The Commerce City Council meeting Tuesday began like any other meeting, but quickly turned into something straight out of a comic book, when Superman dropped in to personally recognize a pint-sized future superhero.
The guest of honor was 4-year-old Jose Cisneros, a child with Down syndrome who was recognized for his “tremendous courage and indomitable spirit” as part of a belated celebration of World Down Syndrome Day – observed annually on March 21.
The council chambers had been decorated with balloons and cartoon cutouts, making it feel more like a party than a place of business. A short video produced by the city was played for Jose and the audience. It showed Superman flying near city hall and landing outside the building right before Superman himself walked into the meeting.
“Wow!” exclaimed Jose, sporting his own red cape and with Superman at his side.
“Thank you for being you,” reads the city proclamation presented to young Jose, who was also recognized by the Office of Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard.
The clearly happy, healthy toddler’s excitement moved some in the audience to tears.
Jose’s mother, Susana Cisneros, told EGP Jose Angel Guadalupe – JAG for short – was born Dec. 12, the same date observed by Catholics as Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe. She said she took it as a sign she had been blessed with her own little angel, who was diagnosed with Down syndrome at birth.
Soon thereafter, Cisneros quit her job of 18 years to dedicate herself full-time to care and advocate for her son, who participates in the city’s tiny tots and swimming classes.
“It’s been the best paying job I’ve had,” she told EGP. “It’s priceless.”
The youngest of four, Jose has always been treated like his siblings, who have all participated in the city’s nationally recognized water polo and swim teams.
“He’s not going to be the exception,” she told EGP.
When Jose turns 6, Cisneros hopes he will become the first child with Down syndrome on the team. “The sky is the limit,” for her son, she says.
She also hopes to mainstream Jose when he reaches kindergarten, meaning he will be in a regular class rather than a class for children with special needs.
“I believe he can learn and has the right to a public education in the least restrictive environment,” she explained.
To prepare for that day, Jose attends therapy sessions every day that range from speech and swimming to applied behavior and occupational skills. He attends a fully inclusive pre-school at Montebello-Commerce YMCA from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m., followed by Tiny Tots, from 12:30 p.m. to 2:30p.m.
“He knows his name, his colors, numbers and shapes,” the mother says proudly. “Teachers are surprised with how much he has learned.”
Jose wasn’t the only one in for a surprise Tuesday, however, so was his mother, whose efforts to advocate for her some were also recognized by the city.
“It takes a superwoman to raise a superhero,” said Mayor Ivan Altamirano.
A visibly overwhelmed and touched Cisneros told the crowd that her son has taught her many things, despite the challenges.
“Being a mom isn’t easy,” she said. “Being a mom of a child with Down syndrome is often ten times harder.”
“He has made me stronger, patient, kinder and helped me appreciate all things in life, big and small,” she said.
Commerce Councilwoman Oralia Rebollo said Cisneros is one of the biggest advocates, not just for children with Down syndrome but all children in the city.
“She has such a big, compassionate heart, not just for her family but for others,” pointed out Rebollo.
Cisneros said it’s always more meaningful when other people acknowledge her son’s gains, noting that he has to work three times harder than other children is age but still acts like any other 4-year-old.
“He has a condition, he doesn’t have a disability, he has special abilities just like every child,” she said, adding he simply has a speech delay.
“There’s nothing wrong with him, there’s nothing he can’t accomplish.”
She thanked the city for setting up transportation to the 2016 Special Olympics and the other resources the city has provided her and JAG, and thanked Mayor Altamirano for organizing the special recognition.
Taking advantage of the moment, Cisneros asked the council to consider appointing her to the Commerce Education Commission, where she could be a voice for inclusion of children with special needs.
For now, Cisneros is asking parents to teach their children to accept those who are different.
“Think about how you are showing your children to be kind, loving and accepting of other children,” she said. “Are you leading by example?”