By Stephanie Garibay
Former East Los Angeles College student and current ELAC Community Services manager Erika Leon faced plenty of struggles along the way to receiving her doctorate.
Growing up with traditional Hispanic parents, Leon did not have support from her family, especially her father.
“My parents only went to school up until third grade, so when I expressed my desire to go to college, my dad’s response was, ‘Well, why do you need to do that?’” Leon said.
Leon decided to attend college anyway, and enrolled in classes at ELAC.
She was the first of her siblings to attend college.
While she was attending classes at ELAC, Leon was also enrolled in the Jaime Escalante Math Program. When she finished the program, she started working as a tutor.
Leon enjoyed being a tutor for students and decided to become a full-time employee, since she was a math major.
“I really liked what I was doing, so I took a test to become classified, and when I was 20, I became a full-time employee of East L.A. College, but I was still going to school as well,” Leon said.
At a young age, Leon decided she didn’t want to be a housewife and wanted to go to school to get a career. When she saw her older brothers go out to work with their father, Leon was jealous because she was stuck at home doing house chores.
“My dad is the typical Mexican father that you would call machista, so in his eyes, the women don’t work. They stay at home, taking care of the house. My dad worked in roofing, so he would always take my brothers to work with him.
“One day I asked him if I could go, and he said yes. So, I went with him, and it was tough, and he didn’t pay (me) anything, but it made me realize how important it is to get a college education,” Leon said.
While studying mathematics in ELAC, Leon worked two jobs. Since Leon was an undocumented student, ELAC did not offer any type of financial aid, which made things more difficult for her.
“I remember my dad telling me, ‘You can go to school, but just understand I’m not going to help you out financially at all,’ so I was paying for everything on my own,” Leon said.
Leon decided to transfer to California State University, Los Angeles, since she had to support herself and it was the best low-cost option available.
At the age of 22, Leon graduated from Cal State L.A. with her bachelor’s in mathematics.
“When I graduated, I started teaching for the same program I used to tutor for: the Escalante Program at ELAC,” Leon said.
Meanwhile, she also began teaching for the ELAC Community Services Department on the weekends.
“While I was teaching for the program, I was also teaching for the Community Services Department. Plus, I kept my full-time job at the office, so I was working three jobs,” Leon said.
After six years of teaching for the Escalante Program, Leon was promoted at the Community Services Department as the assistant for the dean, and decided to leave her job teaching for the program.
“I started helping with the Community Services Department, so I had higher responsibilities. A few years later, I became the manager, and this is where I am right now,” Leon said.