Juan J. García Lopez graduated from BMCC in June, 2011, with an Associate degree in Liberal Arts, and will enter Columbia University, this fall.
“I want to study Western or American history,” he says, “especially the period of Reconstruction after the Civil War, and I want to combine history with a concentration in philosophy. Inside history there is a message, and we can understand it from a philosophical point of view. We can get knowledge about history and analyze it, so we don’t repeat the same mistakes.”
García Lopez grew up “in a small Mediterranean village,” he says, in Spain’s Cádiz Province, part of the autonomous community of Andalusia. As a youth, he attended a professional studies program preparing him to work as an accountant—which he did for 14 years, before moving to New York in 2006.
The message is what matters
His next step was to earn his GED, enroll at BMCC, and take the CUNY Entrance Exams. He credits Assistant Professor Marcos Zyman, among others, for the support that kept him going, as he attended developmental classes, re-took the exams, and passed.
“I learned a lot of algebra with him,” says García Lopez, “and I loved it—truth tables, logic, rational numbers, finite groups. He has a wonderful style of teaching—you enjoy the class. He said, ‘If you want to pass math, you have to do the homework’, and he was right. Everything is about practice, with mathematics.”
García Lopez was also a BMCC Foundation Scholar, Phi Theta Kappa member and part of the Latino Honor Society. He thanks Sussie Gyamfi, BMCC’s scholarship coordinator, for steering him toward application workshops, and reviewing his submission essays.
James Webb, his speech professor, “taught me I don’t have to be afraid of making a mistake, when I speak,” he says. “It was the best lesson I learned, about English.”
Likewise, he says, ESL Coordinator and Assistant Professor Mary Sepp, “told me that even though my accent is strange, ‘People understand your message—and the message is what’s important’.”
Sepp also encouraged him to present a paper he’d written, at the first BMCC Conference on Language, Society, and Culture—and he won second place in his category.
“I proposed a study of the perception of Spanish-speaking minorities, from a cultural point of view,” he says, “and I looked at political reasons for the opposition to bi-lingual education in this country.”
García Lopez and García Lorca
Juan García Lopez speaks an Andalusian dialect of Spanish, he explains, “like Federico García Lorca,” the famous Spanish poet who lived for nine months, in 1929, in the dorms of Lopez’s soon-to-be school, Columbia University—and spent much of his time just up the hill, in Harlem.
“He wrote, ‘The King of Harlem’,” says García Lopez, “and he understood how the African Americans were struggling, during the Depression.”
Both men trace their multi-cultural points of view to their Andalusian heritage.
Federico García Lorca, the early 20th-century poet—shot in 1936 by an anti-communist death squad, in the Spanish Civil War—writes, “Being born in Granada [a city in Andalusia, Spain], has given me a sympathetic understanding of all those who are persecuted—the Gypsy, the black, the Jew, the Moor, which all Granadians have inside them.”
Juan García Lopez, the early 21st-century BMCC alum, agrees.
“The Andalusians, we have a close relationship with the Sephardic people,” he says. “They were expelled when Columbus ‘discovered’ the Americas, and the Castillons took over the kingdom of Granada—remember, Columbus was funded by the Castillons. And we were a mixture of Christians, Muslims and Jews, so that expulsion, having part of our community deported, affected us deeply. From the Andalusian point of view, 1492 meant the loss of our civilization, as it did, of course, in a more devastating way, to the Native Americans.”
García Lopez’s inclusionary views, stemming from history, inform his future.
“I want someday to teach in a community college,” he says. “Everything I learn, I want to give back. I think community colleges are very important because they are open for everyone—and everyone must have an opportunity to study.”