As originally published in Texas Border Business newsprint edition October 2020
BROWNSVILLE, Texas – The COVID-19 pandemic has affected many families across the Rio Grande Valley and Texas Southmost College student Casandra de la Cruz is not the exception, but she has overcome the challenges of the “new normal” and is determined to complete TSC’s Teacher Education program.
During the Summer II semester in July, De la Cruz’s mother was diagnosed with COVID-19. To help the family while their mother recovered in quarantine, De la Cruz and her two younger sisters took over the family business, Marilu’s Tortilleria in San Benito.
“My mom is in charge of the business, but she got COVID and was sick for four weeks, and I had to go in to work every day while studying remotely during Summer II,” said De la Cruz. “I also had to take care of my younger sisters all at the same time. It was challenging, but I aced my class. I was proud of myself. I never imagined getting an ‘A’ with all the chaos we had in the house and at work.”
Prior to the pandemic, De la Cruz was an active and engaged student at TSC although she didn’t start out that way. In addition to attending and volunteering in campus activities, she participated in the Teacher Education Play Advocates (TEPA) Club.
“I feel like I’ve changed,” said the 22-year-old. “My first year, I was shy and wouldn’t talk to a lot of people, but where I am now, I talk a lot more. I was also the type of student that would not ask for help, but now I understand that I have someone to help me. I got involved in the TEPA Club and the year before, I volunteered at TSC’s PlayDay at the Zoo and the Dr. Seuss Festival at TSC.”
De la Cruz was also active within the community as a member of the Escaramuzas de Villa de Guadalupe, one of the several traditional Mexican all-female equestrian groups in the Valley. Escaramuzas are a part of the Mexican charrería and ride sidesaddle while performing and competing in colorful and traditional Mexican dresses.
“I’ve participated in Charro Days every year since I was 18,” said De la Cruz. “Our last competition in San Antonio was canceled in March. We used to practice three days a week for
two hours, but we decided to take a break. That’s something I really miss, being with the girls, riding and just being together.”
That sense of community and belonging is what brought De la Cruz to TSC. Prior to enrolling at TSC in 2018, she attended a four-year university in Laredo for one semester, but felt she had no support and decided to return home.
“When I graduated high school, I was excited to go away to college,” she said. “After a couple of weeks, I didn’t feel at home. I was alone and had no support; I decided to return home and go to TSC. It’s a friendly campus and most of the people are like family.”
De la Cruz discovered that she could continue to pursue her dream of becoming a teacher through TSC’s Teacher Education program.
“I decided to become a teacher because when I was little, my parents only spoke Spanish and I struggled with English,” said De la Cruz. “Since we are close to the border, students need some extra help at times because of the language barrier. I also love to help and to teach children to open up their minds to new ideas.”
She also learned that the instructors and tutors at TSC were accessible and cared about her success.
“I can communicate easily with my instructors and if I have questions about assignments, TSC has tutors to help,” said De la Cruz. “In class, Dr. Cortez-Castro is an amazing instructor and we can always go to her. I have several other instructors that are there to help us and we can trust them if we have a problem on or off campus. I still haven’t adapted 100% to remote learning. It’s not easy, but as long as we don’t give up, we can get through our classes. Communication with our instructors is our key to success.”