Martha Robles is the oldest of nine brothers and sisters. Born in Sonora, Mexico, she migrated as a young child to California in the early 1960s with her family, looking for better opportunities. After a few years, however, immigration standards were tightened and the borders were closed. Robles father was deported to Mexico, and his family followed.
The family applied for documentation and waited three years to return to the U.S. legally. By this time, Robles was ten years old. Her family settled in the Pomona area, where she attended school and later graduated from Pomona High School.
"Growing up, I didn't have a lot of people asking me whether I planned to attend college, or whether I was earning good grades," Robles says.
"It wasn't because my parents didn't care; it was because they had a different frame of reference. They were very focused on providing food and shelter for their large family."
Two notable people in Robles' life compelled her to pursue higher education. One was Mrs. Morris, a neighbor and a mother of her childhood friends. Mrs. Morris would tell Robles, "One of these days I'll be calling you Dr. Robles."
Another impetus for Robles to attend college was her experience working as a dental assistant for a local dentist. He taught Robles the basics, and she observed him closely, thinking, "If he can do it, I can do it."
Robles began taking classes at Mt. San Antonio College. Before long, she found that she had earned enough units to transfer to California State University, Chico, in Northern California.
As a young Latina woman, Robles' departure from her home and her family was a huge step culturally.
"There was pressure for me to simply stay home, get married and have kids," she recalls.
"Many Latinos in the U.S. are caught with one foot in the Latino culture and one foot in the American culture. There are biases and pressures from both sides."
Robles stuck with her decision to attend Chico State. She started off as an English major and earned a bachelor's degree in English literature. She went on to pursue a master's degree, during which time she found that she wanted to teach English as a second language to adults. Her master's degree specializes in teaching English to those who speak different languages by using computer technology. During graduate school, she started tutoring and teaching part-time at local community colleges.
Robles' calling to teach adults stemmed from her interaction with her parents, who were also English learners. She was drawn to adults' motivations and commitment to learning.
Robles soon became a "freeway flier" adjunct faculty member at several local Northern California community colleges, driving north as far as 50 miles from her home to teach at one school, and driving another 50 miles south of her home to teach at another. She taught at Shasta Community College, Butte College and Yuba College, among others.
Robles joined the Adult Education staff at Cerritos College in 2004, teaching daytime ESL courses and Saturday vocational classes.
"I learn a great deal from my students," Robles says.
"I remind them that I, too, was once an ESL student. I empathize with my students, because many of them are female immigrants who've come to the U.S. to try to better themselves.
She is inspired when she encounters students who are motivated, even stubborn, in learning and applying themselves to learning a new and difficult language.
In the future, Robles sees herself becoming a tenured faculty member at Cerritos College and earning a Ph.D. Robles' family is very proud of her as the first person in her family to attain a college degree. She has many nieces and nephews who are told, "Look at your aunt. She went to college, and so will you."