We had the good fortune of connecting with Shirley Martinez and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Shirley, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
“You can not swim to new horizons until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.” This quote from William Faulkner spoke to my life in many occasions. I was born and raised in the small Caribbean island of Puerto Rico. My childhood was not filled with extravagant gifts and trips but it was definitely full of laughter. Even though we didn’t have a lot, being able to listen to my father’s crazy youth stories while we drank a delicious “chocolatito caliente”, seeing the ocean of stars that lit up our balcony when the electric lights went out and feeling the intense rush of hiding between plantain trees while hearing my primo’s footsteps getting closer while we were playing hide and go seek, filled my heart with joy. Familia was everything to me! My island and heritage was everything to me! I proudly saw my mom teach for 30 years. I saw how the kids from el barrio came to our house every time they had a question, even though they were in High school and my mom taught them in 3rd grade. I remember how every time we went to el colmado, we would hear a “Missi!” and a former student of my mom would come running for a hug. My mom became my hero and I wanted to be just like her. I completed my BA in English education in Puerto Rico. I worked as a teacher for 5 years. During these years, I was able to experience how, unfortunately, my island was not providing fair pay for young professionals like myself. Schools were not equip. We didn’t even have copiers! Every year my parents would suggest that I should move to “TEXAS” to make a better living and every year I would answer with a “Estan locos!”. “You guys are crazy! How am I going to go to out of the island to make a living? I’ve never even traveled outside of the island for a short trip. I don’t know anyone in Texas and I can’t not leave the things that I love the most behind. EVERYTHING I LOVE IS HERE! Plus, even if I wanted to, I do not have any money saved up.” I was only making enough money for food, gas and other monthly expenses. It was impossible for me to relocate and have a “New Beginning” but like they say, God works in mysterious ways. After my fifth year of teaching, I received a call from a friend. My friend was sharing with me the great news that he was going to work as a teacher in the US. He was so excited that it was almost contagious. Now I would say, DEFINITELY contagious. He was talking about the great benefits they offered! To my surprise, when I asked him where in the US he would be working, he said Texas. Yes, Texas! That state that my parents for 5 years harassed me with! I became curious and intrigued. I started asking him the details of the process and in a weird manner, this gave me comfort. In an impulse I said, “You know what, send me the links on how to apply!” and that’s how that journey of losing my sight from the shore began. Like John A. Shedd said “Ships are safe in harbor but that is not what they are for.” I took the necessary steps to secure a job in the big and beautiful state of Texas and in 3 months I had everything ready. With one hand I was reaching for the lone star while with the other hand I was gripping the memories of my childhood, my mom’s traditional cooking, the parrandas with my friends. And like that, with only $60 in my pocket, two luggages filled with clothes and an air mattress, I began my journey to a new horizon. God has blessed me beyond my wildest thoughts. I found a career I love and a district that appreciates it’s teachers, a loving husband that supports me in every step I take and bag full of new memories and experiences. I thought that by taking the risk of moving to out of my island, I was leaving my family, my memories, my friends, my culture, my heritage and who I am as a person. What I was not taking into consideration was that when you take a risk you are investing in a greater common. Instead of losing, I ended up gaining so much! I gained a new family, new experiences, more memories with my family, a better future. Remember what Niccolo Machiavelli once said “Never was anything great achieved without danger.” 

Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I am an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher and a plus size model. Even though these two careers sound so far apart one from the other, I can definitely see how in a weird but inspiring way they both come together. As an ESL teacher, I see how students that are new to the country struggle with their self esteem. At times they feel “inadequate” because they don’t know the language. That’s where I come in and, as a proud Puerto Rican, teach them how valuable their culture and identity is. I help them understand how knowing another language opens so many doors. I help them fall in love with their culture and embrace those beautiful cultural qualities that make them unique! When I was younger, I can definitely say that I was in the same position of my students. I was constantly bombarded by media with what “BEAUTIFUL” is supposed to be. As a curvy latina, I never fit that cookie cutter mold that media used to push. I had to learn to love my body, love myself. Those feelings of inadequacy started to fly away when I started to embrace and love who I was.

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I would have to say that Deep Ellum is definitely one of the jewels Dallas possesses. Deep Ellum is full of art, fun and delicious food. There’s never a dull moment in Deep Ellum.

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I would like to give a huge shout out to my parents that pushed me to be fearless. Always encouraged me to be the best I could be and give it my all at all times. They made me a risk taker. To them all my love and appreciation, ALWAYS! Los amo mami y papi!

Instagram: www.instagram.com/shirleyshirlzpr

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