If Haydee Rodriguez ever entertained doubts as to her life’s purpose on this earth, they were banished from her mind in April when the beloved Southwest High School teacher and inspiration to hundreds of students miraculously survived a horrific car accident and woke from a three-week coma to return to the classroom.
Her homecoming this fall was almost as exciting as the crazy route Haydee (pronounced “Heidi” in English) followed to achieve a rewarding teaching career. Even with a doubtful start as a high school dropout, proof of her success was earmarked recently with a trip to attend a National Board for the Teaching Profession board of directors meeting in Washington D.C. Her influence with El Centro students is based on first-hand knowledge of what it is like to make egregious mistakes and then receive a second chance spurred on by a love for learning.
As the third child and only girl born to Gloria Vasquez, Rodriguez’s story begins on her birthdate, Sept. 7, 1966, with a mother who was determined to raise her children to achieve and succeed regardless of life’s circumstances.
Haydee laughs as she recounts the dramatic events leading up to her birth. It was not an auspicious beginning when her father abandoned their family a few months before she was born. “He just scrammed,” she says, shrugging her shoulders, “and left us without a cent.”
Alone and struggling to raise her sons, her mother went into labor and was turned away from the Calexico hospital because she was broke, Rodriguez explains. So she hot-footed it to Mexicali to a clinic there, but stopped briefly (while still having contractions) at the JC Penney to buy a little t-shirt so the new baby would have something to wear home — even though she couldn’t afford it.
When Gloria arrived at the Mexicali clinic, she discovered the doctor was gone on vacation. Desperate, she informed the nurse that the baby was crowning, and since she’d already given birth to two babies, she would walk the nurse through it. But neither woman realized the baby girl was breach and had the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck. Somehow, they were able to successfully deliver Rodriguez, and by chance, the doctor came by the clinic about an hour later.
Recognizing the young mother’s financial situation, the clinic graciously forgave Gloria her debt. But her conscience would not let her accept their charity, and she promised to cross the border once a month to make payments on her bill. One month later when she made the trip to pay on the balance, she found the clinic boarded up and closed and learned the doctor had died.
With an impish smile, Rodriguez says she often used her “free birth” story as the perfect excuse for her adolescent escapades and foibles. “But Mom, but I was born free!” she would say.
“It was kind of a fun, tumultuous start,” she laughs, but one that brought the little family closer.
“Her life just turned over after I was born,” Rodriguez says, explaining that Gloria frequently confided in her daughter in utero, calling her “my little good luck charm.”
Read more about Haydee Rodriguez in the November/December 2011 edition of Valley Women Magazine in print or our online E-Edition.
Haydee Rodriguez : The Show Must Go On