Martha Ramirez remembers the challenges she faced when she first came to the United States in 1983 when she was about 11 years old.
She overcame the difficulties of learning a new language and assimilating to a new culture, she said, but her parents pressed the children to stay in school.
“I want you guys to pursue any goal you want, any career,” she said, repeating what her father told the children.
Her parents worked in the field, and stressed education for their children. Ramirez, now 45, established the Chicano Studies course at Delhi High School, where she leads the Spanish department.
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Her students have a high success rate on earning the Seal of Biliteracy from the Merced County Office of Education and also earn top scores on Advanced Placement tests. She said an education can lift families out of poverty.
That’s something I preach to my students.
Martha Ramirez, teacher at Delhi High School
“That’s something I preach to my students,” she said.
Those themes of education and perseverance rose to the surface in the lives of all four Latina women who were honored Friday for work in their communities.
The honorees Ramirez, Jessica Espinoza Kazakos, Lillian Sanchez-Ramos and Patricia Ramos-Andersen, talked about the challenges they’ve faced as women and Latinas at the 2017 Latina Women’s Luncheon, an event cosponsored this year by the Merced Sun-Star.
Kazakos, 36, was born and raised in Merced. She said she remembers often being seen as “too Mexican” by classmates, because she spoke Spanish, but “not Mexican enough” by others. As an adult, the mother of six and program manager of the Merced County Tobacco Control Coalition for the California Health Collaborative said she faced new adversity.
“Just the other day, for the first time, somebody didn’t assume I was just a mom,” she said, adding she works full time and is also on the Merced City School District board of trustees.
Just the other day, for the first time, somebody didn’t assume I was just a mom.
Jessica Espinoza Kazakos, who was also honored this week
The eight-year veteran of the board is the first Latina elected to it. She said it’s important that girls see women in the workplace, and she credited her parents for pushing her to get an education.
“The big thing was always education,” she said.
Merced provided a lower middle class upbringing for 41-year-old Sanchez-Ramos, a community educator for Dignity Health’s Mercy Medical Center, but the challenge came when she left the nest. When she got to UC Davis to go to school, she felt, for the first time, like a minority, she said.
“I was not comfortable because it was diverse in a different way,” she said.
But, she said, she prides herself in looking at challenges as an opportunity. Back in Merced now, she organizes Zumba aerobics classes in Merced and the surrounding areas for residents of all ages. She gives educational classes on diabetes in English and Spanish and participates in Binational Health Week.
It started working. That’s the way it should work.
Patricia Ramos-Anderson, also honored
Ramos-Anderson has been involved in Santa Nella since she retired from a public sector job in San Jose and moved into Merced County in 2010.
“A lot of us are newcomers,” the 55-year-old said. “We moved into the Central Valley because of affordable housing.”
She said she experienced “culture shock” when she found the people in power to be less than welcoming to her as a woman of color and thought of as an outsider.
She was the first Latina elected to serve on the Santa Nella Water District board since 1965. She organized leadership training programs, neighborhood revitalization strategies and the Santa Nella Christmas program.
She has pushed to make sure that tax dollars are spent in her community the way taxpayers want. “It started working,” she said. “That’s the way it should work.”
Thaddeus Miller: 209-385-2453,