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Professor triumphs despite hardships

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Alba Melgar lived in El Salvador until the Salvadoran Civil War in the 1980s.
Alba Melgar lived in El Salvador until the Salvadoran Civil War in the 1980s.
Photo courtesy of Alba Melgar

One professor found herself fleeing her home country in fear for her life, only to live it to the fullest through persistence and strength.

Spanish senior lecturer Alba Melga has shared her inspirational immigration story with students for nearly 15 years at Texas State. Melgar was born in El Salvador and lived there into her adult life. She said she loved the life she built there with her two children.

Despite the warmth of her family, she was no stranger to hardship. Every morning, she would get up at 2 a.m. and collect water to ensure her family had clean drinking water for the day.

Her livelihood was jeopardized when her home country faced the Salvadoran Civil War in the 1980s. At the time, Melgar was a professor in El Salvador. The government saw teachers as a threat because they were educating the youth. According to Melgar, the government eventually began persecuting teachers and offered civilians money for killing them. She said she began to fear for her and her children’s well-being.

One day, Melgar was sitting in Mass as a witness when a dissident shot the leading Bishop in the head. She recounted this as the moment she realized she was truly in danger. She knew she had to leave her country for the sake of her family.

She had family in Austin and would visit them occasionally, so in 1981 she sold everything and moved to Austin. Though Melgar spoke Spanish, French and Italian, she knew no English and was unable to teach. She said it was extremely frustrating, but motivated her to get back to learn another language.

“I see challenges, not obstacles, because a challenge is inviting me to surpass it,” Melgar said. “When you want something, you have to go out and get it.”

She had few job options, and for 20 years she cleaned houses. Simultaneously, she learned English and put her son and daughter through college. Her daughter went to St. Edwards University in Austin while her son moved to France to study.

One of the last homes she cleaned was Katherine Selber, a professor in the school of social work at Texas State. They became good friends, raised their kids together and gave each other support as single mothers.

“She always had goals and dreams, and I never doubted for a minute she would do exactly what she said she would do,” Selber said. “(Melgar) could have found many reasons to give up because her life has not always been easy, yet she persevered.”

Melgar attended Austin Community College for two years. She then went to the University of Texas, where she completed her bachelors in Spanish with a minor in Italian at the age of 53. She went on to get her masters at Texas State and taught her first class in 2003.

Today, Melgar said she believes El Salvador has significantly changed for the better. In recent years, Melgar has returned to El Salvador for a conference on the importance of learning English.

Melgar said her story helps her inspire students to accept nothing but the best. She does not accept excuses in her class. She said she knows how difficult life can get, but she believes if she was able to persevere, students can too.

Melgar said she believes she is teaching every moment of her life. Her legacy and hard work will live on through her teaching.

“I think I survive in every single person that touches my life, and I think I will continue living in my students because every one of my students is a projection of myself,” Melgar said.

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