Professor by day, percussionist by night

John Ulloa, history prof. and  band leader of

John Ulloa, history prof. and band leader of "La Misiòn" with his congas. (Courtesy of John Ulloa)

What makes history teacher John Ulloa stand apart from his colleagues? A passion for music, cultural influence, and his huge involvement in the community.

Ulloa grew up in Modesto, CA, a small farming town in the central valley. It was there that he began playing music at a young age. Despite his German and Mexican descent, Ulloa grew up in the suburbs, playing music and experiencing the central valley culture.

Having been to Germany twice by the time he was nine, Ulloa hardly knew much about his roots and what they meant. His Mexican heritage played as much a role as his German heritage. It wasn’t until he took a Latin American History class at a community college in Modesto that he knew what he wanted to do as a career. It was there where he met his mentor, history professor Al Smith. After a couple of years of attendance, he decided to pursue a career in teaching history.

“History is powerful,” Ulloa said. “Knowledge is power.”

Ulloa wanted to make a difference in the community around him. As he grew as a history teacher, he began to further explore his love of music.

Ulloa is the band leader of the Latin jazz quartet, “La MisiÃn,” in which he plays percussion. His band is named after San Francisco’s Mission District which is his home to date. He has gone to Cuba to study with master percussionists and takes his professionalism very seriously. A couple of years ago, he made the documentary “90 Miles From Home,” which was a focus on a friend of his who is a Cuban immigrant, and a master percussionist.

Between a full time teaching schedule, a dedication to his band, and attaining a second master’s degree in visual anthropology, Ulloa says he is content in life. He is currently working on writing a couple of different books, one of them, “Manos de Fuego”, focuses on Latin percussionists around the Bay Area.

Ulloa says he is not a hard teacher, but is challenging.

“Students should understand,” Ulloa said. “I’m here to help students learn to learn. If they pick up history in my class, that’s great. More than anything, I’m about helping students develop their skill set.”

Ulloa even offers extra credit for attending cultural events around the Bay Area and elsewhere, including watching one of his shows.