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Chemeketa students, alumni share peace of mind and a piece of bread

Chemeketa alumnus Joe Soto and current student Erica Naranjo share and reflect with their retreat group.

Chemeketa alumnus Joe Soto and current student Erica Naranjo share and reflect with their retreat group.

Story and Photo By Simson Garcia

On May 1, a group of Chemeketa students and alumni packed clothes, duffle bags, sleeping bags, toothpaste, and towels into the backs of three vehicles.

Departure was from the Blue Lot on the main campus, heading west on Highway 22 toward Spirit Mountain Casino. The group eventually stopped in the Grand Ronde Reserve.

Their destination provided a retreat – from college life, from their families, from the city, from the stress, obligations, and circumstances that life on federal property can bring, switching to a world that provided freedom, enlightenment, peace of mind, and inspiration from one’s peers.

Ten people, six Chemeketa alumni and four current students, arrived at St. Michaels Church and opened the door into a new setting: one that provided comfort, dialogue/reflection, fellowship, and food.

The orchestrator of the three-day, two-night events was Dr. Leo Rasca, the Chicano/Latino studies instructor at Chemeketa.

The 4th annual retreat’s goal was to explore not only Mexican/American culture, spirituality, and heritage but also family, sense of self, awareness, and healing.

“Anybody and everybody is invited. You don’t have to be Mexican/American,” John Casciaro, the cook’s helper, said.

Belinda Ochoa, one of Rasca’s former students, said, “I was invited as a leader because this year marks my third year here. … My daughter had prom, and I was so tired and stressed, but I made the decision to come.”

Ochoa and five others have attended previous retreats and served as mentors through sharings, speeches, reflections, and social conversations during the weekend.

Ochoa works with Latinos Unidos Siempre, a youth organization aligned with the Mano a Mano Family Center, which helps Latino families and youth become self-sufficient and empowered through academics.

A Gathering that featured Garone Pineda, a student at Corban University, and Patricia Charles, a correctional systems officer at the Sheridan Correctional Institution, was focused on the topic El Creador No Hace Basura, meaning God Doesn’t Make Junk.

The phrase also means making something out of nothing; good transformed out of the mess.

Rasca began this with a story about how a few young adult musicians made their instruments from trash they’d gathered. A boy’s cello was made out of a gas can. One man’s violin was made out of large aluminum cans.

“Their richness came out of La Basura—junk. So when you see yourself as low – ‘I’m trash, not talented’ – hopefully you can discover your richness in this discussion,” he said.

Pineda talked about his difficult life and said, “I understood that I’ll only be junk if I allow myself to be junk. As I grow more and more, the more I learn about the junk that I do have. … Sometimes we use junk to get through.”

Charles said, “God puts these obstacles in life. You may fall, stumble, trip, but you got to get back up.”

Guest speaker Jose Salinas, who works as a carpenter, said he had made mistakes when he was younger and watched his son make the same mistakes. He said he has found his way through his children.

Speaking mostly in Spanish, he said, “We’re on a path. Whatever you got tonight, maybe you can pass it on later, and pay it forward.”

A power point presentation by Joel Gisbert, a Portland State Graduate student, came the next morning.

Gisbert, a Chemeketa alumnus, talked about his life growing up without his father nearby and the various twists and turns of his life until he turned things around.

Gisbert will earn a master’s degree in social work this June and provides various social services for gang-affected youth and families in alternative educational high school settings located in the Portland and Gresham area.

Joe Soto, another Chemeketa alumnus who is studying at Portland State, said, “This retreat, my second time around, makes me feel at home, like I belong here.”

The parting words came from Rasca.

“It’s time for us to go. It’s going to be a battle … you’ve got to suit up. Put that belt of truth around you … the helmet of truth, in your brain.”

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