By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — Jorge Herrera was a toddler when he came to the United States from Mexico with his family. He can’t remember living anywhere but the Quad-Cities. Now 34, he jokes about speaking Spanish in an American accent.
He grew up much like a lot of first-generation Mexican-American Catholic kids. He spoke Spanish in the home, attended Mass in Spanish, and would visit family in Mexico during summer break, but other than that, his world was very American. He didn’t know a lot of other kids like him. There weren’t as many Mexican-American families in the Quad-Cities as there are now, he said. “There weren’t a lot of people to relate to.”
As he became an adult — graduating from West High School and St. Ambrose University in Davenport and later getting a job at John Deere — he assumed he’d eventually marry an American girl. He experienced a few relationships, but none of them worked out.
Then, on a family visit to Mexico about 10 years ago, one of Jorge’s female cousins introduced him to her best friend, Beatriz “Bety” Alvarez Sandoval. “Our
family is really close,” Jorge said. “I knew my cousin wasn’t going to introduce me to anyone who wasn’t good.”
The connection was instant. “She was someone with the same understanding, background and values,” he said.
Bety added, “We started talking like we (knew) each other for a long time.”
“She was a good person, genuine, easy to speak to,” Jorge recalls.
After about four years of having a long-distance relationship, Jorge proposed to Bety, and she moved to Davenport on a K-1 (fiancé) visa. They were married July 3, 2007.
Jorge and Bety, 30, have since added two little girls to their family — Maya, 3, and Mila, 4 months. Bety is a stay-at-home mom – an “ama-de-casa” — and though she is focused on mastering the English language, she is raising her daughters to speak both English and Spanish.
The Herreras often attend Mass at St. Mary Church in Davenport. Sometimes they attend the Spanish Mass, sometimes English. For Bety, Mass offers a piece of home. In Mexico, Catholicism is the primary religion and value system; that is not the case in the United States, Bety says. Jorge enjoys sharing their faith with Maya and Mila. “It helps structure (us) and to pass good morals on to our kids. That’s what I got out of it growing up,” he said.
Father Ed O’Melia, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Davenport, said it is unusual for Mexican-Americans in his parish to marry someone of a different heritage.Father Rudolph Juárez of St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City observed, “There is something to be said about a kinship with people who have a more family-oriented value system.”
Miguel Moreno, diocesan coordinator of Multicultural Ministries, said stories where Mexican-Americans find love in their home country are not uncommon.
However, Fr. Juárez said not everyone fits the same mold, and that faith and family values are vulnerable to a changing culture, not only in the United States, but in Mexico as well.
“Anytime anyone migrates to a different country, they are changed,” he said. “Even when it comes to religion, things are in flux, because the values espoused by society are not the values the Church upholds always. So people are caught in between what their family/Church believes and what the greater society is selling.”
Mexican families are impacted by the same issues of modern life as families in the United States: economic challenges, urbanization, time restraints, secularism, migration, increasing religious indifference, and the disintegration of the social net. “All these things mitigate against the family unit.”
Still, Fr. Juárez said, “Love is love… that Jorge found love in Mexico is a great blessing for him.”
(Editor’s note: Lindsay Steele is a reporter for The Catholic Messenger. Contact her at email@example.com or by phone at (563) 888-4248.)