Joseph L. Conde

Personal Statement and Bio

Several events have shaped the way my life has turned out so far. My father’s death at the age of two began to be evident around my kindergarten graduation. Not having a dad forced me to be independent and take charge of matters whenever possible. Because I am the first born in the family, it was always clear to me that I had the responsibility to contribute to the family’s needs. Work has been part of my life from age eleven.

After my mother decided to move to the United States, we were in a sense uprooted from everything that was good and familiar to us. I left El Salvador at the age of twelve, soon after my cultural and linguistic understanding began to change as I adapted and adopted an additional culture and language. My Junior and High School years were active and memorable. I participated in the JROTC program for three years and served in the Student Government for a year. Becoming the highest-ranking logistic officer in the whole LAUSD (Los Angeles Unified School District) was a competitive achievement, which characterized my teenage years. Soon after graduation, my responsibilities to the family became more evident, as there were still three younger sisters to graduate. My priorities were always in favor of work because I felt that it was my duty to contribute and lessen the economic burden from my mother. Somehow, I always managed to take a course or two per semester for over ten years. Learning was always important, so I became the first in my family to enroll in college.

History and Geography have been among my favorite subjects since boyhood. Reading the newspaper and the National Geographic always inspired me to want to travel to those places I read about. I left the states in search of adventure at the age of twenty-eight. I lived in Spain for two years and then I immigrated to Israel where I lived a total of four years. In my travels, one thing was always familiar, I always found the need to start all over wherever I lived.
As I continued to travel, my circle of friends became more diverse. It was through my new friends that I learned about other cultures. In Spain, I lived with both a Peruvian and a Spanish family. In France, I was hosted by a French family. In Israel, during the course of the years, I was adopted by an Argentinean, a South African, an Italian, and by an Israeli family. Culturally adopted in Israel means, that a local family volunteers in taking in a new immigrant as part of their own family. It was an educational experience learning to behave within all these different families and cultures. Taking part of their important family events made my stay always easier.

Somehow I have always managed to find or create my own work. I had to adapt to new settings, languages, and cultural mentalities. As an individual, I cannot say that I am strictly a Salvadorean, Californian, or Israeli. I am simply the sum of all my experiences. Sort of like a cultural chameleon. I simply adapt to the colors of my surroundings. Living abroad for six years has given me the experience to look at the world much differently. Now, local and international news are just as important because events have influenced me to become a world citizen. My exposure to Spanish, French, and Israeli cultures has added a different perspective when it comes to interacting with others cultures. Living in different countries gave me a taste in cultures, foreign languages, local cuisines, the arts, international politics, history, and dances (like Spanish Sevillanas, Folk dancing from Southern France, Israeli Folk dancing, and Dances learned from immigrants from Cuba or South America). Living there made it easy to adapt and adopt cultural traits, mannerisms, languages, and even becoming involved in local elections.

My interests in dancing began in childhood at carnivals, family events, and cultural celebrations; these almost always involved dancing with people of all ages. My first dance performance was at my kindergarten graduation, where I danced a Waltz. As the years passed, couple dancing became more familiar. I started teaching Salsa by accident. One day an acquaintance of mine asked me to teach his girlfriend to dance because he did not have the patience for it. It turns out that she learned quickly even though we were dancing and holding a conversation at the same time. Soon after my reputation for teaching people with two left feet grew and teaching became a permanent and enjoyable hobby. Teaching dance became more interesting as I found the need to instruct the students in their own language. I have taught Caribbean dances: in Los Angeles, Palau, in Paris and Narbone (France), Madrid, Santander, and Puerto Banus (Spain), Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Maaleh Adumim, and Mevaseret Tzion (Israel), and even in Ramallah which is within the Palestinian Authority territory.

The political situation in the world has been a constant reminder for me to be cautious, ever since I first saw casualties of the civil war in El Salvador. One of my cousins, a university student, was taken in the middle of the night by government forces. We never found him among the many mutilated bodies that were usually piled in the city morgue. While living in Spain, there were assassinations of government deputies and bombs set by ETA. In France, a bomb went off at the metro stop I used to exit. On August 9th, 2001, two weeks into the second antifada in Israel, a suicide bomber went into a pizzeria and killed fifteen people. I am fortunate that for whatever reason I did not cross the street while the light was green because the bomb went off as I waited at the red light (I was actually text messaging an ex girlfriend). I realized that I would have been one of the victims if I had crossed while the light was green. I ran to look for survivors, and death was palpable inside the destroyed place. Dismembered bodies, of both adults and children, laid incomplete of their humanity. Death, I believe, is part of life, but when I saw those dismembered bodies inside the restaurant, I realized how much hatred can destroy the very fabric of life.

One reason that pulled me towards working in special education was because I grew up with a cousin who suffered from epilepsy and who died in his early thirties from his illness. My cousin’s epilepsy and his special needs prompted me to work with and volunteer with children and adults with special needs. I have volunteered and worked with children with autism in Israel since 1998. Working in education for fourteen years (about eight as a dance instructor), has made me realize that I like to share what others have taught me. I have lived long enough to realize that learning is not limited to the classroom; however having the qualifications of a formal education creates more opportunities in life.