Grad student fights for bilingual educators on the national stage

April 22, 2024
Front row from left: Professor Margarita Machado-Casas, national BESO representative Marylin Reyes Martinez and U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona.
Front row from left: Professor Margarita Machado-Casas, national BESO representative Marylin Reyes Martinez and U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona.

Marylin Reyes Martinez admits to feeling butterflies, and really, who would blame her? It’s not every day a graduate student has the opportunity to meet a White House Cabinet member.

Reyes Martinez, a master’s student from San Diego State University’s Department of Dual Language and English Learner Education (DLE), was part of a small SDSU contingent in New Orleans in late March for the 53rd annual conference of the National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE). They were taking part in the Bilingual Education Student Association (BESO) Institute, a convening of more than 100 students from 14 national university chapters led by BESO National Advisor and DLE Professor Margarita Machado-Casas.

During the event, Reyes Martinez was part of a select group of BESO students who had the opportunity to meet with U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona.

"We were so nervous,” Reyes Martinez said, who was joined in the Cardona meeting by DLE classmate Miguel Cabrera, Machado-Casas and others.  “We were excited to show him that BESO was there, representing. Having the opportunity to talk to Secretary Cardona is historic for BESO because it reflects the remarkable progress made in the lucha of all those educators who started this movement. 

“We stand proud, knowing that our voices resonate and hold weight in shaping the future of bilingual education.”

Walking Together

Thanks to a new leadership position — established after years of advocacy by Machado-Casas and National BESO co-advisor Belinda Schouten — Reyes Martinez will now work to make sure a student voice is heard loud and clear at the national level. 

In New Orleans, she was selected as the first ever national BESO representative. In the role, she will work to support a national movement that has led to the growth of the student group nationwide in collaboration with professional organizations such as NABE and government entities such as the U.S. Department of Education.

Founded at the University of Texas at Austin in 1979 by bilingual education scholar-activist Ellen Riojas Clark, BESO is a “grow your own” program that advocates for bilingual education programs and supports the development of future bilingual educators in the U.S. and abroad. Machado-Casas and Schouten advocated and fought along with their BESO students to bring it to the national level at NABE.

"This achievement is the result of years of dedication from the visionary bilingual educators who initiated this movement," Reyes Martinez said. "These passionate educators have made significant progress over many years to advocate for bilingual education. Being chosen as the national BESO representative holds profound significance for me. I'm thrilled to have mentors like Dr. Margarita Machado-Casas and Dr. Belinda Schouten standing beside me as we journey forward together."

Important Perspective

Born in Juchitán, Oaxaca in southern Mexico, Reyes Martinez was 5 when she immigrated to the U.S. with her mother. After six years in Atlanta, she moved back to Oaxaca and finished her schooling.

She came back to the U.S. for the opportunity to earn her master’s in critical literacy and social justice in SDSU’s DLE department, which is the largest producer of bilingual educators in California. Her goal is to use the perspective she gains from her program to advance multilingual education — English, Spanish and indigenous languages such as Zapotec — by promoting cooperation and mutual understanding between Latin America and the United States through education.

She is also eager to advocate for returners, students who — as she did — must re-integrate back into Mexican classrooms and culture after living in the U.S. Their challenges are often summed up by the Spanish phrase “Ni de aqui, ni de allá” (neither from here, nor from there).

"I want to continue helping BESO grow, as well as actively promoting and advocating for bilingual education nationwide," Reyes explains. "Throughout my time at SDSU, I have gained invaluable insights from incredible educators. Their guidance remains instrumental in my professional growth and I'm eager to contribute to the ongoing advocacy for bilingual education initiatives across the nation.

Added Machardo-Casas: "We are excited about Marylin representing DLE and the College of Education as the BESO National Representative. Her experience as a retornada will not only be an asset for our national BESO students but also represents the reality of thousands of students across the US. 

“This is only the beginning for Marylin.”

In the meantime, by working to grow BESO nationwide, she’ll be fighting on behalf of the next generation of bilingual teachers.

"We aspire for BESO's ongoing development to serve as a pillar of support and to be the pathway for future bilingual teachers," Reyes Martinez said. "Our goal is to ensure they feel embraced by a community, understood and reassured that the challenges they encounter in the classroom are acknowledged."

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