Lost and Found

Katherine McLean

The final step in the Santiago Salpo family's morning routine involves a minute of relaxation before they start the day. Vicente and Mirka enjoy their video games and mother, Adelino, watches a Spanish-language news station.

Her feet sank into the floor and her heart sank to her stomach. It had rained and her house was no longer a home. It was a cesspool. Adelino Santiago lived in a small shack with a dirt floor that had turned to mud. She wiped the muck from her children's bodies, but it was no use. The mud swallowed everything, tainted everything. That was Mexico — her beloved home but also her jail cell. She knew she must get out. She knew there was more.

Today, Adelino Santiago lives in Henderson, Ky., with her husband, and three children. Her husband, Vicente Salpo, works all day, for as many hours as he can get. Adelino works during the hours the children are in school. Their eldest daughter, Maria, 18, works as a full-time waitress.

Funds are tight in the household, and the majority of the revenue is invested in Mirka, 9, and Vicente, 7. Those youngest two children, Adelino describes with ecstasy, are "true Americans," having been born here. Adelino and Vicente and their daughter Maria are willing to do anything to ensure a better future for the children. Sacrifices are made daily in order to provide Mirka and Vicente with material goods the family deems necessary to help the children assimilate into American culture. Their hope is that Mirka and Vicente can fit into this culture so they may be successful within it.

Despite her own disconnect with American culture, Adelino selflessly encourages her children to embrace it. She fears that by pushing them into a culture that is foreign to her, she risks disconnecting with her own children. Yet Adelino drives Mirka and Vicente to adopt America without her. She is willing to break her own heart in order for her children to have a better life.

Vicente Salpo, 46, works as many hours as he can to support his family. This often means the limited time he gets with his family comes when he is already exhausted.

Part of Adelino Santiago's morning routine is fixing her daughter, Mirka's, hair on school days. On this day, Mirka battles sleep, even while her mother pulls and tugs at her hair, transforming it into an intricate design.

Vicente Santiago Salpo, 7, excels in school, which is atypical for non-native speakers, says Erna Hargis, who works with Vicente on his English.

Mirka Santiago Salpo, 9, and her brother Vicente, 7, attend South Heights Elementary School in Henderson. The siblings are native Spanish speakers, and Erna Hargis is a teacher from the Henderson County Schools Migrant Program and helps them with English.

Vicente Santiago Salpo, 7, helps his mother, Adelino Santiago, learn English and she helps him maintain his Spanish. A couple times a week, they participate in these informal lessons, just another step Adelino takes to stay connected to her children.

Vicente Santiago Salpo carrys his PS3 with him everywhere, a sign of a growing obsession with video games.

Mother Adelino Santiago provides the glue that holds the Santiago Salpo family together. She makes countless sacrifices to ensure her children have the opportunity to fit in and succeed. She's proud that her children, Mirka and Vicente, were born here and are "true" Americans. But she tries to make sure they understand their heritage, such as by cooking a traditional Mexican dinner every night.