We Are L.A. Unified

Juanatano Cano set out from his native Guatemala for the United States when he was 20 years old. He traveled by bus and train, through Chiapas to Mexico City to Tijuana,... and finally to San Diego. “I knew with each step that the American dream was within my reach.”

More than two decades later, Juanatano lives that dream in Los Angeles. Teaching Algebra 2 at Miguel Contreras Learning Complex for the past eight years, he serves as an example for newly-arrived migrant children.

“Never give up,” he tells them. “Education is the key to a better future. Always remember where you came from. Appreciate your background and celebrate it with others.”

As a boy in the 1980s, he experienced first-hand the violent civil war in Guatemala. After his uncle was killed, the 13-year-old left his parents to live in the city of Huehuetenango.

For nearly seven years, he washed dishes to pay his way through middle school and high school. He graduated in 1988.

During these dangerous times, an inner voice reminded him: “You are here for a reason. There is a better future as long as you believe.”

Upon his arrival in Los Angeles in 1989, he worked in the Garment District of Downtown Los Angeles and enrolled at night school to learn English at Belmont Adult School. He was desperate to build his vocabulary and to communicate effectively.

In 1991, Cano applied for political asylum and received a temporary work permit. (under the ABC Program for Guatemalans). Four years later, he enrolled at Pasadena City College and began working at Belmont High School as a teacher assistant.

He later attended California State University, Northridge, graduating in 2002 with a bachelor of science in Mathematics. He earned a teaching credential soon afterward.

In 2003 at the age of 35, Cano became a United States citizen. “It was the highest point in my life, and my debt to humanity."

He added, “That citizenship has opened doors for me. I am thankful to be allowed to be an educator.”

-Monica Carazo

COMING TUESDAY: If you're a student or an alum of an L.A. Unified school, chances are the exterior was painted by Sam Rios' family.

To nominate a teacher, student, employee or volunteer, send an email to Thomas.Waldman@lausd.net or call (213) 241-6766.

See more profiles on the District's webpage or Facebook page.