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El Salvadorian family reunites, settles in Park Rapids

The Valencia family includes, from left, Kevin, Karen, Morena, Luis and Luis senior, all of whom aspire to become viable members of the Park Rapids community. (Jean Ruzicka / Enterprise)

     In late January, a decade later, he was reunited with his sons, Kevin, 21, and Luis, 18, and daughters Morena, 23, and Karen, 15, at the  airport in Fargo.

     The family now resides in Park Rapids.

      The mother of the children, Maria Celia Rivera, remains behind in Santa Ana. Because the couple has never married, which is relatively common in the Central American nation, she was not able to emigrate.

     Luis Sr., who works at the RD Offutt plant, had arrived in Linda Uscola’s English-as-a-second-lang-uage classroom two years ago for tutelage.

     Now his “extremely well-educated” children accompany him.

     “They are very capable, bright people with high potential,” Uscola said of her students, young Luis and Karen enrolled in Park Rapids Area High School.

     “I want to see them fostered, to develop,” to move forward in the professional world, she said.

‘Our feet got frozen’

     Kevin and Morena, both having completed two years of college, are now waiting for their employment authorization cards to arrive.

     Kevin, who speaks English fluently, is “hoping to save money for college, maybe to become a writer.” He’d been studying engineering until learning he and his siblings would be reuniting with their father in the U.S. Switching majors, he was immersed in the English language.

     “Every class was in English,” he said. “I started to think only in English. A teacher told me when switching to another language, you change to another personality. You are not the same person when you speak another language.”

     Uscola agrees, comparing German, which is quite formal, with Portuguese, which is more relaxed.

     Morena, who was pursuing a career in Spanish journalism, was working as a broadcaster for a radio station before departing.

     “She misses the radio,” Kevin said of her work as “announcer, presenting songs.”

     “Morena understands the skills and concepts of the English language,” Uscola said, but she’s not fluent in English – yet.”

     Luis is a “graduate” in computer skills technology, the high school senior adept in programming, computer repair, systems security and designing Web pages. He hopes to further his education in the technology field.

     And Karen, who was just 5 when she bid farewell to her papi, said chemistry is her favorite class.

     “She is very, very intelligent,” Kevin said of his sister. “In El Salvador, she was in the gifted program.”

     And she’s a proponent of puns, Uscola noted or her wry humor.

     Her favorite television show: “The Walking Dead.”

     “It’s amazing,” Karen said.

     “She loves every character,” Kevin reports. “She cries when they die.”

     Because of Karen’s status as a minor, Luis traveled to Chicago to acquire a dispensation to travel without a parent from an El Salvadoran consulate.

     “It’s been 10 years since he’s seen the kids,” Uscola said.

     Their plane arrived nearly five hours late after they were detained in Houston and rerouted to Fargo via Denver.

     “It was 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) when we left. The same in Houston,” Kevin said. “Denver was really cold and Minnesota even colder. It felt like our feet got frozen.”

‘Segment overlooked’      

     Luis Valencia left El Salvador in September 2005, “making very little money” at his job in a factory there. His subsequent communication with family has been via phone.

     He lived in Perham, initially, working on a farm. But in July 2007, his wallet was stolen by a man wielding a baseball bat.

     He shielded his head with his arm, or “I would be dead now,” he said of being struck. “For two months I couldn’t work.”

     But the incident instilled a fondness for Minnesota. “They helped me with my injury,” he said. “I’m grateful for Minnesota State.”

     Because he was a victim of a crime, he gained immigration amnesty, Uscola said.

     Luis, who moved to Park Rapids two years ago, is hoping to acquire a green card in three years, go to El Salvador, marry Maria and return to the United States.

     The family watches television – in Spanish and English - but have not yet gone to the cinema. “We have to get accustomed to the weather,” Kevin said.

     Three of the four newly-arrived immigrants have fallen on the ice, young Luis while “trying to play soccer.”

     “We are waiting for Morena,” Kevin joked of derrieres meeting cement.

     They attended the Catholic Church in El Salvador, but “we haven’t gone here yet.”

     The food, they agree, is similar, but Kevin longs for pupusas – a tortilla with beans, cheese and pork. “I miss that.”

     “We would like to meet more people,” the family agrees, “because we are alone.”

     “I’d like to raise awareness of the Latino population,” Uscola said of the estimated 100 adults living in Park Rapids. “It’s a segment of the community that’s being overlooked. My ultimate goal is for them to be independent, to speak for themselves, not to need advocates.

     “There are adults in the Latino community who are linguistically capable,” she said. “This family made it obvious that things could be done here.”

     For more information on “connecting,” contact Uscola at 218-230-5733.

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