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October 22, 2010


Hispanic Heritage Month speaker talks about area programs for immigrants

By Rob Schuette, Public Affairs Staff

Hispanic immigrants in America tend to be people who have nothing in their native land, but come to America to improve their lives, like many of the people who visit The Meeting Place (Lugar de Reunion) in Sparta, said Dr. Leigh Waggoner.

PHOTO: Dr. Leigh Waggoner, the vicar at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Sparta, speaks at the Fort McCoy observance  of Hispanic Heritage Month. Photo by Allan Harding
Dr. Leigh Waggoner, the vicar at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Sparta, speaks at the Fort McCoy observance of Hispanic Heritage Month. (Photo by Allan Harding)

Waggoner, who also is the vicar at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Sparta, Wis., was the guest speaker at Fort McCoy’s Hispanic Heritage Month observance Oct. 5. She spoke about how the people who frequent The Meeting Place are seeking to improve themselves.

Many of them came to the area for employment from San Pablo Tlaxiaco in the state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico. Waggoner, who has visited the area, said it has poor soil, which makes it difficult to make a living. Electricity and roads have come into the area only in the past 12 years.

“They are people who have nothing, but they will give you all they have,” Waggoner said. “They are good people who learn to share because all of them are in the same boat.”

Although Waggoner said she couldn’t determine the first Hispanic immigrant to come to this area, she said they generally come to an area where they can find jobs or where people who are working can send back part of their salary. This generally is about 30 percent of their wages, she said.

Some of their tales are probably as improbable as Waggoner’s. She was born and raised in Fort Worth, Texas. At 17, she left school to dance professionally in Mexico City for a year — an experience she said changed her life.

When she returned, Waggoner graduated from Texas Christian University and taught elementary school for several years. In 2007, she decided to enter the seminary, was ordained a priest at age 57 and was posted to her current position in Sparta.

“I saw many Hispanics at church services,” Waggoner said. “I was able to talk to someone who spoke some English and he wanted to practice (speaking English) with me. I said I could do so after Christmas. When I got back in touch with him, he asked ‘how many people can I bring along.’”

The English lessons eventually evolved into The Meeting Place, which began as part of the church.

Waggoner said a grant helped relocate the facility to a free-standing building.

Today, people come to The Meeting Place for a variety of reasons. Many come to learn or improve their English-language skills, or gain skills relating to computers or good parenting or to meet other people and share their experiences in the workplace.

“I don’t speak Spanish that well, but I use my elementary background of teaching English to help them,” Waggoner said. “The Meeting Place is one of two sites in the entire United States to have a portal of education through the Mexican government.”
Eighty percent of the people in Mexico do not have an eighth grade education, so that is the first educational goal to accomplish.

Waggoner said the next goal is to get them started on their General Education Diploma studies.

Waggoner also said she is offering Spanish lessons to train people who would like to volunteer at The Meeting Place.
All members of the Fort McCoy community, including Hispanic servicemembers and their Families, are welcome to join in the activities and offer their support or learn more about their neighbors.

A Spanish-language religious service is offered at St. John’s Episcopal Church.

The Fort McCoy Equal Opportunity Office sponsored the event. Hispanic Heritage Month is observed from Sept. 15-Oct. 15.

The next Fort McCoy ethnic observance will be for Native American Heritage Month, which is observed during November.
For more information about ethnic observances in the Fort McCoy community, call 608-388-3246.

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