First published in the Oct. 1 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.
Annalee Pearson is a social studies teacher at South Pasadena High School and her students might do well to listen to her life story.
Her father is from the Philippines and was in the U.S. Navy. Her mother is from Durango, Mexico, and worked for hotels in San Diego. Her older brother did not graduate high school and neither did her sister.
Pearson is the only child in the family who graduated college — going to UC Santa Barbara and then getting her master’s degree from Azusa Pacific University.
“My parents did stress the importance of an education, but just didn’t know a thing about the education system in the U.S.,” Pearson recalled. “Luckily, two of my three best friends in high school were Caucasian and had parents who were professionals. They often told me what to do even if I didn’t understand.
“For example, one of them told me to sign up for the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). I did not know that I should study, prepare and practice. I just showed up one morning and took the exam cold and never took it again,” Pearson explained.
Her path led her to South Pasadena High School, where she has been a teacher for 14 years, and where she has been the adviser to the Latinx Student Union for three years.
“Being Latina and who I am as a person are not mutually exclusive,” Pearson said. “Being Latina is my identity, along with being Filipino, a child of immigrants and being a Christian. It is difficult to explain to someone who doesn’t have that sense of identity and are removed from their culture, ethnicity and faith. It defines me. The way I act, my personality, my likes and dislikes are all shaped by being Mexican.”
She practices what she preaches both in the classroom and as an adviser.
“The Latinx Student Union is committed to the empowerment of Latino students and strives to build community and fill gaps in our society,” Pearson said. “We also celebrate culture and hopefully build pride. Our club does things like drives for various things and donates them to places that are committed to helping the Latino community.
“Additionally,” she continued, “educating Latino students about things like college ultimately is working toward social justice as it helps to level the playing field.”
Being a teacher and an adviser lets Pearson help students in a group and individually.
“That is one of the main reasons I feel a responsibility to help others that may be in the same situation,” Pearson said. “I will say that I have been blessed with students of all backgrounds who have said that I have made a positive difference in their lives.
“My life experience defines me and helps me both as an educator and as the adviser of the club,” she added. “One lesson that is an undertone is that cycles can be broken and they [students] can make it despite circumstances and disadvantages. Dream big. Don’t let others define you.”
— Andy Lippman