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Maria Lopez named MANA dama de distincion

May 18, 2001|By MARIO RENTERÍA, Staff Writer

"Si se puede."

Those were the last words Maria Lopez of Imperial said after being presented with the dama de distincion award by MANA, a national Latina organization.

Lopez's word roughly mean, "Yes, you can."

Local MANA founder Grace Sesma said of Lopez, "She helped me get the organization started. I see better things happening for her ahead."

Lopez was presented with the award during a luncheon at Brunner's Restaurant in El Centro on Thursday.

Those attending were some Central Union High School students.

After lunch local MANA president Sonia Thompson took the podium and microphone.

"She's a perfect example of how anyone can make it," Thompson said of Lopez.

Said Sesma to Lopez: "You were the backbone of this organization."

Lopez said, "I'm humbled. I had no idea I did all of those things."


Lopez, recently named vice president of human resources at El Centro-based Government Agencies Federal Credit Union didn't make the ordinary acceptance speech. She started with a short story from her childhood.

"I clearly remember I was playing on the merry-go-round when I decided to go play with some kids playing on the swings.

"As I was going over there some other kids started shouting at me, ‘Maria! Maria! Don't go over there.'"

She asked, "Why not?"

"They're chuntaros," she said one of the children told her.

Lopez had never heard this word before. The children then told her the word meant Mexicans who didn't speak any English.

This experience left an everlasting memory about prejudice in Lopez's mind.

"This was the first life experience that would set the stage to what drives me now," said Lopez.

Lopez talked about her experiences growing up as a migrant student and traveling to Washington state every summer to work in the strawberry fields.

"I was happy. I thought it was great that I got to travel to Washington every summer," she said.

Lopez said she had fun on the three-day trip with her family.

She looked forward to coming back to school to share her summer experiences with the rest of the class during the "What did you do last summer?" class speeches.

"The teacher didn't even have to tell me to stand up. I would automatically go to the front of the class and tell all that I did that summer," she said with a smile.

One thing she didn't know about her childhood was she was considered what is now known as an "at-risk student."

She said that is a good thing.

"Students don't need to know these terms, especially the derogatory terms that impede a student's learning ability," she said.

"For every kid that drops out, we lose," she said.

After her speech and being handed the award from Thompson, Lopez talked to a reporter.

"What Grace said brought tears to my eyes," said Lopez.

Sesma founded the local MANA chapter in 1993.

Sesma said she decided to start the organization after attending a dinner in Washington D.C. hosted by the MANA national association. She said she was impressed and wanted to bring it to the Imperial Valley.

"I felt the Imperial Valley women were ready to become part of such an organization," said Sesma.

Twenty women attended the first meeting, one being Lopez.

Thompson was one of the original 20 members. There are 65 members in the organization locally.

Until about five years ago MANA was known as Mexican American National Association but as the organization grew, so did the enterprising of individuals from Latin backgrounds other than Mexican. As a result, organizers of the association changed the name to what it is now.

MANA is dedicated to helping Latin girls through life experiences. The program also encourages boys to join.

"It was time we had an organization like this to acknowledge each others' abilities," said Sesma.

To find out more about MANA contact Thompson at 312-1536 or attend the next meeting at 5:30 p.m. June 11 at GAFCU in El Centro. Men are welcome to join.

Staff Writer Mario Rentería can be reached at 337-3435.

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