Kentucky school example of embracing the different, loving one's neighbor

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By Tyler Orsburn

Ky. (CNS) — When it comes to sizable Hispanic populations, Henderson isn’t Los
Angeles or New York City.

in the western part of the Bluegrass State, the Ohio River faithfully meanders by
smooth fields of corn, soybean and patches of woods. Its most famous resident is naturalist and artist John James Audubon.

to Henderson, that’s where I learned I was Latino!” Abraham Brown, director of
Latino ministry for Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church, jokingly said about
moving from the Lone Star State. “Because down there in Texas everybody looked
just like me, spoke just like me. So, coming here was a challenge at the beginning.”

moved to Henderson 15 years ago to work for a denim company. But when it
closed, the Catholic parish, which is part of the Diocese of Owensboro, asked
him to help with the growing Latino community.

he works with Latinos from 13 countries, and has seen the Spanish Mass turnout
increase from 20 to 30 per week to 100 to 150, he said.

do have a very proactive approach for integration,” Brown told Catholic News
Service. “Not just assimilating but actually sharing of their own values and
culture (through dance, food and worship) with our community.”

Anthony Shonis, associate pastor at Holy Name of Jesus, credits the late
Owensboro Bishop John J.
McRaith for helping this assimilation.

the end of the 1980s, you might start seeing Hispanics at the Dairy Queen or
Walmart,” the bilingual pastor told CNS while sitting in the rectory dining
room. “Bishop McRaith (during that time) sought funding and wrote grants so
that all priests where Spanish was spoken had an ‘ayudante.'”

“ayudante” is a bilingual helper who is respected in both the Hispanic and
Anglo community that helps migrants meet both their parish and well-being
needs. “They’re a bridge builder,” Father Shonis said. “This person is worth
their weight in gold.”

Father Shonis’ “bridge builder” says the Latino population in western Kentucky,
southern Indiana and southern Illinois has doubled in the past five years. “A
lot of people say that, ‘Oh, it’s just because there are a lot of job
opportunities.’ But job opportunities without a welcoming spirit, it (integration)
doesn’t work.”

place where it has worked is the school. Situated near a barbershop and about a
block-and-a-half from the steeple, the downtown school has native Spanish
speakers in every grade.

Susana Solorza is the ladle that stirs the vernacular melting pot. The El Paso,
Texas, native said she’s the only K-8 Spanish teacher in the district, and if
her seventh and eighth grade students earn B-averages for both years, they’ll
rake in a “Spanish I” high school credit.

I’m trying to do is shake the stereotypes Caucasians have of Latinos by
speaking to them in English and letting them hear me speak Spanish to other
students,” she said describing part of her teaching technique. “By being their
teacher, letting them get to know me through music, (food) and talk about my
family (which helps break the stereotypes).”

her Hispanic students, she shows them there’s a teacher like them and brings
some normalcy to what is different about them. “I think having a teacher to
fill that cultural gap, the linguistic gap, is very important because our
families are here, and they want to be involved, and they try to be involved,
and they want to see their students succeed,” Solorza told CNS.

something that the Hispanic community has added most to our school is the
diversity and knowing that just because someone is different doesn’t mean
they’re weird,” Scottie Koonce, principal at Holy Name of Jesus Catholic School
said describing how students sometimes view life. “And probably the thing
Hispanics have added to our community is that they’ve taught the kids that
Catholicism isn’t local, it’s global.”

went on to describe how the students love acknowledging the Latino celebrations
of the Day of the Dead and Las Posadas. “I feel like our kids are starting to
understand each other better, and that’s really where it starts — because if
the kids start understanding each other better and respect each other it
carries over to the adults.”

Francis has said, ‘You have to take risks and go across barriers,'” Father
Shonis said describing wide city streets and railroad tracks. “This effort of
going to the other side can never end. And this is the foundation of Catholic
schools, to bring minorities into the mainstream.”

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