NEW ULM - Four Latinos talked about the joys and challenges of life in Brown County Sunday to about 100 people at the United Church of Christ.
"Listening Into Deeper Understanding, Answering the Call of Martin Luther King, Jr." began with a beef burrito supper at the church.
Sponsored by several Brown County churches, the event was held in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which is celebrated today.
Staff photo by Fritz Busch
Connie, left, and Juan Mayta, of New Ulm take part in a panel discussion on Hispanic and Latino experiences in Brown and neighboring counties Sunday at the United Church of Christ, New Ulm.
Four panel speakers, Juan and Connie Mayta of New Ulm plus Sleepy Eye High School Junior Omar Briones and Leo Montemayor of Sleepy Eye talked about life experiences in the church sanctuary.
Bolivia native Juan Mayta said he came to America to go to college. Majoring in crop science, he is now a territory manager for Dekalb Seeds.
"Some day, I plan to go back home and give back by teaching about what I learned here," Mayta said. "Sometimes, God has a plan that takes you to places you never imagined. I feel I've been well accepted here because of my job."
Mayta said moving to a foreign country has its challenges that often deal with language.
"Most of my friends here speak Spanish, which is what drew them to me I suppose," he added. "I'm still learning English slang and one-liners and probably will continue to learn those parts of English for a long time."
Mayta said one of the best things a person can do is learn a foreign language.
"It'll broaden your world," he added.
His wife, Connie Hernandez Mayta said she lived in migrant camps throughout the United States with her family until her father got a stable job in Holland, Mich. when she was seven.
Briones said his father helped shape his life.
Briones said he was thankful for his father who "gave me what I needed, not what I wanted."
"I don't see any big problems growing up in Sleepy Eye," he added. "I'm one of four Hispanic players on the basketball team. We all get along pretty well."
Montemayor said he was born in South Texas and moved to Sleepy Eye where he works at Norwood Promotional Products.
"I've got lots of good friends in Sleepy Eye, most of whom are white," he added. "If you respect people, you usually get it back."
Juan Mayta said all Latinos have cultural experiences from back home that they can share here.
Connie Mayta said sharing conversation, ethnic food, music and cultural events like breaking bread together can help lift people's spirits and make a positive difference in their lives.
"I've received lots of random acts of kindness since I came here," Connie Mayta said. "My grandpa told me God will take care of people who don't respect me."
Montemayor said he doesn't see much discrimination around here.
"Some of the discrimination I do see is in my own race," he added. "
Juan Mayta called the midwest "a pretty safe place to raise a family with strong Christian values, generosity and abundance."
"I think many people here don't know how lucky they are," he added. "Be happy and don't take things for granted."
His wife she said can measure people's sincerity by the way they ask her questions.
Montemayor said some of life's challenges include Comprehensive Immigration Reform that limits immigrant travel in and out of the country and required his wife and other law-abiding immigrants to wait a decade before becoming a citizen.
(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org).