Health Fair Becomes Opportunity for Young Volunteer to Shine Ten-year-old Jessica Camacho is a take-charge type of volunteer.

72Ten-year-old Jessica Camacho is a take-charge type of volunteer. Give her a task, and she does it. She’s organized, efficient, and not afraid to take initiative. And if that’s not enough, she’s bilingual.

During September’s Latino Health Fair, sponsored by SINOVA (the Spanish Information Network of Virginia), Jessica arrived with her dad and older brother to spend the day as volunteers, and she agreed to work at LUCHA’s booth. With an emphasis on all types of health, LUCHA provided children’s books to encourage parents to read to or with their children as a way of promoting healthy lifestyles at home. Most of the books were new, and there was a good selection in both English and Spanish.

Jessica was simply asked to be in charge of the book distribution, and to give away as many books as possible to the children who were at the health fair. “You’re in charge, Jessica,” she was told. Since she loves to read, her assignment was ideal and her excitement showed. Surveying the five boxes of books she immediately went to work sorting and categorizing them. “It will be better if we know what we have,” Jessica said. “Then we’ll know what kind of book to offer each kid – chapter books, preschool books, or easy reading books.” The sorting process was also filled with exclamations of “Oh, I LOVE this one!” or “This is one of my favorites.”

After the books were sorted, she was ready for “customers,” but the children were slow to find the book corner. Jessica made signs and posted them around the building (in both English and Spanish). She then began inviting kids and parents to come by and pick out a book. Soon, she was surrounded by children who were carefully flipping pages, looking at pictures, and reading. “What do you like?” she would ask. “We can find a book about something that you’ll enjoy. And you can take it home.”

By the end of the day, Jessica had three other volunteers working with her, and they had found new homes for almost all the books. Jessica was able to share her love for books with others by taking the time to help each child choose a book that felt special to them. She turned what could have been a routine task into a truly special day for many children all while enjoying the opportunity to help. Thank you, Jessica, for being my volunteer.

Living Latino in the USA: Cultural Values "Why do they come?" - A series by Sue Smith, D.Min., MSW, Executive Director

When asked why she had emigrated to the United States from Nicaragua, a friend once told me, “Someone in my family — an aunt, an uncle, a cousin — has always gone north [to the U.S.] to work, to earn a decent salary and to send money back home to help support the rest of us. Especially the children, so they can stay in school and get a good education, and the ancianos who are getting older and can no longer earn a living. It was my turn, and I came.”

It is sometimes difficult for us in the U.S. to understand what compels Latino immigrants to come here, to leave behind their families and everything familiar, to come to a new place and start over. But these decisions are deeply rooted in cultural values and meaning, and a worldview that is often quite different from our own. The decision to emigrate is rarely just about what an individual wants from life. It more likely is made out of a sense of responsibility to do what is best for others, for one’s spouse, children, and parents. For North Americans, what may seem like a selfish decision to abandon one’s family is, to the immigrant, an act of self sacrifice to care for those he or she loves.

A starting point for understanding differences in worldview and culture is to look at the way we raise and socialize our children. As Americans, we value independence and self-sufficiency. White anglo parents emphasize self-esteem, autonomy, and self-confidence, while traditional Latino parents tend to place more emphasis on respect, obedience, conformity, and one’s place within the family. The most important message my parents instilled in me was this:You can go anywhere you want, be anything you want to be. And for my Latina friend, that message was:Never forget where you come from, or who you are.

And so when my friend says it was her turn to come to the US, her decision was not based on a selfish desire to come here and get a good job, buy a car, or live in a nice house. It was made because of her sense of responsibility to la familia, a way of giving back to those who enabled her to finish school and attend the university. Many immigrants cannot find work in their home countries to adequately provide for their families, and emigration is seen as their only hope.

As you hear the stories of Latino immigrants, take a moment to stop and ask yourself how that person fits into the bigger picture, into their familia. Did they embark on the journey to the U.S. as an adventure, an escape, or to get away from home? And what are they giving up? They may never see their parents alive again, and their children grow up without them. What sacrifices have they made, what losses have they experienced along the way?