For Socorro Alvarado, the life she lives in Skagit County is one that she used to think would just be a dream.
Alvarado, 77, started her life in Mount Vernon in 1963 picking berries with her husband Tony. By 1976, she was a counselor with the Washington State Employment Security Department — a career that lasted 25 years.
“I was not even a high school graduate,” she said. “When you start as a farmworker, you think ‘That’s a good dream, but how many actually reach it?’ I’m proud that things for us work out as well as they did.”
Alvarado’s story is one of many featured in “Voces del Valle — Voices of the Valley,” which opened June 12 at the Skagit County Historical Museum in La Conner. The exhibit’s walls are dressed with artifacts, newspaper clips and personal narratives of five Latino families who were influential in crafting Skagit County history in the 20th century.
Museum curator Karen Summers said she helped organize the exhibit to give volume to what she considered a missing voice of Latino history in Skagit County. It was also a response to a 2015 exhibit called “Back to our Roots,” which was critiqued as not including enough Latino voices in Skagit County’s agricultural history, she said.
“We’re all a part of Skagit County,” Summers said. “The Latino community and history is part of what makes Skagit such a vibrant place to live, and that contribution should be recognized.”
The families were selected mostly on relationships the museum already had with them, Summers said. It started with a couple of families who had oral histories on file, and progressed into what Summers called “a snowball effect.”
The museum hopes to add more stories from families and rotate them to keep the display new and engaging, Summers said. Organizers are seeking stories from pioneering Latino families through 1940s to 1980s in hopes of making the display permanent after the current exhibit closes Jan. 1, 2017.
“For all of the students who visit this museum, we wanted to make sure this a resource and for students to take pride in their history,” Summers said.
Anita Roozen is the daughter of Morris and Mercedes Hernandez, one of the featured families. She teared up as she walked through the exhibit, remembering and appreciating the adversity and sacrifices her parents made to give her and her eight siblings a better life.
”It was important to my parents that we weren’t going to be working in the fields,” she said, referring to her parents’ time as migrant farmworkers. “I hope people who see this can learn from people who didn’t have a lot of wealth, but had the work ethic and love for family.”
Roozen’s mother, Mercedes Hernandez, is featured as the first Mexican woman in Skagit County to go through Skagit Valley College’s nursing program. She was inducted into the college’s Hall of Fame in 2010 after serving 26 years as a nurse at Skagit Valley Hospital.
Getting there, however, was not easy with nine kids to care for and not a lot of extra cash on hand, Roozen said.
”I remember when my mom decided to go back to school she was hesitant. It was not cultural,” she said. “But my dad supported her through it. I remember him waiting outside the library at night for my mom while she studied because he didn’t want her to drive home alone in the dark.”
Roozen, now a mother of five, said she’s grateful for the lessons she can pass on to her children.
”It’s so special for me as a mother to be able to show how great their grandparents are,” she said. “They are a lesson in knowing you can always achieve what you want.”