MADISON -- Since she turned 18 — 12 years after her father brought her legally into the United States from Mexico— Guadalupe Mancilla has worked towards becoming a citizen.
Three days before the beginning of Catholic Schools Week, that dream became a reality.
Mancilla is now a citizen of the United States and a poster child for the benefits of education. She comes from a large family from a tiny town in Mexico, whose father struggled with multiple jobs to make a difference in his children’s lives.
But with the help of her commitment to education, she is now married and successful and the Spanish teacher at Blessed Sacrament School in Madison. With her education, she now seeks to give others that same opportunity to become conscientious and dedicated American citizens.
“She is such a solid, hardworking young woman with Catholic values at her core,” said Principal Maryann Slater. “She is certainly A+ for Blessed Sacrament and America is blessed to have her as a citizen.”
Following the American dream
Mancilla came to Madison from Los Angeles on a scholarship to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and after student teaching at Madison’s West High School, applied for the position at Blessed Sacrament School. She feels blessed to have been able to combine her love of teaching — which she has had since she began working as a catechist when she was 14 — with her Catholic faith, and to bring that combination to the classroom.
“Being Catholic and teaching in a Catholic school, you have that connection,” Mancilla said, pointing out the Catholic prayers in Spanish on her board and her regular featuring of a Saint of the Week, many of which feature highly in her own cultural background. Next to the classroom door stands a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe and a votive.
Building on experience
In her position and with her experiences, she can help students build a greater understanding of the world in which they live and the many different perspectives that can affect their choices, she said.
As a native Spanish speaker who struggled with an accent and the assumption that since she was from Mexico she must know everything about Spanish, she can help non-native speakers understand that even the native speakers have a hard time with the rules of a language, and she can help the native speakers build their knowledge without feeling inadequate.
As someone with many connections to the Latino community, she can answer students’ questions about immigration and not only the reasons how but why people come seeking a better life in the United States.
As a person who has experienced the poverty that makes it difficult to raise the nearly $700 it costs to file a citizenship application, she can help students understand the importance of making education count.
As a newly minted citizen, she can help her youth understand what it really means to be a United States citizen and take up the responsibilities that come with it, such as voting.
“They have the questions,” she said, long before the eighth grade students and she spent their whole class period reviewing and competing on the 100 questions she would face the next day on the citizenship exam. She has answers and can help them see a new perspective, though she never wants to force them to take her positions.
“It can change their views,” she said, “but what I really want to do is educate them about what I know, and when it comes to making their decisions they can do it knowingly.”
Building core values
Teaching in a Catholic school means building the students beyond the basics of academics, she said. Teaching them about their faith means giving them the foundation so that they can take that knowledge into the world to make a difference.
“We are forming the students, forming their core values,” Mancilla said. “You may learn algebra really well, but if you don’t know how to take that outside and learn how to help the community with it, you don’t know it at all.”
Mancilla is looking forward to her first opportunity to vote, and is hoping that when her husband graduates with his doctorate, he can earn that privilege, as well. Until that time, she will continue to offer her students the example of her own journey.
“I hope I have an impact,” she said. “I hope that when they get the privilege that they can vote, I hope they think of me. They will make very good citizens all around if we can make their core values . . . strong and they become citizens that vote and pay taxes and help their community, we can do well for the world.”