Editor’s note: During Hispanic Heritage Month, the Tyler Morning Telegraph is highlighting Hispanics making a difference in our community.

When she first visited Tyler, she was only 16 years old. She was a young student at the University of Aguascalientes in Mexico, where she studied financial administration and marketing. Every time she returned, though, she took a piece of Tyler in her heart.

Then, her mission was to learn English, but at 21, she realized Tyler had offered her opportunities to dip her hand into everything she was passionate about. She decided to plant her roots here and, since then, Paulina Pedroza has wholeheartedly dedicated her time to community work, helping and caring for her community, organizing Latino events and teaching her community how to succeed in Tyler.

Over time, Pedroza has become the go-to resource for most questions when it comes to the needs of Tyler’s Spanish-speaking community. From questions about how to obtain identification, immigration, school paperwork or health benefits, Pedroza’s mission is to be everything she needed when she moved to Texas in 2008.

Pedroza is known to relate to others on a personal level. She credits her immigrant background, which she said allows her to understand the everyday struggles of not being able to speak English. That struggle entails not knowing the American system, applying for anything, ordering a simple hamburger and even asking for a job without knowing how much it pays.

The reason she’s been consistent in finding ways to help her community, whether it’s translating, teaching courses in English, teaching Spanish or volunteering at events, is Pedroza’s desire to never forget where she came from. She said the most important aspects of her life are her humble beginnings and struggles when she arrived as an immigrant.

“I turned into the person that I was searching for because I could never find them,” Pedroza said.

“I needed someone to guide me in Tyler to help me with my concerns and questions. ‘Where to go for English classes? Where do I go if I don’t have a doctor? Where do I get help for my children?’ There was nobody,” she said.

“I’m just another immigrant. An immigrant who takes time to listen to other immigrants. I can’t act like nothing is happening because I was once them. I struggled like them before,” she said.

By day, Pedroza works a full-time job as a property manager. With a consistent and busy schedule, a family of six to care for, community volunteer work, and free classes, Pedroza said there is no organization or nonprofit to support her mission. Pedroza added that if those she helped were to offer her money, she would deny it because her passion is helping her community.

She is also often contacted for organizing events as she helps unite the English and Spanish-speaking communities with her presence and translating.

For the majority of the week, Pedroza can be found volunteering as a community teacher for English as a Second Language (ESL) classes at Grace Early Education Center, and then teaching U.S. citizenship classes at the East Texas Immigrant Advocacy and Resource Center in Tyler.

Those classes consist of a basic English courses teaching basic survival phrases and words to navigate independently in the United States. The classes are mostly focused on first generation Hispanics, Pedroza said — parents who don’t always know what to do when it comes to their children, and those who don’t have medical insurance. She explained that if the parents are OK, the entire family will be OK, which is why she focuses on the first generation.

The second generation already speaks English; they often already have a social security number and know what the United States is and can be. A first-generation immigrant risks their life for the opportunity, Pedroza said.

“Every day, they risk a traffic stop, a raid, an assault, they risk not being able to pick their children up from school if there’s an accident because they don’t have a license. If we lived a day in their lives, it wouldn’t be pleasant because it’s surviving. They’re in survival mode, one day at a time,” Pedroza said.

She added another struggle the community faces is finding where to get COVID-19 vaccines. Pedroza recommends local Spanish media outlets, including Tyler Paper Español, to obtain information, but has also organized her own community clinics to encourage vaccination among Spanish-speaking communities. With family activities and fun, Pedroza’s attitude and encouragement, families feel they can easily approach her and ask questions.

“If we look at our immigrant community of Tyler you can see how they always work with a smile on their face and are grateful for the opportunity no matter how bad they’ve been treated. We need to value and support them. Tyler doesn’t have any exclusive support and information services for immigrants. They often depend on their own child to translate for them,” Pedroza said.

Pedroza’s citizenship courses came after teaching ESL classes at Grace. Students were coming to her, inspired and full of excitement about the idea of becoming residents of the U.S. someday. After learning a good amount of English to navigate their communities, they wanted to seek American citizenship.

“It’s important that our Hispanic community knows how to speak English. It’s important that they are heard because nobody takes the time to hear them out,” she said. “Thanks to all these years I’ve won over their trust, but I’ve won it over working hard. I have eyes and ears for the Hispanic community, they inform me everyday and I know how they’re being treated,” she said.

Beginning her citizenship classes was no easy mission. Pedroza struggled to find support and a classroom to teach in. Then, one local restaurant stepped in to help. Mi Mexico Lindo, located on Front street in Tyler, offered Pedroza a table. In December 2018, she taught her first lessons in citizenship.

“I asked for help everywhere. I just wanted a place to sit with my students but they all denied me. I started my classes with the help of Mi Mexico Lindo. Every Sunday, they allowed me to use a table for my classes,” she said. “They didn’t charge me.”

And so, her citizenship classes took off. Little did she know, her class would go on to graduate Hispanic populations who are now doctors, nurses, electricians, plumbers and more.

Pedroza said a person who helped her in her beginnings was Dr. Nancy Nichols, who she said shared knowledge about U.S history, helping Pedroza later prepare students for the citizenship exam.

Another person helpful in growing her classes which have become larger overtime is pastor and nonprofit program director at Mustard Seed Ministries, Karen Jones, who teaches citizenship classes, assists with applications and helps conduct Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) clinics at the East Texas Immigrant Advocacy and Resource Center.

Pedroza dedicates every day to teaching a class, and some days, two, but Friday she dedicates to spending time with her family.

“I teach classes in the morning, go to my full time job, pick up my children from school then come back to teach my classes. Most of my week is donated,” Pedroza said. “Fridays are for my children. Those days are when we go out to eat and I set up my schedule for the next week, because on weekends I volunteer for community events.”

Pedroza has lost her father during the COVID-19 pandemic. She said it was difficult to bury her father and teach classes as if nothing had happened.

“It’s my mission. I want to leave an impact. I want to be a part of every family’s happiness in knowing they have tranquility in this country. I feel that the harder we work at it, the faster we’ll get (at tranquility).

During lessons, Pedroza is accompanied by her 10-year-old daughter Gianna, who is inspired by her mother’s generosity and heart to give to her community. Pedroza said Gianna is proud to be born in Tyler and says she is going to help her community some day.

“That brings tears to my eyes because it means all these years of hard work are worth it. Someone else is going to follow the vision,” she said. “She was born in the middle of all of this and seeing the needs of our people,” Pedroza said.

Through every hour she’s given in volunteering and helping her community, Pedroza’s hope is that Latinos will be heard and will be represented by someone who cares about the people. “Contributing to such a beautiful city like Tyler, they are an asset to the community and deserve that.

 
 

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