Around the world she goes

by ROEL GARCIA, Alice Echo-News
Thursday, January 25, 2001

The world is at Graciela Gutierrez’s fingertips. Since the 1940s Gutierrez has traveled around, starting off in Mexico and most recently going on a cruise through the Panama Canal. Gutierrez has traveled to 96 countries in her lifetime.

Gutierrez, who has lived abroad for more than 33 years, began her extensive travel career in Venezuela in the mid 1950s as a music teacher for Creole Petroleum.

While attending school in Kingsville, Gutierrez found out about overseas teaching. Through some friends, she got hold of an application and sent it.

"I went on to the University of Texas at Austin to pursue a master’s in music when I got the call from Creole Petroleum," Gutierrez said. "I went for an interview in New York and got the job today. And I was off to Venezuela in August."

While in Venezuela, Gutierrez taught music at one of the Creole Petroleum camps. In the mornings, she tutored children.

The company had a dual program where the children had to learn English or Spanish in order to attend school there. Often times Gutierrez tutored students who knew only French Italian, English or Spanish.

"Teaching Spanish was a learning experience for me," Gutierrez said. "I found out the words we adopt here from Mexico are not the ones used in Venezuela."

While in Venezuela, Gutierrez found there were more opportunities for teaching overseas. After returning to the United States for an intermittent time, she sought a job with the Armed Forces as an overseas teacher.

Gutierrez ended up being assigned to Germany, where was supposed to go to teach in Berlin. But plans changed quickly.

"At the time, the Berlin Wall went up in August," Gutierrez said. "I remained in Germany but was reassigned to Mainz. I arrived in time for the city’s 2000th anniversary. It’s one of the oldest Roman cities."

"I started teaching music while in Mainz but switched to teaching fifth grade after only one year of music," Gutierrez said. "I did it because music is the first slot cut when enrollment drops."

During the six years she taught in Germany, Gutierrez took advantage of her situation and traveled all over Europe, attending concerts, operas, and ballets.

Gutierrez then moved on to teach in Spain. She remained there, teaching in Madrid, for 25 years. She enjoyed Spain, seeing places where her ancestors came from and attending plays from famous Spanish playwrights.

During her teaching career overseas and after her return to Benavides, Gutierrez continued to explore the world and its sights. She revisits some countries to see what has changed from visit to visit.

"There’s always something new to be learned," Gutierrez said. "There are new places that are opened now that weren’t the first time I visited them. Many places are very touristy now."

Gutierrez revisits many places to see the changes. She has gone several times around South America, the Caribbean Islands, Egypt, and the European countries.

"I have never been to a place I’ve never enjoyed," Gutierrez said. "I never go expecting more than I get. There is always something good and interesting in every country, even the food."

Gutierrez has been to all the Arab countries enjoys the difference of culture, learning about their religion and music.

"I like to study the music of these Arab countries," Gutierrez said. "It’s not harmonious like ours, but it has its own beauty. I love looking at exotic musical instruments. So far I’ve collected 270 from around the world."

Gutierrez's last trip took her through the Panama Canal on a cruise. She had previously been to the Canal in 1956 but stood over one of the water locks. When she found out that tourists ships began moving through the Canal, she decided to take advantage of one of these cruises.

"It’s very interesting going through," Gutierrez said. "It starts at 6 o’clock in the morning and you’re on deck to watch it. It’s a 10-hour trip to through the Canal to the Caribbean side."

Gutierrez has been on other cruises in her travels. She traveled to the Greek Islands, up the Alaskan canals, up into the Atlantic Canadian provinces, and to the Caribbean islands.

During her cruises and tours of countries, Gutierrez experienced trouble only in Senegal. Otherwise, she has never been accosted or robbed, despite traveling alone in many of her travels.

Because the native people of Senegal dislike picture-taking, fearing their soul will be removed from their body if they are photographed, someone threw a shoe at her while she photographed a marketplace.

"When I went to the coast," Gutierrez said, "I was taking pictures of some boat. A woman thought I was photographing her and threw fish water at me."

Gutierrez experienced a more terrifying incident while in Dakar, Senegal’s capital, however. She and a friend were carrying a musical instrument she had brought back to the hotel, when they noticed a man following them.

"We got to the hotel and asked the concierge to tell the man to leave us alone," Gutierrez said. "But the concierge said he couldn’t do it because the man was black and he was white."

Gutierrez and her friend remained in the lobby of the hotel. They decided to remain there in open sight, rather than head up to their room. They finally asked one of the bellboys to ask the man what he wanted.

"The bellboy came back and told me I didn’t want to know what the man said," Gutierrez said. "Finally, after I insisted, the bellboy told me. The man told the boy that Allah had said I was his and he wasn't leaving until I went with him." After an hour and a half, the man ended up leaving.

Gutierrez is not through traveling yet. There are still some places she has not visited. She has several places in mind, including China and Australia.

"Before the end of the year, I want to visit mainland China," Gutierrez said. "I’ve been to Hong Kong and Shanghai before, and those places are very Chinese, but I want to visit the mainland." Then, if health permits, she will head for Australia. In the meantime, Gutierrez keeps busy, while between trips. She is currently writing a book about her family history, something she promised her mother.


Alice Echo-News
Wednesday, August 01, 2001

BENAVIDES— Graciela Gutierrez, 73, died Monday, July 30, 2001, after a short illness,

Gutierrez was born July 18, 1927, to Gumercindo Gutierrez and Lugarda Garcia. She graduated from Benavides High School and received a BA degree from Our Lady of the Lake College in San Antonio. She received her master’s degree from the University of Texas in Austin. Gutierrez traveled all over the world and visited 97 countries, collecting instruments from each of the countries. She was a member of Sigma Alpha Iota, a women’s music society and Phi Delta Kappa education. She worked for NEA/OEA while teaching oversees. While in Spain, she did extensive research in the archives of Seville and other places relating to her family history. She was also a member of the Catholic Daughters of America, Duval County Historical Commission, Texas Cactus Organization, Spanish American Genealogy Association, Tri-County retired teachers Associated, and several associations in Corpus Christi. She is preceded in death by her parents, Meme and Guala Gutierrez.

She is survived by her brother, Humberto (Sylvia) Gutierrez; and many cousins and friends.

Visitation will be held from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 1, at the Garza Funeral Home in San Diego. Rosary will be recited at 7 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 1, at the funeral home. Funeral mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m., Thursday, Aug. 2, at Santa Rosa de Lima Catholic Church in Benavides.

Burial will follow at the Benavides Cemetery.

Arrangements are under the direction of Garza Funeral Home in San Diego.

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