Marianna Meza began her education at West Elementary where she was one of a handful of Mexicans at the predominately white Wichita school.
Sometimes, she said, her ethnicity, and her difficulty with English, seemed like a barrier.
She was in first grade when she first experienced it. After misspelling a simple word, Marianna’s teacher stopped what he was doing and looked at her.
“Really?” he said. “You’re going to end up washing my car one day.”
Instead of being angry, Marianna saw an opportunity to prove her teacher wrong. She was determined to rise above the ignorance and stereotypes.
“I understood that because I am Mexican I am different than the other kids,” she said.“I made a promise to myself that I could do better that what was expected of me. I wanted to show off to them and make sure they knew that I’m better than that.”
At age ten, when her grandfather suffered a heart attack, Marianna made a new promise.
“I remember at the hospital he asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up,” she said.“I don’t know what happened to me, but I found myself saying, ‘a nurse, grandpa.'”
He asked why, and Marianna replied.
“Because I don’t want your heart to break again so I’m going to be a nurse so I can fix it,” she said. She remembers her grandfather’s eyes filling with tears as he told her he loved her.
Seven years later Marianna stood by her grandpa’s hospital bed a second time.
“All I wanted to do was be at his side,” she said. “I held his hand throughout the day, not wanting to let go. I held his hand when they disconnected the oxygen. I was the last person that held his hand.”
Marianna said the last thing she remembers was how cold her grandfather’s hand was in hers.
“After that I don’t remember what happened,” she said. “Everything just stopped, and I had no idea where I was,” she said.
Although Marianna has experienced her share of heartbreak she chooses to find joy in the simple things.
She enjoys the breathing in the clear air while walking or running on the five acres of land her family owns.
“The thing I love the most about living on a farm is the animals, especially my baby goats and dog!”
Marianna also enjoys tutoring a little boy from Hesston Elementary.
“The most rewarding part about tutoring him was when his dad came up to me and told me that his teacher told him that his reading and writing skills are at the top of the class when they used to be at the bottom.”
Marianna is motivated to keep going – and to keep her promises – by being the first one in her family to attend college. Language, she said, no longer seems like a barrier.
“They’ve always been there to support me,” she said. “They can’t always speak English but they are always there to support me.”