The Sisters of SACNAS

Good friends Maria Mouchess and Patty Garcia could be sisters. In fact, if you were to see them together there would be little doubt in your mind that these two share a curious symmetry, like two pieces of a puzzle that fit together perfectly.

I had the opportunity to play a part in their StoryCorps experience when they came into the San Francisco StoryBooth recently. As members of Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS), Maria and Patty share a passion for molecular biology, a field in which they are working towards their Doctorates at U.C. Berkeley. Much of their conversation focused on the emerging role of minorities, specifically Latina women, in the ever-expanding world of scientific research. Both Patty and Maria seek to bring diversity to their field and to promote an intersection of science and culture, an idea people rarely stop to consider. But the two women have a connection that runs deeper than similar academic motivations.

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(Maria and Patty)

As the children of parents who immigrated to the United states, they share a deep and unwavering commitment to their families and to the importance of education. Patty tells the story of her mother who, as a young child, would wake up before the sun rose to pick fruits and vegetables in the San Joaquin valley in order to help her family make ends meet. She would then arrive late to school where she sat in the back of the class, ignored by her teacher and saddled with the task of trying to learn in a language she did not speak. After months of hard work, she had shown such improvement and resolve that her teacher moved her to the front of the class; a moment she has been proud of ever since. She went on to finish high school and received scholarships to go to college, all the while continuing to pick fruit and vegetables with her family every morning. Through her mother’s example, Patty has learned a thing or two about responsibility and perseverance.

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(Patty)

In her own life, Maria has reached similar conclusions:

Thinking about growing up, my mom… she works at Target stocking things… my dad used to drive a truck taking people to and from the airport. To me that’s very laborious compared to now, where I’m sitting around talking to people about my ideas in a very academic setting. To me those are two very different worlds… I almost feel selfish because I never had to go through that process and they did it all for us. Because of that I feel a very great sense of responsibility to help my parents as soon as I can, and I feel a responsibility generally towards my community.’

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(Maria)

It is this feeling of debt to the greater community that acts as the glue to Maria and Patty’s relationship. How to give back to others what one has been given? To pass along a lineage of honor, respect, and dignity and promote the common good? These are the questions that Maria and Patty will spend the rest of their lives answering.

We are so excited to partner with SACNAS as part of the StoryCorps Historias initiative, and we look forward to recording more of their wonderful stories.


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