By Heidi Paris
Bright eyes sparkle, peering out beneath folds of skin that make small eyes even smaller. Her laugh is full of life, the joy of living.
“¡Ya llegué!” ¡Ya llegué!” [I arrived! I arrived!] she proudly announces entering the room with a merry laugh. This little star shines with her eyes and smile, radiating beauty wherever she goes.
Born on January 17, 1915 in Torreon, Mexico, and armed with a sixth grade education, Cruz Rueda is back in school. How does she fare? Her 4 foot 9 inch frame proudly walked up to receive her class’s certificate of achievement in art for the 2005-06 school year in Montgomery Adult School. Three gray haired daughters in their 60s and 70s witnessed this proud moment along with students, teachers, principal Dr. Thomas Teagle, and Luis Maestre, director of adult education for the Sweetwater Union High School District.
Cruz, or “Crucita” as she is known to friends, was selected out of 160 students enrolled in art at Casa Pacifica, an adult day care center and one of Montgomery Adult School’s off-campus sites in the South Bay.
Why was she chosen? Crucita is the little engine that could. She used her immense will to complete the challenges of each art project. No excuses. She’s always willing to try new things.
[Translated from Spanish] “I had never done [art}, but now that I am here at Casa Pacifica, I started and like it.”
On receiving the day’s assignment, Crucita concentrates her energies on first thoroughly understanding the project and planning it out. Things don’t come easy when you’re 93. She takes too much effort and has too much pride to do second rate work. No matter the project, Crucita finishes, something not all students have the ability nor will to accomplish.
Her meals’ napkins become prettily decorated in rainbow colors as she makes sure the color she picks is the one she wants. Age has a way of betraying old eyes.
One assignment involved enlarging a Chinese word. Crucita’s Chinese is disproportionate. The teacher notices and mentions the incorrect shaping. But Cruz knows it already. She looks intently, studying the problem. Later on, Cruz successfully corrects the intricate lettering. She cries out, “You don’t know the sacrifice I make to do this!” The teacher responds, “That’s why you won the award.”
Cruz is also enrolled in English As A Second Language. As she studies her notes at home, her daughter asks, “Oh, Mother, don’t you get tired?” Cruz, “How can I get tired?”
Ana Bacame, an advanced ESL student, states about Cruz, “I admire Cruz because she is very persistent when it comes to learning. Crucita is a very good student because she is always thinking about how to write things, and she wants to write it well.”
Crucita’s life in the past was “very peaceful...We were poor...but we ate well and dressed well...I had my house, my garden... my chickens, my hens, my dog, my cat at home. I washed, I ironed, I made food. I made my husband his lunch... he was a very good husband, a very good father.” About 20 years ago, he passed away. “We were married for about 55 years. He got sick. He had colon cancer.” Two sons also passed away. “My daughters take care of me now.”
At 93, “I have my faith... and many homes.” [She laughs.]
What homes? Name three.
“To live in peace, to be living well.”
“ My family. When I pray, I pray for my family and for those around me, for everyone around me. While we’re on this Earth, may God take care of and bless us.”
“To live... When I’m with the doctor, I tell the doctor that my sickness is my years.”
What Cruz displays in class helps explain her longevity: openness, positivity, happiness, social skills, a ready smile, and her faith. Scientific studies show optimism to be a factor in living a longer life. Learning also promotes neurophysiological growth.
About what she has learned in school, she states, “They are things that in my youth I didn’t much encounter because I dedicated myself to my home, to my children... Now everything to me is new. It’s new, and it’s beautiful... I’m learning thing I didn’t know about.”
To others who would like to return to school, she says, “animase... Motivate yourself! Go? It costs you nothing. If you have nothing to do, if you learn something, it will help you... People should be motivated for everything.”
Sometimes the greatest victory comes in participating, trying one’s best, and sharing the experience. This is true beauty. Cruz exemplifies this. She is true beauty.