•Click here to read about a new Spanish Mass at St. Andrew’s Catholic Church in Elk River.
by Joni Astrup
Patricia Rosales believes there are 200 to 300 Hispanic families in the Elk River area, though they often fly under the radar.
She said you may see them on Sundays at the grocery store or laundromat. Otherwise, they typically work long hours at farms and other agricultural-related businesses. Others have jobs at factories in the Rogers area. And some are migrant workers, working for potato and flower growers before winding up the season making wreaths.
St. Andrew’s Catholic Church in Elk River is reaching out to the area Hispanic population with a weekly Mass in Spanish beginning Sunday, Oct. 16. Rosales, a St. Andrew’s parishioner with deep ties to the local Hispanic community, welcomes the new ministry.
She said most of the Hispanic families in the Elk River area originated in Mexico and came to America with one goal in mind: to offer their children a better future.
Rosales and her husband, Felix, have found a piece of the American Dream themselves.
Felix was born in Castaños, Mexico, and came to the United States when he was 7. His family worked as migrant workers.
Patricia is a native of Carrizo Springs, Texas. She graduated from high school and had been working to earn money for college when she decided to head north with her grandparents to work in the sugar beet fields. There she hoped the Minnesota Migrant Council would help her attain her goal to go to college.
Rosales said she had worked in a boutique and loved to dress up, but life in the sugar beet fields was another reality. She was working in the rain one day, splattered with mud, when her ex-boyfriend, Felix, came over to her.
“He said, ‘I never want you to work in the fields. Marry me. We’ll go to school and we’ll change our lives. I never want to see you like that,’” Patricia recalled.
They were married a few months later in Hallock, Minnesota.
They finished out their work in the sugar beet fields that year and went on to bigger and better things, but it left a lasting impression on Rosales.
“That was the hardest work,” she said of the sugar beet fields. “I tell kids now, ‘Your parents want you to go to school because they don’t want you to continue that cycle. They want you to do better than they did.’”
She and Felix went on to the University of Minnesota at Crookston and then Felix got a scholarship to a technical school in Jackson, Minnesota, where he became a lineman. Today he works for Connexus Energy. Patricia got a degree in business, managed a store at Northtown Mall and started a day care before being recruited to work with two Spanish-speaking students at Lincoln Elementary in Elk River. Today she is an English Language Learner paraprofessional at Otsego Elementary School. They have two children, Tony, a 2010 graduate of Elk River High School, and Felixia, a 2007 ERHS graduate.
They have lived in Elk River since 1992, where Rosales has become an unofficial liaison to the local Hispanic community. She recently started a Mexican folk dancing group called Rosa Quetzal that performs at events. But, mostly, she works behind the scenes and for years has been helping people with food, clothing, housing and other needs.
“I could tell you story after story,” she said.
She remembers one time someone donated clothing to St. Andrew’s. Rosales had seen Hispanic men working in a field near Elk River and stopped by to see if they could use the clothing.
“There was exactly a shirt for each man, a pair of boots and gloves, and they all fit,” she said. “I got chills.”
Another time she and her family took a young Hispanic boy with them to the fair. He was new to the area and had never seen anything like it. His parents were so grateful they stayed up late making a huge pot of soup to thank Rosales. Her doorbell rang in the wee hours of the morning and there was the exhausted family with the soup, delivering it then because they had to work early the next morning.
One Thanksgiving, she and Deacon Fred St. Jean distributed turkeys and all the fixings from St. Andrew’s to area Hispanic families.
One woman who received a turkey called Rosales and said it was a wonderful gesture, but very wasteful.
She said instead of one big meal, people would derive more benefit if they could get some staples that would last much longer.
That year instead of fixing one big feast, the women got together, roasted all the turkeys and used the meat to make hundreds and hundreds of tamales, which were frozen to provide many meals.
Rosales said for years after that, St. Andrew’s provided staples at Thanksgiving.
Rosales recalls visiting another family in Elk River. It was winter, and when she stepped into the home, she could see snow blowing in through cracks in the walls.
But the woman of the house had no complaints. She told Rosales that she had a floor, windows and doors, dishes and warm clothing. They had lived in a dirt-floor home in Mexico with no windows and doors and were terrified at night that someone would come in.
In America, she told Rosales she felt like a queen.