Maria Elena Vidana was born to laboring parents in the town of Amatitan in Jalisco, Mexico on February 9, 1940. She died at 76 years of age on June 1, 2016.
Her parents, Santos Pacheco and Josefina Jimenez Pacheco met at the tequila refinery in Jalisco. Santos worked in the fields raising the agave and Josephina worked as a bottler in the summers; she was a nanny the rest of the year. The couple had six children. Maria Elena was their second child; sadly their oldest died at the age of 2. Since her parents both worked, Maria Elena helped raise the younger children. She loved growing up in the countryside; one of her earliest memories was of taking the animals to pasture and carrying well water to the house. She felt very secure and loved in that setting.
Josefina immigrated to the United States with her 5 children when Maria Elena was about 10 years old. Going from her rural home to the metropolis of Los Angeles was a huge cultural shock and Maria Elena hated the move. All of the children had to work to help support the family. Her mother emphasized the importance of education to her children and her goal was that they all graduate from high school. Maria Elena graduated from Montebello High School in 1958. She married Anthony David Vidana when she was 21 years old. He was a community college student who went on to become an electrical engineer. They had three children, Tony, Jon and Melissa. Maria Elena devoted herself to her family; however she also suffered from a serious depression when the children were young.
The couple divorced when Maria Elena was 36 years old. At that time she decided to start a new life and moved with her 3 children to San Diego. She enrolled in San Diego State University in an accelerated program which allowed her to finish the bachelor’s degree and get a teaching credential in 3 years, instead of the usual 5. As a single parent, she was able to work 20 hours a week, finish her college courses in the time allotted and still put a warm meal on the table each evening for her kids. As a symbol of her trying on a new identity, she changed her first name to Sandi. She graduated Magna Cum Laude. In later years, she also received a Masters in Education from United States International University.
Maria Elena’s professional career was as a bilingual Spanish-English elementary teacher. She worked at Logan Elementary, helped start Darnell Elementary as a charter school, and finished her career at Golden Hill Elementary. She was a mentor teacher and a GATE teacher for San Diego Unified School District and was nominated as Hispanic teacher of the year.
Even though she firmly believed in the worth of all religions, Maria Elena had a strong Christian faith that informed all aspects of her life and was an anchor for her. She traveled the world and loved and felt loved by the people of Turkey. She was a political activist, philanthropist and advocate for equal rights and the underprivileged. She worked with the Cocopah and Kumeyaay indigenous people of Mexico. Her heart knew no bounds; anyone with needs who crossed her path was immediately taken into her care. Those who came into her home were met with warmth, generosity and genuine acceptance.
Maria Elena loved children and helped raise many besides her own. Her greatest love was for her family, both her biological family as well as her extended family in her faith community.
Maria Elena was a member of La Jolla Friends Meeting for over 20 years. She became very involved in the life of the community and made many significant contributions. She taught in the Children’s Religious Education program. Her insight and perspective were invaluable on the Ministry and Oversight Committee. She also was an active member of Peace and Social Order Committee; her particular passions were unity with nature and working with immigrants. She recently became a member of the Asylees, Immigrants and Refugees Committee and helped immigrant families adjust to life in the U.S. as she had been doing the 20 years prior to her work on the committee. As a service to Pacific Yearly Meeting, Maria Elena traveled to Mexico City Meeting. Characteristically, once she met the Quakers in that Meeting, she cared about them, visiting them again and keeping in touch electronically. She assisted in the work of translating PYM’s Faith and Practice into Spanish; the publication is known as Fe y Practica.
At La Jolla Meeting, Maria Elena expanded our horizons and patiently worked with us to understand the perspective of people of color. It is significant that she went back to her original name, Maria Elena, the last 6 years of her life as a way of more fully embracing her culture. She introduced us to the custom of installing an altar to deceased loved ones on Dia de los Muertos; it is a custom that we hope will be continued. She was humble, had a great sense of humor, gave heartfelt vocal messages, and was loving to everyone. We will miss this wonderful woman very much.
Maria Elena is survived by her sons: Tony and Jon, daughter: Melissa, grandchildren: Adriana, Sean, Massimo, and Giovanni, sisters: Esther, Alice, and Vickie, and brothers: Henry, Mario, and George.