Dr. Theresa Perez, Professor Emerita, Department of Middle, Secondary, and K-12 Education, dedicated 14 years to UNC Charlotte. She established the Teaching English as a Second Language program in the Cato College of Education and served as a tireless advocate for immigrant rights and educational equity. Dr. Theresa Perez, mother, trailblazer, iconic educator, and community activist died at the age of 85 after a fearless battle against ALS on January 13, 2019. Dr. Perez is survived by her husband of 66 years Manuel Perez and children: Dr. Sandra Perez, Andrea Perez-Lemus, Tim Perez, Sallie Perez Saiz, Raquel Perez, and Tino Perez; 15 grandchildren; 7 great-grandchildren; sister Mary Delfin and predeceased in death by her daughter Rebecca Ford and her mother Isabel Hernandez.
Dr. Perez was born in 1933 in San Jose, California, where her mother was a migrant farm worker and her father was in the US Navy. She was raised by her mother and grandparents in California migrant farm-worker camps until age five when her family finally settled in Fresno, California. Living in the labor camps exposed her to many different cultures and experiences that served to forge her indomitable spirit to fight against social injustice, to develop her vision of inclusion and tolerance, and a life of service to others.
It was also during these early years in her educational experience as a bilingual speaker, she acquired the resiliency that would help her navigate through diverse and challenging experiences to advocate for the needs of others from migrant and dual language backgrounds. In 1953, she married her husband Manuel, which marked the beginning of their lifelong partnership to bring about social change in the San Joaquin Valley. She attended college at a time when universities were not open to many minority students. According to Dr. Andrew Alvarado, in 1960, there were only twelve Chicano Students at Fresno State. Dr. Perez obtained a B.A. in Spanish (1969) and her M.A. in Linguistics and bilingualism (1975). She was an inspirational model in her quest for social and educational justice. A champion of affirmative action and bilingual education issues, she fought fearlessly both on the Fresno State campus and also in the community where she took on school districts. In 1975, Dr. Perez was the first Latina to run for the Fresno County Board of Supervisors. Although she was unsuccessful in this bid, the following year she embarked on a journey that would change the direction of her life. At age 43, after having seven children, she moved to Stanford University with her three youngest children to obtain her Ph.D. in Curriculum and Teacher Education. In 1980, upon completion of her doctoral program, she returned to Fresno to serve her community as a Professor at CSUF and a community activist. In 1998, she was invited to join the faculty at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC) where she continued to focus on issues of gender and equity in the classroom.
She was a prolific scholar, educator, and mentor and received many outstanding recognition and awards, including 1989 Woman of the Year National Hispanic Scholarship Fund; 1991 Teacher of the Year Award, California Association of Mexican Educators; 1992 One of 20 Fresno Women Committed to Change, and many others. In 2012, she retired from UNCC and moved back to Fresno, CA. Dr. Perez dedicated her life to education in the pursuit of social justice.
As friends of Dr. Perez, it is our hope to endow a scholarship at UNC Charlotte in her memory. Our current fundraising goal is $10,000 which will help us build support towards endowment. Ultimately, the scholarship would have over $25,000 raised to become endowed and will be able to continue to share Dr. Perez's spirit and memory for years to come.
Please make a gift today and help leave a lasting legacy in the field of education in Dr. Perez’s honor. Learn more about her life and commitment to equity and education here.