Gregory Marquez publishes a very different type of local newspaper.
This one has a circulation of about 500 and is distributed only a few times each year. Depending on the reporter, page one may deal with Tien An Men Square, Dracula or a chilling first-person account of the civil war in El Salvador.
These may seem like unconventional subjects for a tiny local paper put together with a personal computer and a duplicating machine. But the writers of the articles aren't reaching for the offbeat, they are describing the life they have known. All are immigrants and all are students--not journalists. They write for EP News, the class newspaper in the advanced English proficiency course at Ventura Community College.
A professional newspaper editor might go crazy trying to edit some of the stories, but the publisher, who is in fact the teacher, isn't looking for perfection. Surrounded by computer terminals and stacks of papers in his classroom at the north end of the campus, Marquez reflects on why he chose a newspaper as a vehicle for his students to learn English.
"This is just a means to an end," said the 53-year-old Chicago native. "Their writings tells various things about their personal lives. I want them to write for a purpose."
Marquez understands the meaning of purpose; he's been all over the world looking for it.
He was the second of eight children born to a mother of Polish descent and a Filipino father. His family moved from Illinois to the Philippines in 1940 at the behest of his grandfather, a rather bad move, Marquez said, considering that the Japanese invaded the country shortly afterward. He was 3 years old.
The family was spared internment in a camp because Marquez's mother was thought to be a Swiss citizen. They were repatriated in 1945 and moved to Schenectady, N.Y. After high school, Marquez spent three years in the Marines and upon being discharged, went back to the Philippines to attend college. "How can you beat $60 a year tuition and relatives to stay with?" he said.
But wanderlust continued to torment him. After he finished school, Marquez wound up in Malaysia, bought a motorcycle and pointed it north with a planned route through Thailand, Burma, East Pakistan--now Bangladesh--India and eventually Europe. He got as far as Burma only to find the border closed, returned to Thailand and took a job teaching English at a private school.
In 1965, he was back in New York, enrolled in the University of New York at Albany and working on a degree in economics with a minor in philosophy. He celebrated his graduation by traveling, this time to Morocco for six months.
Back in New York, he worked intermittently as a truck driver and a substitute teacher before heading to Mexico in 1968 to "teach English. I didn't make much money, just enough to live on," he said.
Yo-yo-ing back to the United States, he promptly took off with a friend and headed for Peru, ostensibly never to return. Marquez got as far as Guatemala, "where there were beautiful birds, blue sky and carrots were 4 cents a pound."
But the lure of his homeland was overpowering. In 1973 he returned, this time to California. Since then he has worked as a cook in a private school, taught English as a Second Language classes at various community colleges, bounced back to Mexico to work for that government, returned and joined the ESL department at Cal State Los Angeles, and finally, three years ago, applied for a job at Ventura Community College.
"My biggest kick is teaching," he said. "I don't know what I'd do if I didn't have students to recharge my batteries every day. You get more than you give out."
And one of the things Marquez gets is a lot of extra work editing stories for the paper, which, he said, has proven to be an effective teaching aid.
"The newspaper is their writing assignment because it's their weakest skill. Some are very verbal, very fluent, but they don't have writing skills," he said of the students. Most are in their mid-20s "so this is an attempt to get everyone writing."
In return, Marquez finds that his students are determined to excel. "They're motivated and they want to learn," he said, adding that most come to EP classes so they can use their new English skills to find a job or get a better one.
Jose Luis Garcia, 34, a native of Mexico, is typical.
"I don't want to go back to the fields," he said of the work he has been doing for the last 15 years. "I want a better education. Here I can learn, work on computers and use the English language. He really helps you. He reminds me of Jaime Escalante, the teacher in the movie 'Stand and Deliver.' "
Jaime Casillas, director of off-campus programs, also praises Marquez for the extra effort he takes with his class.
"Greg is the type of a teacher who takes a personal interest in each student," Casillas said. "It's not uncommon to see him still working in his office at 10 p.m. He combines creativity and enthusiasm with a lot of hard work." And a lot of that work goes into the EP News.
"This is a labor of love. You don't do this type of class just because you want to be a teacher," Marquez said. "My general purpose is make them feel good about themselves. If I can give them that, I've accomplished what I want to do."
UP CLOSE GREGORY MARQUEZ
Title: Ventura Community College teacher.
First love: First and foremost, teaching.
Most frustrating teaching job: "At an ESL department in a state college where the school was more money-oriented, rather than student-oriented."
Biggest problem teaching English proficiency: Working with students whose language doesn't use articles. For example: Japanese. "I see car."