Killeen resident Edith Nava, 24, is not the type of person to wear her heart on her sleeve, but that does not mean that she doesn’t have a story to tell; it just means that she chooses not to be defined by it.
Her parents, Juan and Esmerelda, were only 15 and 13 when they married, leaving Guerrero, Mexico, for the United States.
They had no money, hired no guides known as coyotes, and assembled no caravans. They carried no protest signs. They simply packed the few simple belongings they had into their respective backpacks, and with their free hands, toted gallons of drinking water in plastic jugs.
Barely into their own adolescence, they had just married. There was no honeymoon. No romantic first dance. No wedding cake. There was, however, uncertainty, cold January weather, the rainy season of the Mexico’s Pacific coast, the economic futility of their homeland, and the 1,400 miles between where they were and where they wanted to be.
Over the years, Nava would hear her parent’s stories. Months on end, they told her, they were on the road, sleeping under trees, huddled together for warmth, rising every day to resume their journey.
When they finally neared the border, they were turned away twice. Of course, they knew they were unwelcome. But even before their children were born, they wanted more for them than what Mexico’s poorest state could ever offer: opportunity.
Resolutely, they retreated to the steep hills and mountain terrain where they would find crossing. By then, they had lost their shoes.
With no family in the U.S., they each found work — her father, first, a bus boy in a restaurant and then a cook. Her mother joining migrant workers picking produce. Eventually, they had saved enough to rent a room in a small house in Fresno.
Nava remembers when she inherited her love for learning; she was in the fifth grade and had just learned her parents were getting divorced. She was miserable, but she remembers, her teacher made that classroom a place she could retreat to, excel in, and just be a child again.
“I have very vivid memories of that teacher,” she said. “Her name was Mrs. Perez. She didn’t have to be kind to me, but she was. She couldn’t possibly have known what I was going through, but she made sure I knew I had a place there. I loved her for that. And I want to be that person for other kids who need someone.”
She hasn’t had it exactly easy, though. Her daughter, Jade, now 7, was born when she was only 17. Nava completed Foothills High School in San Diego in 2013, taking on a job as a production clerk at the PennySaver, a newspaper coupon distribution company.
Eventually moving into a small two bedroom home, Nava and her daughter lived with her mother, her step-father, and two younger sisters. Jade’s father was kept at a safe distance following one incident of domestic violence. But Nava would not be stopped.
She considered military service, quickly learning that she would have to grant temporary custody of her daughter to her parents. By then, she had met James Nava. They married in 2016, and in an effort to keep their family together, he enlisted in the U.S. Army, posted to 1st Cavalry 115 Bravo for the past three years as a mechanic.
He had already earned his associates degree in fire science from Palomar Community College. It was her turn now. During an orientation for spouses at Fort Hood, she learned of a scholarship opportunity offered by MyCareerAdvancement. It was worth $4,000 – more than enough to cover tuition.
She started Central Texas College in 2017, completing the majority of her associate degree requirements for the Associate of Arts in Teaching Certification with a nearly perfect GPA: 3.93. A diligent student, she found the Texas A&M University-Central Texas website, located the transfer guide for the teaching degree, and followed it to the letter.
In the Fall 2018 and Spring 2019, she discovered Warrior Preview Days, attending both sessions, taking in more than the possibility of her undergraduate degree – she was beginning to believe that becoming a teacher – her inspiration through all of her journey up to this point — was very close to becoming real.
“When I think back to Mrs. Perez,” she said, “I remember someone who encouraged me, someone who introduced me to a love of books and reading. There was a moment in her classroom when I knew – I just knew – that I wanted to be a teacher, and I wanted to be a teacher just like her.”
Mrs. Perez, she remembers, introduced her to The Chronicles of Narnia and The Witch and the Wardrobe, even taking a couple of the students to the movie theater to see the film.
“She touched my life and gave me so much,” she said. “I want to be that person for kids. There are so many teachers who do that everyday, I want to be one of them.”
So many, indeed. Teacher preparation programs – both at A&M-Central Texas and at the 11 regional universities’ colleges of education throughout The Texas A&M University System – graduate more fully-certified teachers than any other public university system in Texas.
This fall, Nava begins classes at A&M-Central Texas, on schedule to graduate by May of 2020. She will be, she says, the first in her family to have earned an undergraduate degree. But she is not prepared to leave it at that. She has already recruited her oldest sister, Lizbt, 27, into community college and a younger sibling, Sandy, into cosmetology school.
Her parents, years ago negotiating the long journey between Guerrero, Mexico and the U.S., have long since qualified for legal status and their visas. Barefoot and unbroken, they brought themselves to this country to thrive. And they have.
Nava’s father owns his own panderia, and her mother raised a family, returning to work at a factory when the youngest had grown. Their second eldest daughter, the 5th grader once touched by the kindness and inspiration of her teacher, will — someday very soon — have a classroom full of students of her own.
Entering the Fall Semester in just a few months, she has been formally accepted to A&M-Central Texas, recently having interviewed for a student worker position with the University Library, working with elementary-aged children participating in enrichment programs.
“Everyone here has been so helpful,” she noted. “It’s like they meet you where you are and step in to take you to that next level, so you can get where you’re going. I see in them everything I want to do and be for my own students when I have them. And it’s amazing to feel like that.”
Larry Mitchell, Texas Realtor
254 681 5115 Cell
Jim Wright Company Residential Sales
3800 So. W. S. Young Drive Suite 103
Killeen, Texas 76542