Neto's Tucson: A 'corn mother' who helps others grow

Ernesto Portillo Jr. Arizona Daily Star  
May 14, 2017

Geneva Escobedo
retired from Pima community College in 2016

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When it comes to mothering, Geneva Escobedo wears a variety of maternal hats.

There’s the one she proudly displays as a stepmother to three daughters, 17 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, and was a legal guardian to a nephew.

Another she donned for about 30 years working in higher education, mentoring students and peers.


She also sports a hat as a “corn mother,” taken from the centuries-old indigenous culture of being a rooted source of strength for others.

And still another she puts on as a teacher and trainer with the Hispanic Leadership Institute, which provides professionals with tools to serve as advocates in the community.

She wears them all with her motherly pride. She is a mother in the widest and deepest sense of the roles that nourishing, enriching women play in the lives of so many people.

“It’s ingrained in my Mexican culture that the women in my family and many men in my family give to their community,” Escobedo said.

Escobedo is one of the many “quiet” movers and shakers, those who work for the public good without calling attention to themselves. They share their knowledge and experiences as teaching moments for the pure sake of contributing and helping. The nurturing and guidance not only gives others a foundation, Escobedo said it builds her inner strength and resolve.

She traces the direct line to her own mother Brijida Escobedo and her godmother, her nina Nellie Escobedo Plasencio, both of whom were strong, active women in Safford where Geneva was born and raised. Her nina Nellie was elected as Graham County treasurer, and she and Brijida were active in Safford’s Mexican-American community. Geneva’s father, Pedro Escobedo, who first was a cotton farmer, left the fields for the Morenci copper mines where he labored for some 32 years.

She calls her mother and godmother her “corn mothers,” who not only represent life and nourishment but wisdom and maternal care.

Her parents and nina modeled for the young Geneva core values. Geneva learned well and early as she was a second mom to her four younger brothers.

Her mom had dropped out of high school to help support her family but years later earned a high school equivalency diploma, demonstrating to Geneva that education doesn’t stop.

“It showed me age is no barrier,” said Escobedo. It is a core tenet that she would share with mothers whom she would mentor in subsequent years.

After graduating with an associate degree from Eastern Arizona College, Escobedo moved to Phoenix to work at Arizona Bank. The move led her on a road to earning an undergrad degree at Arizona State University and later a master’s degree from the University of Phoenix, and a job in the early 1970s with Chicanos Por La Causa, a Phoenix-based activist, social service organization born in 1969.


When she married and became a stepmother to three girls, Escobedo and her family moved to Florida. But the marriage ended and she returned to Arizona. She came to Tucson in 1999 and began a career at Pima Community College where she brought to bear her corn mothers’ lessons. At Pima she worked in multi-cultural and academic programs, and served as the executive assistant to the West Campus president.

Connecting, interacting, reaching students became a mission for her. She saw herself in the faces and aspirations of the students, similar or identical to her experience growing up in a working-class family.

All the while Escobedo looked out for others, she also looked inward, exploring her creative side. She has written poetry and essays, and in October she expects to publish a book about her father, who passed away in 2001.

Escobedo has not gone unrecognized. She’s included in a collection of portraits and stories called “Return of the Corn Mothers,” which originated in Colorado in 2007 and exhibited at Pima College in late 2010.

While the 67-year-old Escobedo retired from Pima College last year, she continues to give. She’s a trainer with the Hispanic Leadership Institute, a project of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. She’s a member of the University of Arizona’s Hispanic Community Council and sits on the board of directors for Our Family Services, a social service agency.

Like all other strong, committed mothers, Escobedo has no plans to stop providing comfort and guidance.

“I’ll do that to my last gasp of air.”

Ernesto Portillo Jr. is editor of La Estrella de Tucsón. He can be reached at 573-4187 or