By Lorie Ham
According to the United States Census Bureau, each year Americans observe National Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 to October 15 by celebrating the histories, cultures, and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.
Even though National Hispanic Heritage Month has now passed, we would still like to celebrate by sharing the story of a member of one of the Mennonite Churches who came to the United States from Mexico with her family when she was just ten years old, Graciela Sandoval. Even though Graciela didn’t get to choose for herself whether to move to the United States, she is happy that she did.
Graciela says that she came here from a small pueblo in Michoacán Mexico. “I moved here in the year of 1992 and my husband moved here in 1994. I moved to Kingsburg, California with my entire family because my parents wanted a better future for their kids. My husband, Alexis Sandoval, moved to Parlier, California to escape poverty and violence in Honduras.”
In the beginning, she had difficulty fitting in because of the language barrier. “There were the challenges of learning a new language efficiently and adapting to a new country.”
However, despite the early challenges, Graciela has gone on to become a supervisor of a research and development department specializing in fruits. Her husband works in agriculture. They have five children, and she is glad that their children have had more opportunities living here in the United States than they would have had in either of the countries she and her husband were born in. Their children are Jayla, who is 19, Lexamarie age 17, Zuleyka age 15, Scarlet age 11, and the youngest Jamil is six. “In general, education is very important here compared to mine and my husband’s countries, where kids stop going to school at a young age to start working to bring money into their homes. What I like best about living in the United States is how education is enforced by the government.”
That opportunity for education has seen their oldest, Jayla, become the first member of their family to attend college and Graciela is thrilled. “It makes me feel happy knowing that she will have a better future than me and my husband ever did.” Jayla attends Bethel College in North Newton, Kansas where she studies Bio-Chem and hopes to go on to Medical School to receive her doctorate.
Beyond just education, there have been many other differences between Graciela’s childhood and that of their children. One big difference is that their children have grown up in the church, while Graciela’s family was not religious. She also grew up in a home where love was seldom expressed. “While my children grew up watching us be affectionate with them from the beginning and always telling them we love them.”
Sadly, Graciela and her siblings also grew up around violence. “Compared to the safety of my children who all live in the United States.”
The Sandovals currently live in Reedley and attend the First Mennonite Church there. They are very grateful for the help and support they have gotten from the church through the years. “My family and I have found a lot of support through the church whether that be financially, emotionally, or spiritually.”
The one thing that Graciela does miss about living in Mexico is spending time with the family members who stayed behind and their cultural practices and traditions, but she is very glad that she came to America in 1992. It changed her life, and the life of the family she and her husband have raised here.
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