The icy snow is thick on either side of Highway 35 as Alejandro Anaya drives south in the darkness of winter, his car packed tight with all his belongings. Forget this Minnesota cold, he thinks to himself. Forget this life I just started in the Twin Cities—it’s too hard. But Anaya doesn’t get far before he takes the exit ramp, turns the car around, and drives back home. He knows the challenges he faces aren’t easy, but he isn’t going to simply run away from them. That’s not the kind of person he is.
Anaya came to Minnesota in 2000 looking for a fresh start after spending most of his adult life in Los Angeles. At the age of 18, he’d fled El Salvador in the midst of its civil war and settled in California. Having always had an appetite for knowledge and a drive to stay active, Anaya worked his way through English class after English class, mastering the language, and from there, he started taking college classes in business, computer science, and management at a community college while working full time. Anaya got married and started a family, all the while commuting to work and completing general requirements as he chipped away at his business administration degree. When he and his wife divorced in 1998, a rift opened up in Anaya’s life. He moved to Minnesota and started over, again. It was a difficult time, but he found work as an interpreter for Hennepin County, and later landed his dream job as a graphics production manager for creatives.
A theme began to emerge in Anaya’s life: perseverance. No matter what, he wasn’t going to give up on the things that mattered most to him.
The Things that Matter Most
Education and discipline have always been important to Anaya. For as long as he can remember, he’s focused on taking college-level classes or professional development coursework. He exercises three to four days out of every week. He taught himself to paint. He does home repairs himself. And, of course, he continues to learn new things.
"I’m always doing something, learning something... Going to college mattered a lot. I should’ve had my degree done in 1987, but raising a family and providing for them was more important... in the back of my mind I thought about school.”
“My mother thought that a high school diploma was enough,” Anaya says. “But I’ve always been active, and I’m always doing something, learning something. I thought that going to college mattered a lot. I should’ve had my degree done in 1987, but raising a family and providing for them was more important. But in the back of my mind I thought about school.”
After firmly establishing himself in Minnesota, he began earning his certificate in interpretation from the U of M. From there, he discovered the Multidisciplinary Studies (MdS) degree program. The MdS program was just what Anaya needed to complete the degree he’d been chasing since he was in his early 20s. After meeting with an advisor, he discovered that he could transfer his credits from the many community colleges he’d attended over the years and put those credits toward a degree. Anaya learned he was only seven classes away from having his bachelor’s.
“My priority was always to get my children through their degrees first,” Anaya says. “My oldest son now has his MBA, and my youngest is seeking a master’s in psychology. Now it’s time for me to finish, and I want to finish. I just keep thinking: Finally, finally!”
Dedication and Desire
Anaya took a proposal-writing course, which is required for the MdS degree, and wrote his plan for completion along with personal and professional goals. The exercise of writing the proposal helped him find the patterns in his education and articulate what he wanted to accomplish.
“When I first started, I was overwhelmed and intimidated,” Anaya remembers. “But everything dropped in place. By the end of the proposal course, I was like, ‘Wow, I wrote that?’ I got an A on it.”
Today, Anaya is only two classes away from completing his degree, and he’ll finish them this fall. As he reflects on his journey, he keeps coming back to the importance of perseverance.
"I want to be an example to everyone in my family, especially my nieces and nephews. I want them to see their tío finish and think, if he can do it, I can do it. Anything is achievable with desire and dedication.”
“I want to let others know two things: First, it’s never too late. And second, education is important for everybody,” Anaya says. “I want to be an example to everyone in my family, especially my nieces and nephews. I want them to see their tío finish and think, if he can do it, I can do it. Anything is achievable with desire and dedication.”
He’s quick to point out that he couldn’t have done it alone. His second wife, Karen, has been both his inspiration and his support system all along the way. At this point, Anaya can see the finish line, and he’s already dreaming about what comes next. For Anaya, that something might mean returning to El Salvador to share the gift of education with others. What that looks like, he’s still not sure, but the thought of returning there to inspire others through language, music, and art sounds pretty good to him.