A reason to believe in the future of America

As one grows long of tooth, it's easy to become a bit worried about the youngest generation coming up.

After all, from an old geezer's perspective, they can be odd creatures, listening to strange music and forever texting their abbreviated thoughts to the world. Very peculiar.

But America Silva, 19, is here to remind us the future is in good hands.

"My mom raised me," she says candidly. "I don't mind. I think that's a large part of the reason I am who I am today."

Who she is is a sophomore on scholarship at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minn. A 2012 graduate of Phoenix High School, she is majoring in international studies and French. Already, she is fluent in Spanish, French and, of course, English.

"I wanted to leave the state to see more of our country," says the Ashland native.

Her mother, Mirna Silva, is a single mom who has her own housekeeping business. Originally hailing from Mexico, she also happens to be a top-notch creator of that country's wonderful cuisine.

My wife and I met them recently while having dinner at a friend's house in Ashland. America was on her summer break from college, helping her mom, who had cooked the scrumptious meal.

Actually, America didn't take much of a break.

She served as a summer intern for U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., who she met in 2011 while attending a National Young Leaders Conference in Washington, D.C.

She also met with U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore. And she is applying for a similar intern post with U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

It wasn't her first trip to the nation's capital. In 2010, she visited D.C. for a law camp sponsored by the Hispanic Bar Foundation when she was contemplating becoming a lawyer.

America is obviously a young American who is going to make things happen in her life.

In fact, her name reflects her mother's feelings toward this nation.

"She is grateful to our country, so she named me America," observes the only child. "Mom is a hard worker, very independent. Education is so important to her. She is my inspiration.

"I never grew up worrying about what I'm going to eat the next day," she adds. "But there were a few things that other people take for granted that I never had."

Her mother arrived in southwest Oregon a little over two decades ago.

"She had finished high school in Mexico and received a scholarship to go to college, but my grandfather wouldn't let her go," she said. "She always wanted to be a nurse. But my grandfather said no."

Her mother now supports her parents financially with her housekeeping business, she notes.

As a child, America first learned to speak Spanish and lived in Mexico for 18 months when her mother returned there.

"Her plan was to stay there but there were no jobs," she says. "And me, being an American citizen, she didn't see that as a fair thing to do to me."

Yet life was not easy back in Southern Oregon.

"I knew nothing in English," America recalls. "My first years in elementary school were really, really hard. I didn't understand anything.

"So you had this U.S. citizen who doesn't speak English, at least for a while there," she adds. "But I was lucky. I got into a bilingual program in Phoenix Elementary School. And at home I surrounded myself with English."

To this day, she and her mom still watch movies with subtitles in English, a habit they acquired while she was learning the language.

"That was how I learned to read and write," she says. "That way I could tell the difference between 'there, their and they're.' They all sound the same but are spelled differently."

By the time she was 13, she was ready to explore other countries. As part of an educational program, she went to the British Isles and Ireland.

"Teachers were our chaperones," she says. "We had a lot of fundraisers for the trip. I sold a lot of candy bars."

When she returned, she told her mom that she did not want a quinceañera — a Latin celebration traditionally held when a daughter turns 15, marking the transition from childhood to young adulthood.

"I told her I wanted to save for another trip," she says. "My mom agreed but still had a quinceañera for me, although it was small."

Her second trip was to Barcelona and Paris in 2009, when she was a high school freshman.

As the first in her extended family to go to a four-year university, she plans to attend graduate school, and increase her already impressive foreign language skills.

"I'd like to be an interpreter for the government," she says. "I want to do something for my country."

She also intends to have a family one day.

"When I have kids, I want to raise them with a good head on their shoulders," she adds. "That's because of how I grew up. I think my mom did great as a mom."

Judging from the daughter, that's an apt conclusion.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541776-4496 or pfattig@mailtribune.com.


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