by Vicky Gunawan – Horizon News and Features Editor
How do we engage with strangers, especially those whose first language is not English? How do we respect their background culture? How do we value their individual stories?
These are all questions addressed Nov. 4 through Nov. 11 by Saulo Padilla, the Director of the Office of Immigration Education for Mennonite Central Committee. Padilla, a guest speaker for Hesston’s First Year Experience (FYE) program, reminded us about the importance of an individual’s story.
“The importance of story is to keep [everyone] close in our hearts,” Padilla said.
In addition, Padilla shared his own story as a Guatemalan immigrant growing up in the middle of the Guatemalan Civil war then moving to the United States. When Padilla was eight years old, his father was kidnapped. In a recent issue of “A Common Place,” a publication for MCC, he describes that changed his life forever: Oct. 20, 1978.
On that day during heavy protesting in Guatemala City, my dad, who was part of those protesting, was kidnapped. When he reappeared a few days later in a hospital, I remember going there to see him. I was 9 years old at the time, and I could not recognize my dad. He had been tortured. He had broken bones in his face.
Attempting to escape that same fate, Padilla and his whole family migrated to Canada and eventually became Canadian citizens. Hardships hit his family again in the new world.
“There were a lot of life changes in Canada,” said Padilla. “There was no Hispanic aisle in the ’80s, and my mother was trying hard to make some beans and tortillas with what was there.”
Padilla, one of several speakers invited to provide FYE students insights about immigration, was invited for two main reasons.
“First, he is an immigrant from a war-torn country,” said Marissa King, the FYE co-coordinator. “Secondly, he is working with a Mennonite Church with the immigration office that deals with immigration-related issues.”
Padilla also encouraged everyone to share their stories with others around them, saying that the act of storytelling brings people together despite their differences.
“Stitch and knot our stories to tell what God plans for us,” said Padilla. “So, what’s your story?”