SARATOGA SPRINGS/MEXICO — In 2008, 14 year-old Eleuterio Martinez Ramirez, or Ele, arrived in the U.S. Speaking no English, he set off on a journey that would see him master the language, gain scholarships, a college degree, and working on a project to change the future of recycling. The reason for his journey? To search for a better future.
Hailing from the small village of La Sabana, Copala in Oaxaca, Mexico, Ramirez came to Saratoga Springs and was assigned a guardian to help his adjustment to the U.S. Through a program put on at the backstretch, he learned English, and began to pursue higher education.
Ramirez attended Skidmore College, and studied Documentary Studies, Anthropology, and Math, with the goal of becoming an engineer. “To me, art and science are not separated, but related by how they help us understand and solve important problems in society,” he said.
While at Skidmore, Ramirez was able to travel back to his home village as part of an internship program. He was able to assist at a local school, Centro de Integracion Social 28, and began a community based photography program to help students learn about photography, and to explore his own Triqui culture. “The Triqui people are one of the pre-Colombian indigenous groups that live in the south-western of the state of Oaxaca, Mexico, who are still preserving their culture through their native language (called Triqui), beliefs and art,” explained Ramirez.
This internship became a photo project that was then put on exhibition at the Skidmore Case Center. The project, entitled, “Ventana a mi Comunidad (Window to my Community)” ran in the fall of 2018, and featured photos of local school children, landscapes, adults and daily routines of villagers.
After graduating from Skidmore in May of 2018, Ramirez was able to visit his hometown again with help from the Anne Palamountain Award. This time, he was able to continue his efforts in teaching local school children, and brought 15 tablets and other materials to help assist them.
Despite all of this, Ramirez has no plans of slowing down: he currently works as an Associate Technician at Global Foundries, and has big plans for the future. “My goal for this year while working at Global Foundries is to pursue a second bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering through a program at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute,” he said.
Ramirez is also currently working on a recycling and solar project. “This project got my attention because I noticed that many rural areas in my home-state, especially in my community, don’t have recycling companies that take our plastic, so instead people just dump it out in the rivers or burn it, and this is very bad for the environment,” he explained. “I visualized that bringing this project
back home can have a positive impact on not just the community, but to the environment as well.”
Ramirez said that installed solar panels could help power schools and clinics in his home community. “This is essential to me because many teenagers, like me or under 18 year-olds, quit school because of the lack of resources that the school and/or the government don’t provide every year,” he said. “Therefore, I want to set up the goal to work on these projects and not just give back to my community, but inspire the young Triqui generation [to see] that everything can be done through the knowledge that they can gain through education, and to truly appreciate it because any ideas can be achieved by knowledge, and also determination and sacrifice.”
Throughout his journey, Ramirez has a large group of supporters throughout the community, ranging from professors, coworkers, and friends. “Few individuals have manifested their fear and used it to propel themselves forward down a virtuous path,” said Ramirez’s former professor, Bernardo Ramirez Rios. “Eleuterio Martinez Ramirez is one of the few individuals I know who has overcome tremendous adversity and will continue to shape the story of the United States of America in a righteous way.”
Another friend and supporter, Michelle Paquette-Deuel, Director of the Pre-College Program at Skidmore, has known Ramirez for 10 years. “When once asked why he [Ramirez] studied tirelessly as a Skidmore student, he explained that he carried on his shoulders the hopes of all those who had helped him to get there, that he couldn’t let them or himself down,” stated Paquette-Deuel. “His achievements reflect his steadfast work ethic and sacrifice on behalf of others and the future of his dreams—a future that now includes his U.S. citizenship. Eleuterio’s story entails an epic journey, but it is the measure of his character that is most remarkable.”
Ramirez’s large group of supporters was able to help him celebrate a momentous occasion, when he officially became an American. “I recently obtained my citizenship yesterday [Jan.17], which was the most remarkable day of my life because to me it represents not just a great accomplishment that I did, but it also represents all the people that have supported me through this long journey,” said Ramirez.
Ramirez will continue to give back to his hometown, and to his new community in the U.S. “I witnessed many conditions that pushed me to leave when I was younger like poverty and lack of resources to enhance students’ learning,” he said. “I felt privileged to have all the opportunities that I gained through my education and just to be here in the USA, but I wanted to give back these opportunities to other students that don’t have it.”