By Sister Virginia Joseph, RSHM.
Los Angeles, California
Sr. Virginia Joseph has been a member of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary for over 60 years. During the Amnesty Act in 1987, she was asked to volunteer as an English teacher to teach immigrants. Since then, Sr. Virginia has dedicated her time and energy to preparing people to become citizens of the United States.
Sister Virginia, well into her eighth decade, continues to minister to immigrant persons in their struggle to learn English and seek US citizenship. Last year Virginia was honored by CHIRLA (Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles) as a “2012 Woman Leading Change” for her 30-year commitment to promoting the dignity and the empowerment of immigrants through education.
Sister Virginia shared her reflection on her experience on working with immigrants, primarily Latinos.
(Virginia’s story) Since 1987 I have had the privilege of working with immigrants from many Latin American countries. They have endured untold hardships to get to the United States and have done back-breaking work in our fields until they were able to get a “better” job in our factories. I know of at least two women who when they went to be fingerprinted discovered their fingerprint had been obliterated due to the many years they worked in factories pushing leather through a sewing machine. I have also learned that English is a very difficult language to learn especially if you have had no formal education as is the case with many in my classes. These men and women have taught me much about faith. In spite of their lack of schooling, their faith in God is so strong they are able to meet the requirements and to face many challenges in order to reach their goal of becoming citizens of the United States. Ministering to them has been a blessing and has kept me active well into my old age!
Sr. Virginia is loved by her “students” as she calls them. Recently, she celebrated her birthday with a surprise potluck lunch. Many of her former students attended, and a variety of food from different parts of the world added a special flavour to the cornucopia of gifts.
Currently, Sister Virginia is teaching citizenship classes at Sacred Heart Parish in Lincoln Heights, California.
As told to: Cecilia Brizuela Director of Communications EAP/WAP