La Familia Villarreal, a Latino family dedicated to promoting culture and values
Alicia has 5 children and 17 grandchildren. 30 years ago she decided to come and live in Syracuse, after her daughter took the first step to emigrate from their country, Peru, in the 70s. The Villarreal are a large, united family and fervent to keep their Latino traditions day by day, and to pass them to the younger members of the household. Mrs. Alicia and her daughters believe that communication is the key for the little ones not to lose respect and affection for the family, one of the core values of the Latino family. The South Americans are characterized by putting family as the center, and this has been a duty to them to keep their roots and values while away from their home country.
Nancy, the eldest, came to Syracuse in 1970. She won a scholarship from the Sisters of the Sacred Heart in Peru to study at Maria Regina College, a college for girls, located in the Northside of Syracuse. She was the first of the family to arrive to the United States. “Nancy opened the way for the whole family to be established here,” says Fanny, the smallest of the Villarreal clan. Ofelia, the second of the siblings, followed the footsteps of her predecessor and traveled to Syracuse to study at the same university. Both became prominent and influential professionals within the Latino community in Syracuse. Nancy was the founder of the bilingual programs in Syracuse and one of the founders of the Spanish Action League, and for many years served as Executive Director of the Association of Bilingual Teachers of New York State. Meanwhile, Ofelia worked for the Syracuse City School District until several years ago when she retired.
The Villarreal family are a family of principled. It was not easy at first. Ofelia recalls that her decision to settle in Syracuse was driven by the chaos in Peru during the 80s, when a national crisis erupted as a result of terrorism and economic recession. “After studying in Syracuse, I returned to Peru to get married. Then I bought a house, I had my children and began to educate them”, recalls Ophelia. “However, because of the bad situation that in my country, I decided to return to Syracuse and settle here to raise my children in a peaceful climate and with greater opportunities,” she adds. Since her husband belonged to the Peruvian Air Force, Ofelia escaped with her daughters first. Later her husband would follow with their sons. By that time Nancy and her parents had long been living in Syracuse, which made it easier for Ofelia to rebuild her live away from Peru.
Alicia is happy with the decision made by his family. She has more than 20 years living in Syracuse, and is convinced that this change was right for her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. “I missed a lot my eldest daughter. That coupled with the crisis in Peru, made me come here to seek a better life”.
Alicia holds many memories of the early years spent in the United States. For her 25 years anniversary, Nancy and Ofelia invited their parents to Miami. This was in the early 70s. They also visited Disney World where they spent beautiful moments as a family. Since Nancy was already living in Syracuse, they decided to come traveling by car from Miami. “It was an unforgettable trip. We were touring the country for about 3 weeks before reaching the city”, recalls Alice. She was so amazed with the beauty of the country that when she arrived in Syracuse she decided to stay with her eldest daughter for six months, before embarking course to Peru where she still lived with her husband. “I remember the beautiful moments we spent together that I did not want to go back”, adds Alice.
The family Villarreal settled slowly here in Syracuse. Nancy would be first, then her mother Alice, and three of her siblings Ofelia, Carlos and Fanny. However, Alicia still has a son living in Peru, who they visit from time to time. “Once I became a citizen, I began to ask for all my children”, recalls Alice.
Fanny’s story is a bit different from her sisters, because she never thought she would end up living outside her country. “I got a resident visa in Peru at age 20, after graduating as a lawyer”, she says. Fanny served as a judge in the Peruvian jungle for many years. She was happy with her profession but because of life circumstances, she decided to follow the footsteps of her mother and sisters, and come to settle in Syracuse. “One does and God disposes” she says, convinced it was the best decision of her life. “Syracuse is full of possibilities, and certainly, the change was positive”, says Fanny.
As soon as she arrived here, Fanny began working as a cashier in NoJaims supermarket. Later, thanks to her charisma and leadership, she climbed to eventually become Executive Director of the YWCA. “I am very grateful to the city of Syracuse; I never thought to live here but one does and God disposes”, said Fanny. The path of the youngest of the Villarreal clan goes from volunteering serving on boards in the community, working at Catholic Charities and the Spanish Action League to running for political office in the Syracuse Common Council.
“I am very grateful to Syracuse”, says Alicia. All her grandchildren are professionals. As soon as they touched American soil, Alicia and her daughters began to get involved in the community. Never lost sight that the education of the younger family members was most important. “Together with my sisters we knew we had to raise our children as Latina mothers”, says Ofelia. “It was important to get involved from the beginning with schools. We got to know well the teachers and friends of our children. “Communication is central to the Villarreal’s. According Ophelia, “everything starts at home”, and if the family is able to maintain an open and constant communication with the children it is easier to keep our values intact. “Moral values are important”, says Ofelia. That’s why the face to face contact with the teachers and friends of their children was a fundamental part of their upbringing and education. Hence the Villarreal’s are known to be a disciplined and united family in the Latino community in Syracuse. “We were involved with schools from the beginning,” recalls Fanny, which helped the education of the children. “We always told them that things are not given away, they are earned; they have to fight to achieve goals”, says Ofelia. For Latino families it is essential to invest time and effort in educating the children and the Villarreal’s managed it successfully.
Values such as respect, love, solidarity, trust and responsibility are at the heart of Latino families. That’s why having dinner together and talking openly with their children has always been part of the Villarreal’s routine. “Everything starts at home; thanks to this our family has remained united and strong”, says Fanny. Hence keeping Latin traditions is the daily task of all the members of the Villarreal family, from the grandmother Alicia to her youngest grandchildren. “The relationship between cousins has been critical to maintain and respect our values and customs throughout the years”, says Fanny.
But keeping the Latin traditions is not only done at home. The Villarreal family has led several events and projects in Syracuse, so that the whole community learns more about their culture. Ofelia and Fanny have a radio program that is aired three times a week. It’s called “Nosotros, your Latino Voice”. It airs from the station WVOA in Syracuse, 87.7 FM, and life in the Internet, on the website www.WVOARADIO.com. Since it can also be listen to in the internet it reaches even to Puerto Rico and Peru where they have loyal listeners who call frequently”. When Alicia travels to Peru she connects with her daughters over the phone. The program has a wide visibility on social networks so that their listeners follow them on Facebook and WhatsApp.
Fanny is one the organizers of the Latino Festival that takes place once a year on the West Side, where the Latino community gathers to celebrate their culture and traditions. Fanny shares that it started 20 years ago. There are domino tournament, lots of food and music. “This year we plan to include information tables of the different countries to educate the community in general”, Fanny said. The Festival Hill take place Saturday September 13 at the WardBakeryPark on the Westside of Syracuse. Education is an important piece for Villarreal and they are happy to help promote it in Syracuse. Currently all Latin countries are represented in the city (in total there are 21).
The Villarreal are the heart of the Latinos in Syracuse. They have been striving for more than 25 years of promoting culture and maintain the language and values intact. Latinos value kindness, hospitality, love and sharing. That’s why they have strive to pass down this to the smallest of the family and the entire community through events and the work they perform in different organizations where they are Latino leaders.
This coming October 8 they will organize another Latino Celebration during Hispanic Heritage Month. Another example of the commitment and love that the Villarreal family has for it’s roots. And it is no surprise that Alicia, the matriarch of the clan, travel again this summer to Spain where last year she represented Peru and won as the “Marinera Queen”. As a good Latina woman she loves dancing and shows her talent in the European community which as the American, has a growing interest in the Latino culture.