Emeterio “Pete” Otero (far left), a dean of Monroe Community College, arrived at the MobileBooth in Rochester, New York on a cool Sunday morning with his son Christopher (far right) and grandsons Jeremiah (center right) and Noah (center left). Emeterio’s grandsons were intrigued by stories of their grandfather getting his teeth knocked out during a middle-school fight; parachuting through night skies in the Air Force; and going back to school via the G.I. Bill. They also inquired about rumors they had heard that Emeterio was once beat up by a girl during middle school, which their granddad gleefully confirmed is true.
Yet it was Emeterio’s transition from academic obscurity to established scholar that intrigued his grandsons the most. Emeterio lived in Buffalo, New York and was a member of “the only Puerto Rican family in [his] neighborhood.” His parents emigrated to the Northeast from Puerto Rico during the 1950′s when Emeterio was seven. His father had been a farmer in Cieles, Puerto Rico and Emeterio mentions that his “pops had a can-do attitude.” Emeterio’s dad came to the U.S. first, and his mother came over a year later with him and two of his siblings.
There were scuffles, taunts, and derogatory names throughout his school years. Upon entering high school, Emeterio predicted he’d “drop out in the tenth grade.” The level of uncertainty in his life was overwhelming. In the Summer of 1964, Emeterio joined the military at the age of 17. “The airborne stuff sounded really neat…and it was one of the better decisions I ever made because it taught me structure and discipline. If I had stayed on in the same lifestyle, there’s a good chance I could have been dead. Drugs were coming on strong at that point…but I grew up and got a good sense of myself.”
What he didn’t predict was his desire to help educate others. It was during the Detroit Riots of 1967 that Emeterio came across injustices he’d never before seen. “There was martial law…and then it was a war. I romanticized war…but when I saw people being shot and people being hurt, it took the flowery nature of war away. It really bothered me. But [the riots] solidified my ideas on social justice. At that point, I tuned to the issue of race in America. I think education creates power. It creates a sense of equity. It also creates a sense of social justice and, for me, that’s important.”
He eventually attained a doctoral degree in education and influenced two more generations of Oteros, including his son Christopher, who is currently an English professor at Monroe Community College.
“Community college is the bridge.”, Emeterio says. He only needs to tell his story to prove it.
Related: Eleven Ways To Succeed