The day I walked in to my high school biology class for the first time, I never imagined it would be the moment I met the most influential woman in my life—Bonnie Marie Hansen. After seeing the classroom’s anatomical skeleton wearing a pink feather boa and sunglasses, I sensed that this was not going to be a typical biology class and that Ms. Hansen was not a typical Biology teacher.
Ms. Hansen and I became very close when I joined the Gay Straight Alliance at my high school. I remember the day she announced that the GSA was meeting during lunchtime and that everyone was welcome. I dragged a few of my friends to find no one but Ms. Hansen there. She smiled and assured us that more people would come, but only a few students showed up. From that day on, I made it my mission to get more students involved. In the three years I was president of the GSA, we did it—through pizza parties, photo exhibitions, workshops, rainbow ribbon pins, and Transgender Day.
“Everyone loved Ms. Hansen. She was voted the “Funniest Teacher” in the school yearbook, a sentiment shared by students and faculty.”
She had a love of Mexican culture (decorating her home to look like Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul), coffee, animals, education, travel and…danger (she confessed to me that she had gone bungee jumping and often rode her motorcycle to school).
Because of Ms. Hansen I became a more socially aware person. I worked at our school’s Wellness Center and obtained a paid internship at LYRIC, a non-profit organization that provides a safe space for LGBTQ youth. The idea of learning about an issue and taking action to ensure positive change was instilled in me by Ms. Hansen, and continues to be part of my life just as she does. I still fight for LGBTQ rights as well as for the rights for AB 540 students and minorities.
Four years after I graduated, I got a phone call from a high school friend. Her voice was soft and sad as she told me “I don’t know how to say this…I’m so sorry…Ms. Hansen passed away in a motorcycle accident…” My heart sunk deep into my stomach, a feeling I had never experienced before. Visiting the scene of the accident where she had died the night before, I found a piece of her motorcycle painted with a bright rainbow. In my grief I knew that I would never see such a lively, loving and vibrant personality ever again. Through a mixture of salty tears and smiles, I felt privileged for having been a part of her light.
Although Ms. Hansen and I were women of different generations, different sexual orientations and different cultures, we bonded and built a unique friendship. She was the first adult that treated me as an equal and was interested in what I had to say. Ms. Hansen wasn’t Chicana or Latina but she was a mujer who, like I, faced obstacles: I faced discrimination for being an immigrant, and she faced criticism for being a lesbian. Ms. Hansen’s friendship taught me that no matter how different our stories are, the good spirit that flows from person to person can inspire change, love and awareness. Most importantly, she taught me that “the quality of life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the number of events and places that take our breath away”, a quote she often wrote on her classroom chalkboard.
Ms. Hansen was involved in “Building with Books,” an organization whose mission is to build schools in developing countries. To honor her legacy, one of their schools in Africa is named for her, The Bonnie Hansen School. Whether or not she realized it, Ms. Hansen left an imprint in the world and in the hearts of those who were fortunate to have met her.
In memory of Bonnie Marie Hansen (1963-2008)
Storyteller Andrea is a Media Studies major at UC Berkeley. She was born in Mexico and raised in San Francisco. She enjoys hiking, cooking, and going on adventures on her bike. Andrea’s story was written for CLF’s (Chicana Latina Foundation) The Power of Storytelling workshop.