People of the Diocese of Dodge City
A menu for giving
By DAVID MYERS
Southwest Kansas Register
SYRACUSE -- In the Kitchen of KC’s Mexican Restaurant, Carmen Baeza’s fingers nimbly worked a small pile of dough into a sopaipilla, a fried pastry that can be eaten as a dessert or as part of the meal.
“I enjoy every job that I do,” she said as she gently rolled the dough. “I believe that no matter what you do, you do it with pride and happiness.”
Carmen and her husband, Miguel, have owned the restaurant for nine years. Their two youngest – both girls – work as wait staff when not in school. The couple also has two older boys.
Carmen was born in Chihuahua, Mexico, where she met and married her childhood sweetheart before moving to the United States to help support her parents and her siblings so that they could go to college. That was 32 years ago.
“I wanted my brother and sister to go to school and be somebody,” she said.
“My parents were farmers. Everybody lived the same. We didn’t have the money that other people had, but I was happy. I used to work with my dad in the fields. There was no TV, no electricity -- nothing like we have now. We had the freedom to go and play in the river, or in the mountains -- something you don’t have everywhere.
“I think that in Mexico, we grew up with more faith, because we worked for what we needed, not for what we wanted. The need is to eat, to survive. Here, I think we have so many things that we take them for granted. When I was little, I made my own dolls, my own little toys. I really enjoyed it. Now, kids can have the most expensive toys, and they play with it one day and throw it away because they don’t appreciate it.”
There were no vehicles in the community in which she lived. To go to town, they would hike six miles to the other side of the river, where they would catch a bus into the city. Each Sunday, the family would walk four miles to get to Mass. While they didn’t have running water, the community was blessed with a hot springs, from which they would carry water to their home.
“I don’t complain any about my other life,” she said as she kneaded the dough, “because I always feel happy.”
The road from Chihuahua to Syracuse first led to Pheonix, then to Burlington, Colo., then to Ulysses, where Carmen was heavily involved at Mary Queen of Peace Parish.
Today, her work with the restaurant leaves Carmen with less time to give to St. Raphael Church in Syracuse, where the family moved to in 1990. But she does give -- in any way she can, she said.
“I like to contribute to the needs in the church because whenever I give money to the church, it’s not my money, it’s you who come to the restaurant -- the ones working in the city, working the fields; I give the work of the people, not the money. I give my job – the people who help me, the people who do my paper work.
“That’s what you offer to God. It’s all people together in one dime; everybody works for that dime. It’s people from other states, other counties who stop in. They contribute to the church, not to me. I don’t need too much money, just enough to pay everyone and survive.”
After having once walked so many miles to get to church while living in Mexico, the family still enjoys walking to Mass in Syracuse. Of course, it helps that the Baeza family lives next door.
“He put me here, close to His house,” she said. “It’s as if He’s saying, ‘Hi Carmen; I’m here!’
“It doesn’t matter what goes wrong in the day because God is with me,” she said. “The most important thing is God. I like to spend a few minutes with him; I stop in at the Holy Sacrament because the Sacrament is alive. It doesn’t matter if I just say, ‘Hi God; it’s me.’ He’ll be with me all day long. The king of kings is alive. He is there for me.”
Then she added with a smile, “If the king were going to pass by your house, you wouldn’t want to miss the opportunity to meet him, would you?”