Who is your neighbor?
Immigrant couple paints
portrait of an American family
Pictured at right: Daniel and Myra Sanchez, with their children (clockwise from upper left) Alejandra, 7, Tanya, 12, Diego, 4, and Omar Isaac, 2.
It was a dark and rainy night in Great Bend when two cars passed fatefully on Main Street; a girl in one, a boy in the other, a quick wave from each to the other becoming the first official signaling of a shared lifetime to come.
“He was in the truck with his coat on and I was out of the truck getting wet,” Myra Sanchez explained of their first meeting, a few minutes later in the parking lot of a bowling ally, her voice raising in excitement at the memory. “I said, ‘You know what? It’s raining! Look at me!’ And he said, ‘Oh, I’m sorry,’ and he gave me his coat.”
“I was like --,” Daniel Sanchez said, miming his inability to speak when he first laid eyes on Myra.
Eleven days later the two were married.
“When we got married we didn’t even know each other’s last names,” said Myra from the living room of their Great Bend home, her arm around the couple’s daughter, Alejandra, 7. “It was love at first sight.”
Although Myra, like most young brides, insisted on a big church wedding with a billowy white dress and friends and family in abundance, that would have to wait. Myra’s mother disapproved of the young Daniel, and he knew he had better act fast or lose the girl of his dreams. They were married in a civil celebration, and eventually -- and with the full approval of his in-laws -- in the Church.
Thirteen years later – their anniversary is Dec. 8 – the couple has what might be described as a typical 1950s-era America marriage. Daniel and Myra have two girls and two boys (and a family of gerbils, Alejandra is quick to add); Myra is a full time mom and Daniel is a welder. Their oldest daughter, Tanya, 12, is a server at church, while Myra is a lector.
Together, the couple worries about their children and carefully monitor what they watch on TV.
“I watch everything that he sees on TV,” Myra said of her son, Diego, 4. “He never watches Superman or Batman. I don’t like him to see those shows with their violence.”
They worry about bills, especially as Daniel’s hours are decreased, but are ever thankful for their blessings.
“We have food. We have a house. We have a car. We’re healthy. We’re together,” Myra said. “The thing that makes us a stronger family is that every time we have problems, we just come closer together.”
To spend time with this couple is to see a family that carries the weight of their burdens with dignified resolution. They are quick to laugh and often peer at each other with smiling approval.
The two girls attend Holy Family School. Diego attends the Head Start program. The youngest boy, Omar Isaac, is 2. Tanya recently switched from public school to Holy Family.
When asked what she thought of her new teachers, Tanya quickly replied with a broad smile, “They’re really nice.”
“It’s pretty great,” Daniel said of Holy Family School. “Everybody respects each other. They help each other.”
“It’s a family,” Myra added. “And we love Father Reggie [Urban].”
Although they’ve been in the United States since their teens, Daniel and Myra hold closely to some of the Mexican traditions they remember from childhood, and said they are sad to see some of those traditions fading away.
“Every year that passes we lose a lot of traditions,” Myra said. “Right now the kids don’t even know how to speak Spanish – at least not like us.”
“They’re kind of losing that,” Daniel said in agreement. “I’m concerned about our kids. The traditions are going away.”
Myra’s 84 year old father lives with the family -- a tradition of caring for their elderly family members that is echoed throughout much of the world.
“It’s our turn to care for them,” Daniel said, matter-of-factly.
Another poignant tradition of Mexico is that which dictates that relationships with loved ones don’t end at death. It’s an absolute recognition of the continuation of life.
“On Nov. 1 and 2 [All Saints Day and All Souls Day], people have a big party in Mexico,” Myra explained. “The cemetery is all covered, pretty with flowers; they sell food outside. There are a lot of people around. We’re losing all that. We remember this from when we were little, but our children don’t know anything about it.”
The love for their native tongue, their grasping of Mexican traditions -- none of those in any way distract from their respect and appreciation for their home in the United States.
“Some people don’t like us and it’s hard,” Myra said. “We have to deal with looks and comments. I’m proud to be Hispanic.”
At the same time, she said, “We come from a different country, and we have to respect the rules here. We have to respect the people. We are immigrants.”
Immigrants as the couple may be, the six of them can’t help but paint a picture of an all-American family – deeply faithful, unwavering devotion to each other, and despite the hardships, ever thankful for their blessings.