February 17, 2017
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It is the year 1965. Out on the open ocean, the eyes of a little boy look out and see nothing but blue, unable to see the land he once called home. Night falls over the raft and over the group of Cubans trying to make it to America.
The next morning he hears the cries of families who realized some of their members had fallen out of the boat, and were never going to be seen again. The little boy was sociology teacher and wrestling coach Godwal Viera, and his brother was one of the members who fell off the raft.
The group drifted to the Florida Keys where they arrived at a little island, and from there they went to a tower for processing into the United States by the immigration agency.
“We landed on the Islamorada. From there, they took us to Miami to Freedom Tower, which is the Cuban Ellis Island. It is the old Miami news building. What they did was process us and then ship us to Louisiana,” Viera said.
Viera still remembers the Civil Rights Era, the separate white and colored people water fountains that filled southern America. He faced many hardships because he was Cuban in a southern state. Those years were some of the hardest years of his life.
“Since I didn’t speak English and I didn’t really lose my accent until eleventh grade, people made fun of me all the time. On many occasions I was told I had to drink water out of the colored water fountain. What was interesting was that black kids were okay with this, because they saw me in the same situation as them,” Viera said.
After graduating from high school, Viera then worked for about four years to be able to go to college. He first worked at a catering company at the Miami International Airport. The head catering agent for Lufthansa, the German airline, asked him to become a Chef’s Apprentice. His travel around the world, and his love for history and social studies is what lead him to want to go to college.
“At that time the University of Arkansas was 40 dollars a credit, and anything above ten was free, so a semester was only 400 dollars. I packed up my little Datsun 240Z and drove to Fayetteville from Miami. That’s probably the best decision I ever made,” Viera said.
He moved back to Miami after his dad suffered a heart attack and played rugby for the Miami Tridents. He also decided to become a teacher and coach when he had finished college because he needed a job.
“I went back and finished my degree by correspondence, because at that time there was no such thing as online. Then I got a teaching job down there, and the only way I could get a teaching job was if I agreed to coach football. So that’s how I started to coach as well,” Viera said.
It was during his time in Miami playing Rugby that he met his wife who was the sister-in-law of a fellow teammate. Having kids is actually what pushed him to move to Arkansas because of his time at the University in Fayetteville.
“I got married, and my wife I met through the rugby team because her sister is married to a teammate of mine. When we had the kids and my oldest was going into fourth grade, we decided to leave Miami and to move back up to Northwest Arkansas. For her it was a culture shock because she had never seen snow before but it was another great decision. The kids have grown up well,” Viera said
One of Viera’s mottos that he lives by is “leave it better than you find it.” It is a life quote that he has lived by and tries to teach his students to do the same. Now teaching sociology, AP European History, and psychology,. Viera tries to teach kids something new every single day.
“The idea is from my father. It’s all about the little things. That is why I make such a big deal about pushing in the chairs. Whatever job I have had, I have always felt like I have left it better than I found it,” Viera said.