at San Diego State University and became the first of her family to finish college.
A Bilingual Educator in the South Bay
In 1975 Ana was hired to teach the bilingual Spanish component to first graders at Nestor Elementary School. The 20-Spanish speaking students in her class would received 80% of the day in Spanish instruction and 20% of the day in English instruction. Ana recalls that students gained higher self-esteem thanks to their bilingual education, but changes were also slow. “We always had difficulty with the state assessments. It was incremental. It wasn’t like all of a sudden it went up. You had to look at the assessments from the view of growth each year. And they made growth every year.”
On a more individual basis, Ana would see the results when former students went on to college after going through the bilingual program. From about 1980-1992, Ana worked at Nicoloff Elementary School teaching fourth, fifth and sixth grades in bilingual education. The students were then known as Limited English Proficient Students. “You had some children who were making it and they would make it regardless of the program. But a lot of the newcomers, I had the fourth, fifth and sixth grades for years and years and unless those students were supported in their primary language, they were at a real loss.”
Ana also observed some challenges to the bilingual programs. Politically, some parents didn’t look upon the program favorably. When Limited English Proficiency classes became available and the number of students signing up began to rise, there were parents who would complain that ‘the school was being taken over by the Mexicans.’ Ana said, “When the community is asking the police or sheriff to come out and check the license plates of parents dropping off children — the school doesn’t do that, but the community does — you really have to educate and work with the community.”
From Teacher to Principal
Ana continued her education and in 1992 she received a Master’s degree from SDSU. In that same year, she became the Principal of John Otis School. Although she loved teaching, she felt that an administrative track would allow her to impact more students. She stayed in that position until 1996. From 1996-2000 Ana was the Principal of Palmer Way School and from 2000-2008 she was the Principal of Nicoloff School. Distinguished for her leadership in South Bay schools where a large majority of students were of Spanish speaking descent, Ana retired in 2008. She continues to live in Chula Vista.
(Interview: May 21, 2016)