by Lauren Pope, Staff Writer
Copper Mill Elementary Spanish teacher and CrossFit Zachary owner, Fabian Herrera is a second generation Mexican American. His grandfather was a migrant farm worker who traveled seasonally between Mexico and California to provide for his family until they were able to move to California when Fabian’s mother was in middle school. Fabian was born in central California, but spent some years living just across the border in Mexico.
During those years, he traveled back and forth between California and Mexico nearly every day. He remembers sometimes arriving at the border in his pajamas. In California, most people spoke “Spanglish,” but at church in Mexico he learned to read and write in proper Spanish. When he returned to California full time, he was able to communicate pretty well with anyone on either side of the border.
He went to college in San Diego where he studied Kinesiology and Education. Then, in 2007, he met his future wife Beth while visiting New Orleans. Like so many others, he was lured to Louisiana by love. He started teaching Spanish in Zachary Schools but left for a spell to establish his own bilingual gym, CrossFit Zachary. Building the CrossFit Community hasn’t always been easy, but Fabian is a steady presence at the gym that has become a “third place” for its many members. In addition to the daily work out sessions, the group meets up for family hike days and even events to celebrate various holidays…including Cinco De Mayo.
“Everyone thinks Cinco De Mayo is Mexican Independence Day,” Fabian says with a sad shake of his head, “It’s not. It’s mostly just an excuse to go drinking. Mexican Independence Day is actually on September 16, and we usually celebrate that by watching boxing matches.” His favorite boxer is Canelo Álvarez, who happens to be from the same hometown as his grandfather in Jalisco.
Now, Fabian is back teaching Spanish at CME where he has encountered other student misconceptions. “With the building of the diversion canals and other construction projects, we’ve had a lot more Spanish speaking families move into the area,” he explains. “Most of these families are actually from Central America, not Mexico, but kids don’t always understand that.” Fabian sometimes talks with the Spanish speaking students directly in the language they best understand to build some comradery and make the other students want to know what he’s saying. Then he brings everyone into the conversation and helps to educate the entire class both on the Spanish language and on the vast differences between Mexico and the rest of Central and South America.
At his heart, Fabian is a born teacher, whether in the middle school classroom or at the gym. His ability to connect with people across languages and cultures gives him a unique advantage in our increasingly multicultural city. CrossFit Zachary pulls people in from all over the area, and people seek him out when they realize that he offers coaching in Spanish. “Not bad for the grandson of a migrant farmer,” he says.