TULSA, Okla. — As America celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month, 2 Works for You is honoring those making a difference in the Tulsa community.
Tina Peña is a woman who lives to share the character and depth of her culture.
"I love Tulsa! This is my home," said Peña, an educator and community volunteer," after the 10th year in this country, I became a citizen and I wanted to give back."
It's been 40 years since Peña came to the United States from Peru. Now, she's a professor at Tulsa Community College and she shares the Spanish language with her students with the same passion that had her working three and four jobs to go to college and earn a Bachelor's degree and later her Master's degree in Education from Northeastern State University. She wants her students to find that same success.
"If they don't have the guidance, the actual role models, that's when we lose them," she told 2 Works for You's Karen Larsen.
Studies show Hispanic students have a steep dropout rate, so in addition to her classes, she serves as a mentor to students, and adviser to the Hispanic Student Association. Her hope is to give the students the encouragement they need to stick with their educational goals.
"If parents are working two or three jobs, and they are, they can only encourage their children. If they haven't attended a school in the U.S., they don't know how to help them out. That is why people like me, Hispanics who are working in colleges, help them out," Peña said.
She encourages her students to volunteer often in the community to learn new skills, such as being on time and helping others. Under her guidance, students also volunteer often with groups like Food on the Move and Catholic Charities handing out food and translating for families who need assistance.
Many help Peña with Mita's Foundation, a non-profit her mother began years ago to help children in Peru and their families. During the COVID-19 pandemic, they are even serving as interpreters for a hospital in Chicago through Zoom. The reason? Peña said simply, "It feels good to help our people."
Sharing the depth of the Hispanic culture is another goal. While the majority of Hispanic immigrants in America come from Mexico, there are actually 21 Spanish-speaking countries. Family first, and then community, is a common belief Peña said is shared by North, Central and South American people.
"We have so many similarities but there are differences as well — just like in the U.S. — in the language and regionalisms which is fun to learn from each other. We are not experts of the Hispanic cultures. I may be an expert of my culture but I am still learning," Peña added. "We are here to work. To contribute. We are here to learn from you. We want to keep our language and the best of our culture and teach you and learn from you as well. So do not be afraid!"
During this time of political unrest, she feels it is important Americans know something else about those who come to the United States in search of the American Dream... that the vast majority of undocumented workers strive to contribute to the communities where they make homes.
"The undocumented population here does pay taxes," Peña said. "You don't have those nine magic numbers which is your Social Security but here [the government says] we are giving you a TIN, Tax Identification Number, so you can pay your taxes. When you pay taxes, you pay to our schools, our healthcare, public services. So, I believe that they are contributing with the economics of the city, state and in the United States and with our culture. We contribute a lot with our culture."
Peña said her goals in life were to live the American Dream: settle in the U.S., become a citizen, get an education, help her family and contribute to society. Given her accomplishments, she has clearly met those goals.
She goes even further with her dedication to helping those in her home country of Peru. Serving as the president of Mita's Foundation, she gathers resources to help Peruvian children and families with housing, education and healthcare. It is simply another part of her life plan to serve others in gratitude for her own success. Then, when her students find their way to a profession through hard work, she is thrilled.
"That makes me so happy when they aspire for more and they achieve it," Peña said. "For me, that is the best, best gift I can ever have. Not for me! Keep paying it forward!"
Paying it forward: a powerful motto this Tulsa educator and community volunteer shares with enthusiasm to make a difference in the Tulsa community.
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