In 1992, the United States officially established May as the month that we would observe Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month. Fourteen years later, I made the first of three trips to Asia (South Korea, Taiwan, and China). My time studying abroad in these nations enlightened me in ways that made me a better practitioner and person. I learned so much about how diversity is not just about skin color, it is also about nuance, culture, and history. This forced me to confront my notions of absolutism regarding diversity – mainly that it only existed as an intergroup phenomenon and not as an intragroup one.

I would come to understand that every group of people has diversity within it, and if we do not see that, we are not seeing the entire group. Instead, we may be focusing on stereotypes or, in my case, assumptions. Either way, we can miss a tremendous opportunity to connect and learn from everyone in our community. Below is a picture that I took when I visited The Great Wall of China many years ago.

I still remember this like it was yesterday. It was towards the end of my time there and I was very reflective. I thought about all that I had learned, yet also recognized that I was on a journey which was not complete for there are so many parts of Asia that I needed to continue to learn about. The vastness of the Great Wall and the endless road over my shoulder are emblematic of my learning journey – acknowledge where you are and keep moving towards a deeper understanding of an ever increasingly diverse community.

I have asked my colleague, Mima Nazarene to share part of her story with us. I am honored to work with her on this month’s article. Mima is an amazing person and educator. Please see her words below.

This year, Mima Nazarene received the honor of a STAR Award from one of her students at Vandegrift High School.

Please tell us a little about yourself and about your journey here in LISD.

My journey here in LISD is one fueled by opportunities and a desire to be a part of the incredible profession of teaching and impacting students. After moving to Texas from Hawaii with our two elementary-aged children in 2001, I needed to find work. So, in 2002, I started working in LISD as a substitute teacher. I would be called to substitute for classes, and even though it was only a part-time job, I found myself deeply committed and in love with the work. After a few years of substituting, I decided to push myself to find something more stable and consistent.

So, in 2006, I became a librarian assistant at Vista Ridge High School. I was very happy with my work as a library assistant, but in 2010 I decided that it was time to continue my development as a professional. My colleagues and family saw my potential and encouraged me to do more because they knew I would find success and happiness as a full-time teacher. Though I was a bit frightened and knew the journey would take effort, I wanted my two daughters to see they could be strong, confident, and successful in this awesome country of opportunities – America
the Beautiful.

The decision to continue my education was the turning point for me. I pursued my certification through an alternative certification program while working as a library assistant and simultaneously working part time at the public library. It was a struggle to work and study after two decades of focusing on raising our family with my husband and working on our citizenship. Pursuing the continuation of my education came with personal sacrifices and determination. But with the support of my family and colleagues and a belief in myself, I gained my certification. I eventually became the ESL teacher at Vandegrift, and that’s where I found my
home in LISD. I’ve had the opportunity to connect with students and families from around the world, hear their incredible stories, and show them that no matter who we are or where we came from, we have a chance to be excellent if we’re willing to pursue our dreams and goals.

Are there lessons from your journey that you would like to share with the #1LISD community in the spirit of enhancing cultural competency?

During my time in LISD, I have learned that when you have grit and determination, you will be able to overcome whatever struggles or hardships you encounter. As an Asian immigrant, I have faced discrimination and microaggressions from people who may not have even meant to be offensive. But a true part of my story is that I have been stereotyped because of the color of my skin and my accent. I was once asked, “How could you teach English as a Second Language when you have an accent?” This question has stuck with me through all these years.

Mima with her three grandchildren.

This question could have sparked insecurity in my confidence and in my own credibility for the role. I could have defensively shared that I indeed know the strategies of teaching ESL after years of working with students of all ages and studying the curriculum. I could have said, well, I actually have my master’s degree. I could have explained that I have empathy because I know how hard it is to learn English as a Second Language. But instead of feeling offended or the need to justify my place in this role, the question fueled my desire to show people my heart through my work. My students became my legacy through the lives of opportunities they have been able to pursue despite being from other countries.

One must have the heart to teach. The heart to teach knows no biases, discrimination, colors or accents. It is our role as educators to lead by example for our students. I charge you all to seek to understand those you work with. Seek to understand the staff, students, and families we serve because the richness in our community and our students’ education comes from the diverse experiences and people that make up our district and community.

Leander ISD Chief of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion DeWayne Street and Vandegrift High School teacher Mima Nazarene contributed this article. For more information on the district’s DEI initiatives, please visit