A builder of multicultural bridges: Co-workers, students, family remember the legacy of Yesica Marin

Yesica Marin, center, with her family, from left: Juan Marin Sr., Bryan, Juan Jr. and Lissy. (Photos courtesy Juan Marin Sr.)

“No se dice no puedo, se dice tengo que poder.” It was a powerful motto spoken by Edmonds School District employee Yesica Marin, giving hope and structure to many in the community.

In English, it means ‘”Don’t say I can’t, say I have to be able to.’” Marin, who personified every syllable of her motto, died in August at age 54 from cancer. Working as the Latino lead parent at Edmonds-Woodway High School, she left a legacy of cultural pride, ancestral history and educational values.

Former Edmonds School District Assistant Superintendent Justin Irish, who worked closely with Marin when he was principal of College Place Elementary, cited her work to help the district develop a parent advisory group on creating equitable outcomes for students.

“She shaped how the district provides EL (English Learner) services, pushed the district to change their translation and interpretation services, helped to shape the district’s equity policy – and the list goes on.” said Irish, who now serves as superintendent of the Anacortes School District.

Marin began her education career in 1985 Mexico, where she taught kindergarten for 17 years. Her husband of almost 30 years, Juan Marin Sr., says he saw his wife “give 120% effort into everything she did.” Yesica and Juan married in Chilpancingo, Guerrero Mexico in 1990 and moved from Mexico to the United States in 2002 with, Juan said, “the hope of achieving the American dream.”

Yesica, he said, “was a woman with a lot of dreams and faith in God. She always loved to help people in need.” After living in Indiana, the couple move to Washington and started to volunteer in the Edmonds School District “to ensure equity for all students,” Juan said. Even after being was diagnosed with cancer, Yesica still wanted to help people, so she joined the St. Vincent de Paul in Mountlake Terrace, but because of COVID-19 she was only able to attend one meeting. “She never said no to anyone,” her husband said.

Yesica Marin also started a dance troupe, México En La Piel (Mexico on the Skin), which included students of all ages as well as adults.

“We started out in a garage.” recalled Joanna Cienfuego, who danced in the troupe while a student at Edmonds-Woodway. “Yesica was a great teacher and choreographer – she taught and shared stories of dance that included Latino folklore, Merengue, and Salsa.  Yesica was always welcoming and made you feel like family.”

Mexico En La Piel outgrew its garage rehearsal space and became a popular dance troupe that performed at schools, churches and community venues in both Western and Eastern Washington.

And Marin did so much more than teach dance, Cienfuego explained, “She brought people together and made you proud of your history and your ancestors. She taught us to never give up, to stay in school, and to get involved in community events. I will miss her energy and positive attitude – I love my Mexican music and culture because of her and I’m so proud of that time in my life.”

Irish said that Marin played a significant role in the district’s efforts to remove barriers for the most marginalized communities. Her involvement, he said, “helped to establish and make sure that students and parents had access to interpreter kits, language lines and opportunities denied them because of their limited English.”

Maria Garcia, the district’s Latino outreach specialist, met Marin in 2007 at an equity alliance event that was focused on teaching teens and parents about navigating the educational system.  She said that Marin understood the opportunity gap many students faced.

“Yesica was a humble, natural-born leader with love and respect for her community and was closely connected to the Latino culture,” Garcia said. “She was a pillar who built multi-cultural bridges between students, families and schools.”

Working side-by-side, Marin and Garcia advocated for children, teens, parents and the community to help ensure active engagement between students and the schools they attended. Garcia said she saw firsthand what she calls Marin’s “amazing and tireless advocacy for her students and the community as well as her own family.”

When asked how many parents and students Marin helped over the years, Garcia said: “Too many to count — she was a role model not just for K-12 grades but those wanting to further their education in both undergraduate and graduate programs as well.”

One of Juan Marin’s Sr.’s fondest memories of his wife is that she wanted to have a food truck business, and after three and a half years of planning, she achieved her dream, ‘because she set her mind to it.’

Yesica Marin stands in front of the Que Tacos food truck.

The couple begin operating a taco food truck, Que Tacos, in October 2014, running it until December 2018. The truck is still operating — under new owners — in Seattle’s Lake City neighborhood.

The Marin’s three children — Juan Jr., Bryan, and Lissy — have all excelled in their education. Juan Jr. and Bryan earned degrees in computer science and communications, respectively, and Lissy, the youngest, is pursuing her degree at the University of Washington.  All three have special memories of their mother’s hard work both inside and outside their home.

“She was an amazing mother who had a rough childhood and wanted to overcome obstacles to have a better life for her and her loved ones,” Juan Marin Jr. said.  “Since we were little she always taught us that we could achieve anything we set our minds to.”

Added Bryan: “My mother led by example; as an immigrant, she managed to open and run two successful businesses and that inspired all of us. She showed us that we could reach our dreams if we put in the time and effort.”

Daughter Lissy intends to write a book about the life her mother lived, adding she aspires “to be a portion of the extraordinary woman she was. My mother’s love of language was acts of service; everywhere she went she wanted to help as many people as she could.”

An inspirational role model in education, family, dance and cultural equity, Marin proved — by example — the permanent mark one person can make and leave in the world.

Cienfuegos, who still can’t believe that Marin is gone, said, “Yesica is one of the reasons I stayed out of trouble – she’s the reason I fell in love with the dance.”

— By Misha Carter


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