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Mr. Rojas: Before Jo Mama

December 14, 2016

It is yet another morning activity block. I walk downstairs into the basement to drag my tired self into G10. I give Frida Cow-lo a stroke on her nose, and head into the world of Rojas and his pal, Jo Mama.


This family photo was taken before colored lenses were invented, and before it was acceptable for children to wear anything except formal wear.

What are some good stories from your childhood?

Well, growing up, I heard some of my friends disrespecting their parents, saying things like, “I’m eighteen now, I don’t need to live by my parents’ rules.” So, I tried it on my dad one time. I asked his permission to go somewhere, and he said, “No, you need to stay home,” and I said, “Well, I’m eighteen now. I can do what I want.” So I left.

When I came home all of my suitcases were packed, most of my stuff was on the porch, and then my dad told me, “I love you son, but if you don’t want to go by my rules, it’s time for you to go.” So, I didn’t misbehave a whole lot because of that.

Mr. Rojas’ loving family

Also, it seemed like every time we would go on vacation we would do the Oregon coast and it was kind of like “National Lampoon’s Vacation.” Something would always go wrong. We’d get stranded somewhere or the hotel wouldn’t work out or the tent wouldn’t work–something would always go wrong! But we always ended up having a great time because we were with our family. It was always a, I guess you would say, very fun disaster.

I remember we got caught in a freak rainstorm and everything got flooded and we all kind of piled into our camper/station wagon and we had to spend the night in there. That wasn’t very fun, but we ended up playing games that night.

What types of games?

My parents would make up these weird little games. See, my dad liked playing cards and playing with dice and we’d just play for pennies or M&M’s. Like a version of dice games or pretend car races where you roll dice and you get that number you get to move forward. It wasn’t like your standard “Monopoly” or anything, they would just make them up as they went. So, you ended up with a lot of M&M’s or pennies. It was more about the fun of the smack [talk]. I’m very competitive, so it was a lot of fun.

I can’t imagine what this picture could be except a group Halloween costumes of the 1970’s. Someone help me understand.

Another childhood story would be my first work experience. My dad worried about giving us all good work values, so one morning he woke me up at six in the morning, and told me to layer up (because we lived in the mountains in Walla Walla, Washington). We drove up–and I thought we were going to do some nature hiking–we drove up, came to some strawberry fields, and there were all these kids working out there. He said to the owner, “This is my boy, he’s gonna work hard for you,” handed me my lunch and left. I was twelve, it was 1976.

We would eat some strawberries and throw them at each other in the summertime, but if you did that you’d get docked boxes.

Did you ever have any hobbies or collections?

When I was in high school, my basketball team had kind of a miracle season. We just had a group of people that really knew how to play basketball together and we had a really strong sense of family. We were really good at falling behind and then winning at the buzzer, so we got this great following and made it all the way to the state championship, but lost in double overtime. There were 6,000 people from Walla Walla in the crowd.

Mr. Rojas in his basketball jersey in high school. Yeah, it really looks like 6,000 people could’ve fit in there.

I’m a big music freak. I can’t play any [instruments], but I listen to all kinds of music. There’s groups of kids that have come in here over the years just to play Name That Tune and I’ll be like the Game Master. I’m that person that categorizes things, like you have your Seattle Grunge–That was actually very cool, my college years is when that was happening, so going up to Seattle with friends was good.

(We checked and Mr. Rojas’ most-played song is “The Pretender” by the Foo Fighters.)

What do you think got you into music?

Growing up, my cousins were very much into music. They all played in bands and they all had their own rock bands–very ’70’s.

What are your Christmas traditions?

Well, very typical traditions. I have a sister in Spokane, a sister in Fairbanks, my brother and I live here, my parents are in Walla Walla, but at Christmastime we all try to get together with nieces and nephews and that sort of thing. We do Midnight Mass, and then we get up in the morning and we do the gifts that way. We either gather at my parents’ in Walla Walla or my sister’s in Spokane.

We make a lot of tamales in between the Thanksgiving and Christmas season. They’re quite a process to make, but they’re also a very fun process to eat.

“How can we get the best picture together, friend?” “Take it through a window, pal, with giant pointsettas in the foreground.”

What is the lettuce story (at the old school you worked at)?

This was my very first job as a teacher in West Valley, Idaho. The boys were asking me, “What’s a bad word? Can you teach us a bad word?” Well, of course I said no, but I told them, “Just say ‘lechuga’ with attitude.” Lechuga. Doesn’t that sound bad? Lechuga.

So, about a couple weeks later I get called into the office and about two vice principals and a principal are there and they all looked really worried. They were saying things about race violence and gangs and things and I kind of laughed a little inside because there were about two African-American families and three Latino families, me being one of them.

They wondered about this word, “lechuga,” wondering if it was a gang word, and I just went “oh, no.” I told them it just means lettuce and the two vice principals started laughing and the principal got up and walked out, shaking her head.

Mr. Rojas and his parents, staring into his bright future at SMA.

What made you want to become a teacher?

I’ve always wanted to be a teacher, ever since I was in high school. I guess I just liked the impact teachers had on me, and I was hoping I could do the same for others.

What is something that not many people at SMA know about you?

I played pool once with Clint Eastwood. When he’s not working he lives in Sun Valley, so he just came into one of the local establishments and played pool. He just came in there a lot, but I was able to play pool with him one time and it was really cool. He was my hero. Growing up, my dad and I would watch all his movies, so it was awesome meeting him. I don’t even remember much about it I was too busy enjoying the moment.

Lastly, how has SMA changed who you are?

I don’t know that it’s changed me a whole lot, I just think it’s a great fit. Like I said earlier, family is everything to me, and that’s why I love St. Mary’s because St. Mary’s is family. Your TA is a family within a family and St. Mary’s as a whole is a family. I think of the admin as the parents, and all of us teachers as the crazy aunts and uncles, and then the kids are the kids. I just think it’s a great fit for me and a great place to be.

Thank you, Mr. Rojas. It was a pleasure meeting with you, and I probably won’t see you again because I am taking French. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯


Mr. Rojas and the Little Dribblers program. Know someone in the junior class? You might be able to find them above!

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