Imagine being a young woman, leaving your home to come to a new country where you are surrounded by new people, a new environment and a new culture. Your mother starts a new teaching job, and you and your two sisters start a new life at a new school.
Crossing a bridge between two cultures, Neelam Canto-Lugo was born in India and came to the United Sates with her family when she was 18. Canto-Lugo’s sister was suffering from a dislocated hip when a doctor suggested her family move to the United States to seek medical help from a children’s hospital in San Francisco. Her mother worked as a teacher while Canto-Lugo and her two sisters went to school.
She achieved her first masters in English from U.C. Davis. While working on her second masters in San Diego, Canto-Lugo was offered a teaching position at Yuba College at the young age of 22. She has now been teaching at Yuba as both an English and Speech instructor for over 30 years. Her Speech 6 class raised over $1,800 this year for tsunami victims through bake sales and other fundraisers.
“They have been doing one community service project every semester for fifteen years,” said Canto-Lugo. “They do research and find charities that receive at least 95 percent of profits and then pick one,” she said.In addition to teaching, Canto-Lugo, with Tony Jou and a counselor who has since retired, created “Crossing Borders / Building Bridges.” “Crossing Borders” is a seminar series that brings guest speakers to the campus in an effort to promote cultural diversity.
“This area is so diverse, most people don’t do enough to find out about other cultures,” said Canto-Lugo.
Among her favorite speakers is holocaust survivor, Alicia Jhurman. “I like speakers who bring cultural and political issues here to the students,” she said. “Crossing Borders” hosts on average two speakers a month.
Every other year, in the library, Canto-Lugo organizes a Japanese American exhibit. CSU Sacramento donates the materials needed from its archives. “I always have one outstanding student that helps me, and this year it’s Maria Mireles,” said Canto-Lugo. The museum exhibit was on display this past February in the Yuba College, Marysville campus library.
Cultural diversity is obviously an issue Canto-Lugo feels strongly about, but how has it affected her and her family in a society that is not always so understanding? When asked if racial profiling has been a personal problem, she said, “Other than my sons being searched repeatedly and thoroughly, it has not been a problem.”
The Marysville campus of Yuba College also serves as a bridge for Canto-Lugo and her husband. Canto-Lugo’s husband, Fernando, teaches at Yuba College as a Spanish professor. For some marital relationships, working side by side may serve as cause for a referee and opposing corners, but not for these two. Canto-Lugo met her Fernando Canto-Lugo while teaching here at Yuba. They have been married for over 19 years.
“I was here first when he came to teach here,” Canto-Lugo said. When asked how she liked working with her husband, she replied, “It’s great!”
Neelam Canto-Lugo started her teaching career her at Yuba and plans to stick around and finish it out.
“I plan to stay and continue to motivate students to share with their families and community, their knowledge.”