Maria Landa: Building community, bridging the divide
December 25, 2015
Craig — Forty-two-year-old Maria Landa, mother of five, has been looking for her calling, and is beginning to find it through her religious faith and her work with the community of St. Michael's Catholic Church.
A Craig resident of 23 years, Landa first came to Craig from the state of Jalisco in Mexico. Though she has long felt a pull to return to the place she grew up, she has embraced her growing role as an ambassador between the white and Latino communities in Craig.
"My job is I'm trying to help the English-speaking community and the Latino community to build the bridge," Landa said. "We have a culture and they have their own, but when we get together and know each other's culture, it's really nice."
Landa herself acts as a bridge between the two communities, volunteering by cooking once per month for St. Michael's Community Kitchen, leading a weekly prayer group for Spanish-speakers and also offering support to the weekly catechism classes for church youth, offered in both Spanish and English.
"Every time we have any type of event at the church, and that would include the (community) kitchen, if she is there, she or her husband, they always come down and offer help and they always pitch right in," said community kitchen coordinator Robin Schiffbauer.
Landa sees language as one of the biggest barriers, one she herself had to overcome when she was new to the United States. She was afraid to speak English at first but has now become a translator and liaison between English- and Spanish-speakers at the church.
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"She's definitely bridging that gap, helping with the translation," Schiffbauer said.
Landa encourages her friends to step outside of their comfort zones linguistically, as well.
"Even though I don't speak really good English, I try to talk to them," she said. "I like to socialize with everybody… You have to try. If you don't try, you're not going to learn."
Friends and fellow Spanish-speakers at the church appreciate her for her gregarious nature, including friend Rosina Arellano, who teaches the Spanish catechism class this year.
"Maria is a great help," Arellano said in Spanish. "It's necessary to have people who are bilingual to bring people together."
A woman of many interests, Landa loves to cook and bake — including elaborately decorated cakes for weddings and birthdays — knit and crochet, and has also considered enrolling in the massage therapy program at Colorado Northwestern Community College. She is devoted to her children, from her 8-year-old twin girls to her three sons, ages 11 to 22, and her husband, Ben Landa, who works at A&E Tire in Craig.
In all her searching, Landa has found purpose in her faith, her family and serving her community.
"I just try to help because we always need help," she said. "You just have to love everybody even if you don't speak the same language."