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From Immigrant to Teacher

Architecture class was one of my favorite classes in high school. PHOTO/ Pixabay

By Michael Castaneda

Published: February 13th, 2019

My high school Architecture teacher was a man named Mr. Okayo. I’m sure he had a first name, but I can’t seem to remember it. Mr. Okayo was from Kenya and he claimed to be the first black person to ever live in Pasadena, California, which is an affluent white neighborhood in Southern California. It is also where the TV show The Big Bang Theory was set.

He said that the police would follow him home every night and he would turn on a bunch of lights as soon as he stepped in to demonstrate that he actually lived there. He was an exchange student at the time. He also said that his peers had never been close to a black person before and so he was able to convince them that his blood was a different color than his white classmates. He said it was green/ blue or whatever suited him that day. With a slightly stereotypical manner of an African immigrant in a 1980’s movie, he told us all this with a big smile while exulting joy.

Happiness is the emotion I mostly associate him with. Even when he was angry with us for the high school crime of “talking,” it never lasted long until he was happy with us again. The architecture classroom he taught at was down a steep incline and Mr. Okayo, who was in great shape, would effortlessly run up to playfully tell one of his students “I know you!”

During class, he would also use his childhood in Kenya to illustrate architectural concepts. I will always remember why a light switch is on the left-hand side when you walk in any door because a Masai warrior could be waiting to stab you with a spear; which I guess was a real concern for him at the time. I had never heard of the Masai before, but it turns out they appear in Nike commercials time to time and their look was heavily influenced by designs from the Black Panther and the Wakanda warriors. He would also let us listen to music while we did our architectural drafting and sometimes, I would subconsciously ask questions loudly because I was talking over my own music.

Architecture class was one of my favorite classes in high school. There was a great teacher, a fun Computer Aid Drafting (CAD) computer lab, actual architectural drafting, and students who got to make cool architectural models of their work. Thanks to Mr. Okayo, this one class has a similar feel akin to the dim and dark memories of pre-school.

But don’t let this praise of one good class and teacher be a false representation that high school wasn’t an experience I feel lucky to have survived. This just goes to show why a good teacher can make all the difference. In all fairness, there were a couple more good teachers, but there were also many who crush their student’s souls and supposedly contributed in making them drop out as well as the other horrors of high school. Till this day, I have an appreciation for architecture and would love to see a nice blueprint. Somehow, I feel as if Mr. Okayo had something to do with that.

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