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UCLA Magazine Spring 2005
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Living La Vida 'Lorca'
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The Importance of Being Elma
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Spring 2005
The Importance of Being Elma

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González’s academic and professional success has not been without some personal cost. It has, at times, been a contentious issue within her family, particularly with her brother, who, unlike González’s sisters, chose not to pursue a college education. And her father, even though he has been supportive, had at times been mystified by her choices, particularly when she’s spent time during vacations doing research or writing papers. Academic life, she told him, “is a little like owning your own business — if you’re not there to move it forward, it won’t move.”

The issue of marriage has also dogged González. “I never had a compelling offer,” she says. “It’s tough. You have a career, you spend a lot of time on it and you become very independent.” There was certainly pressure for her to wed — her mother generally started conversations on the phone by remarking on how many children and grandchildren her neighbors had. “I was so fed up with my mother’s exhortations that I always thought marriage was a disease,” González says. After a pause, she adds: “I guess I immunized myself too well.”

González now looks forward to retiring in two years — she’ll be 63 in June — and spending time with her family, especially with her father, who is 90 years old and lives in a nursing home in Fort Worth, Texas. She also looks forward to traveling, visiting friends and working on an autobiography she has already begun, a project involving seven other women. “My big hobby is gardening,” she says, and she plans to build a house and create a garden from scratch on a three-acre plot in Oklahoma, right next to where her brother lives.

It sounds like the perfect retirement plan. And if at some point in González’s private Eden, she were to be handed a magic wand with which she could change one thing in the world, she knows exactly what she’d do. “I would do away with poverty,” she says unhesitatingly. “People who are born poor don’t deserve to be poor. It’s the most unfair thing in the world.”

Ajay Singh is a senior writer for UCLA Magazine.

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