“My parents taught me at a very young age that we are lost if we do not have faith. They told me to trust in the Lord and to never lose hope.”
These inspirational words were not spoken by a saint or by a pope but by Cynthia Garcia, a 17-year-old woman from our diocese who should make us all very proud.
Cynthia is the daughter of Mexican immigrants and in June graduated second in her class from Cumberland Regional High School in Upper Deerfield. She was the salutatorian for her class at graduation and the first person she thanked in her public high school graduation ceremony was God. In her speech, she said: “First, I want to thank God for blessing me more than I deserve. Without God, I would not be near this podium.”
Cynthia and her family are faithful members of the Parish of the Holy Cross in Bridgeton. Cynthia also thanked her parents, Isabel Perez and Mario Garcia, for all the sacrifices that they made for her and her siblings.
Cynthia’s parents were born in Mexico and are now citizens, thanks to the amnesty legislation signed in the 1980s by President Reagan that helped so many undocumented people living in our country. (There was a time when a staunch Republican like Ronald Reagan and a staunch Democrat like House Speaker Tip O’Neil could work together for the common good of our country. How we long for those days).
Cynthia shared with me that being the daughter of immigrants has shaped who she is and who she will become.
“I have experienced and seen things that some of my classmates could never imagine. I used to help me mother clean houses when I was 8 years old to help the family make ends meet,” she said.
Bridgeton is a community where many Mexican immigrants have settled to raise a family, and she has witnessed the struggles that many families face, especially the undocumented.
Cynthia begins her studies this summer at Georgetown University, one of the nation’s most prestigious centers of higher learning. “I prayed that the Lord would guide me to the right college,” she told me, and “when I visited Georgetown’s campus with my parents, I felt right at home. I saw how Georgetown’s values aligned with mine. Georgetown is passionate about giving back, helping immigrants adjust to American culture, helping disadvantaged groups, and challenging students to think bigger than themselves. I knew that at Georgetown my Catholic faith will only grow stronger.”
As I listened to Cynthia I realized that the story and the dreams of the Garcia family from Mexico are very much like the story and dreams of my family with roots in Ireland and so many others whose parents and grandparents came to the United States seeking a brighter future for their family.
The immigration debate on the national level gets so tangled up with talk of building walls that we forget that the vast majority of immigrants are here to help us build a better America. Cynthia Garcia is a shining example.
“I will use my degree to help others,” she said. “I plan to become an immigration lawyer and maybe an elected official someday. I want to be a voice for the voiceless and make a positive impact.”
As a young woman who is proud to live her Catholic faith and with a heart that seeks to promote justice, Cynthia already is making a positive impact.
Father Vincent G. Guest is pastor, Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, Lindenwold.