Maria Rodriguez left Guatemala looking for a better life. She ran into a few angels along the way and is working to return the kindness she found in the United States.
Q: You currently work at Hodge Road Elementary but your journey here was not an easy one. Where did you grow up and how did you find your way to Knightdale?
A: I grew up in Guatemala. I got married and had a son but my husband died and I moved with my son to Miami when he was 4. In my country, there was really no future. It was not a good situation. My mother and my siblings had already moved to Miami so I joined them there. That was good because then I had help to raise my son. About seven or eight years later, I met my current husband – he is Puerto Rican – and we were married and we had a son. I remember taking classes to learn English, because really, in Miami, there was not a huge need because everyone around us spoke Spanish but I wanted to learn. I would go to school at night and take my son with me. I would set him beside me at my desk. I met a lot of angels who helped me along the way. I went to school, sort of like a cosmetology school but not really because we focused only on skin care. I was always into beauty. I worked for a while at a spa in Miami and then I opened my own skin care business.
Q: When did you move to North Carolina?
A: My son had finished school and had an opportunity for a job here in the Raleigh area. We knew he would be settling down and starting a family soon and we wanted to be near him. It was tough to move here. I had my own house and my own business and I was doing well in Miami but for us, family always comes first and I knew I wanted to be near my grandchildren. It was a big change. My mother moved with me. We got here in July of 2001.
Q: That was right before 9/11.
A: Yes, and my husband, who had worked in the import/export business in Miami – dealing with big ships, had hoped to get some kind of similar job here but I think 9/11 kind of changed all that. He was looking for work here so one day, I went with him to a job fair. I went to help him out because when he gets stressed, his writing is not the best. Someone at the job fair told me I would be a good teacher assistant in the schools because they needed people who could speak Spanish. The Hispanic population was really growing in the area at the time. I thought no, because I did not think my English was good enough but they thought I would be good so I applied. It was a temporary job at first. Wake County sent me and some others for some more training – for some refresher courses. I first was at Brentwood. They then moved me to Lockhart and I have been at Hodge Road for the past 10. We are starting a bilingual program here and I think that will be good. My husband got a job as a custodian for the schools.
Q: Do you work together?
A: No, I don’t think it is always a good idea for husbands and wives to work together.
Q: What exactly is your title at Hodge Road?
A: I am a receptionist, slash, nurse, slash, translator, slash ‘whatever-needs-to-be-done, I-do-it’ person. I just like being able to help out. I love my job. It is so beautiful. Me being able to come here and help these families, it is great because I can understand what they are going through. I have also become a notary because sometimes, they need help with paperwork. I had so many angels that came into my life and helped me when I moved here to this country, and now I am able to do the same for others. These people that move here – they are scared, they don’t know what to do – they have no voice. It was time for me to give back what people have done for me. If the teachers need me to help translate, I do that. A lot of times, I sit in on the parent-teacher conferences because some of the parents speak little-to-no English and they often have questions for the teachers and do not know how to ask.
Q: How do you relax? What are your hobbies?
A: I like to go to the gym and work out. I am a runner. I was recently in a 5K with my younger son and I came in 20 seconds behind him. I need to stay in good shape so I can help take care of my grandkids. I take my grandkids to soccer practice, to their jujitsu lessons. I love music and I love to dance so you know, I love the Zumba classes. Whatever keeps me moving.
Correspondent Dena Coward