POR: Rebeca Barnes March 15, 2009
'I SEE EVERYTHING AS A POSITIVE’
Rebeca Barnes has been through too much to look at things pessimistically.
She grew up in Mexico, had children while attending college, barely knew English when she moved to Japan, and has dealt with racism.
Despite all that, she will tell you she’s blessed.
“I see everything as a positive,” Barnes said. “No situation makes me nervous because I always see things with a positive perspective. I forget the complaining and the little stuff. Life has ups and downs. How you adapt to life is what differentiates being in peace, comfortable and happy.
“All of my experiences taught me not to focus on the problems, but to see the positive side of every situation and take something with you.”
Barnes was born in Acapulco, Mexico, and moved to Tijuana, Mexico, when she was 15.
She is the youngest of 12 brothers and sisters, raised by teachers.
When she was old enough to work, she did, but she dreamed of being a doctor.
She enrolled into the university in Tijuana with the intent of becoming a doctor.
“When I was in college trying to become a doctor, it didn’t feel right,” Barnes said. “It was not what I was expecting.”
That’s when she realized she was born to be a teacher.
“I followed what I was natural at,” she said. “I grew up in this environment. I would hang around school even when I wasn’t in class.”
She fell in love with an American soldier as well, who was working on a Navy base across the border in San Diego.
“He didn’t speak Spanish and I didn’t speak English,” Barnes said. “I have pictures when we were boyfriend and girlfriend with us holding a dictionary to find the words.”
Clint and Rebeca Barnes married in 1996 and the two started a family while she was taking college classes.
“The hardest task for me was to finish college and have a family,” Barnes said. “The support of my mom is what really defined me finishing (school).”
Her first son, Carlos, was born when she was a full-time student and her second son, Joseph, was born shortly before she graduated in 2001.
Clint would drive to Tijuana, pick up his mother-in-law and drive her back to San Diego to watch her older grandson.
Rebecca would go to work in a store at 8 a.m. each day in San Diego then take the trolley to the border, walk across it, and take the bus to school. She was in class from 1 to 9 p.m. five days a week. The hardest part was walking across the border going home at night.
“Coming back home was hard because it was so late and I was by myself,” Barnes said. “It was very scary. There were homeless people everywhere in TJ and at the border asking for money.”
That fall, Clint was transferred to Okinawa, Japan, following the 9/11 attacks.
Rebecca, who was 25 at the time, had just finished school, barely knew English and had two little boys.
“It was difficult to adapt because I was adapting to the United States,” she said. “It was a difficult transition, but my values taught me to be with my husband. It was either three years away from him or three years with him, which is a no-brainer.”
Moving became even more difficult when they arrived in Japan without the passport she accidentally left behind in the Los Angeles International Airport.
“The Japanese Embassy took me to their Embassy because I didn’t have the paper (visa) to be deported,” Rebeca said. “Finally, LAX faxed the papers to us.”
She found herself surrounded by people who spoke a foreign language and did virtually everything different than what she’d learned.
“Everything was opposite,” Barnes said. “You drive on the opposite side of the road. You don’t speak the language and I’ve never been involved in any Japanese culture. Everything was new to me.”
She focused on finding a teaching job to get some bearings on her culture shock.
After a year in Japan, she landed a job teaching kindergarten students English at a private school.
“At that time I was so sure about my profession, I didn’t see myself doing nothing else,” Barnes said. “Just give me kids and let me do my job.”
Barnes spent some of her free time in Japan attending social events, such as birthday parties and dinner at friends’ homes.
“I never knew I was going to have that opportunity,” Barnes said. “It was like an overnight transition, which goes against my nature, but life’s like that. They are so kind and nice. I have nothing but respect for the culture.”
After three years in Japan, Clint switched military branches to the Marine Corps and was stationed in Jacksonville, N.C.
“It was very difficult,” Barnes said of leaving Japan. “The values of the Japanese people were similar to our Hispanic family values. That made me feel comfortable. I was comfortable with my kids and we learned to love nature.”
Barnes was able to get a job teaching preschool, but she didn’t enjoy it as much as teaching in Japan.
“North Carolina was 100 times more difficult than Japan,” Barnes said. “I was the only Hispanic. The only other Hispanics there worked in orchards ... It was my first experience with racism.
“When I was teaching, it was hard for the parents because I have a strong accent.”
After two years there, her husband retired early from the service and the Barnes family went back to the San Diego area to visit family for a month.
Clint found a job in Grand Junction driving oil rigs in 2007. Rebeca found a job at Fruita Monument High School as a liaison for Hispanic students and monitored their progress through the Latino Education Achieving Graduation program. After a year there, she found out about the Dual Immersion Academy.
So far in her first year at DIA, she’s found a home teaching kindergarten. Half of her students speak Spanish and the other half have an English-speaking background.
“I talked to my principal about feeling at home here,” Barnes said. “She will ask her staff ‘who is coming back next year?’ I told her this is my house. I feel so comfortable. This is my first time I have the opportunity to teach in my native language.”
When Barnes isn’t teaching at the school, she’s spending her free time with her two boys and her husband in the first house they’ve owned.
“I take the kids to guitar lessons, sports over the summer, swimming lessons and being a mom, really,” Barnes said.
Eleven-year-old Carlos is in the sixth grade at Fruita Middle School, and 8-year-old Joseph is in the second grade at Rimrock Elementary.