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Teresa Bendito Zepeda: Community Activist – 3/22/2024

Written by Chris Rader

Many in the Wenatchee Valley have heard of Parque Padrinos and the “two Teresas” who founded the organization six years ago. Teresa Zepeda Sosa is the mother of Teresa Bendito Zepeda; together they have transformed their South Wenatchee neighborhood to better serve Latino residents through the organization Parque Padrinos, or Godparents of the Park (Kiwanis Methow Park).

Like many other Latinas, the women use two surnames, or apellidos: the first is from the father’s family and the second is the mother’s maiden name. We will refer to the younger Teresa, or “Teresita,” as Bendito. She was interviewed by Dulce Gutiérrez Vásquez on June 21, 2022.

Bendito was born in Wenatchee on February 7, 1997. Her parents had immigrated from Puebla, Mexico three years earlier, coming to Wenatchee because they had other family members here. They were hopeful about the job opportunities in the area, especially in agriculture.

“When my mother saw the beauty and natural resources of Wenatchee she fell in love with them and decided that, no matter what would happen, she wanted her children to grow up in this stable community,” Bendito said.

The family lived at first in a relative’s living room in South Wenatchee. “There was lots of family already living under one roof but it was what was available, and it was a place where they felt safe being with family members, for them not knowing any English and for them being in a new country,” Bendito said. Her parents looked for a place of their own that they could afford.

“As a young girl I remember living in a basement, apartments, mobile homes – anywhere that my parents could afford. And there were times we were basically pushed out of certain places.”

Gutiérrez Vásquez offered a word: “Displaced.” Bendito agreed.

“In two different places where my parents had bought mobile homes, those mobile home parks were closed and with that, the people were displaced,” Bendito said. She was referring to the Valley Mall Parkway Mobile Home Park in East Wenatchee and the Ninth Street Mobile Home Park in Wenatchee. “So I remember growing up and having like new neighbors and new places to live, and sometimes that fear of not knowing where I was going to live next.

“So that has really been a big part of my family history here. And even though my parents faced hardships in finding a roof to put over our heads, my siblings’ heads, they were really strong willed in that they wanted us to stay in the Wenatchee Valley. They said, ‘This is where we really want our children to grow up, get to know the people in the community here.’”

Bendito said some people stepped in and helped with the family’s rent, or helped them pack and offered trucks to haul furniture.

Asked how her parents earned a living, Bendito said, “Right when they arrived in Wenatchee they started off working in the tree fruit, picking apples or picking cherries. I remember as a little girl I would go with my siblings (an older brother and younger sister) with them in the summer months and for the cherry harvest. My parents would work; sometimes we would help them with picking the cherries on the lower branches, but I mostly remember using those yellow and orange bins and flipping them over, and that’s where we would put our cereal, play games on there.”

Eventually her parents moved from orchards to fruit warehouses. Her mom then opened a cleaning business so she could have flexible hours to care for the children and go to school events. Teresita’s father, Armando Bendito Torres, eventually found work at Ag Supply, a hardware and feed store in East Wenatchee.

“This is when I first saw him be able to have a job where he could use his skills that he had from back home in Mexico of being a salesman,” Bendito said.

Teresita’s first paying job was in a cherry packing shed. She also did an internship with Douglas County Land Services, in the planning department.

“That helped me understand a little bit more about our local governments and helped me. I did some translating and interpreting of documents and other things there. I interned at Northwest Immigrant Rights Projects and at a consulting firm for nonprofits, and I worked as a server at local restaurants while I was paying for college. Now I’ve finished my studies and I’m a tax accountant at Moss Adams.”

After graduating from Wenatchee High School in 2015, Bendito studied for a year at Eastern Washington University. She returned to Wenatchee and earned an associate degree at Wenatchee Valley College, then transferred to the business school at Central Washington University (graduating in 2021). “I took classes there (in Ellensburg) twice a week but I continued living in Wenatchee because I had already started as a community organizer with the nonprofit Trust for Public Land (TPL) on a park renovation project here in Wenatchee.”

Methow Park was constructed in 1933. Local Kiwanis Club members and city staff upgraded the park in the 1990s, adding lighting and play equipment, but families in the neighborhood discouraged their children from playing there because of fears of gang activity. Two decades later the city contracted with TPL to make improvements to the park, with city and grant funding. The park is within a 10-minute walk of some 4,000 South Wenatchee residents, mostly Latinos.

Teresa Zepeda Sosa had met a TPL representative who told her of TPL’s intention to improve Kiwanis Methow Park in South Wenatchee. She became a volunteer, and soon enlisted her daughter to help out. They were tasked with finding out what members of the South Wenatchee community would like to see in a renovated park. In March 2018 the women became community organizers, paid by TPL. They went door to door, speaking to neighbors about the park’s possibilities and asking what they would like to see at the park. The two Teresas participated in design workshops, appeared before local organizations such as Rotary clubs, and made fund-raising presentations in Seattle.

Courtesy of Wenatchee World. Teresa Zepeda Sosa helps a girl count cherries in Kiwanis
Methow Park.

Trust for Public Land wanted “to make sure that neighbors in South Wenatchee helped create that vision for park renovation here, of Methow Park,” Bendito said. “That was important to me because I know that, when we are a part of creating change, it has a more lasting impact. The outcomes are really determined by those who are the most impacted…. They should be guided by those who are going to be using the spaces.”

As they met with neighbors, Bendito and Zepeda found more and more people willing to commit to being stewards of the park, helping take care of it. This led them to form Parque Padrinos – a volunteer organization of South Wenatchee community leaders. Along with the city and TPL, Parque Padrinos helped to plant grass and trees; create a micro soccer field; build a pavilion known as a “kiosko”; and upgrade the play area. Bendito and other Parque Padrinos organize events at the park such as children’s crafts and folkloric dancing. They also worked with the Chelan-Douglas Health District to communicate Covid-19 recommendations to residents throughout South Wenatchee. Bendito told a Wenatchee World reporter:

“One of our biggest accomplishments in 2021 was to partner with the Mexican Consulate and Pinnacles Prep to host a mobile visit from the consulate to provide services (like passports) to the Mexican people in our community.”1

Kiwanis Methow Park is now a beautiful gathering place for the community. Bendito said, “I think the festivities and the celebrations there are really important because they are a way for people to remember those times in their native countries that many, for immigration reasons, can’t get back to. And so it helps bring a little bit of that here, and makes them feel more welcomed and at peace. For the generation like myself who grew up in this valley, (it’s important) to continue to have those traditions be alive, and to remember them.”

One tradition Bendito says her family has always celebrated is Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.

“I remember, at a very young age, having altars at my house – and that was really the only way I knew of many of my family members.” This holiday, usually November 1, honors relatives who have passed on. Altars are decorated with flowers, photos of the departed, and favorite foods and drinks of those being honored. It is a celebration of death and life.

Asked by Gutiérrez Vásquez what hopes she has for the future, Bendito said, “My hope is for more youth to feel valued and cared for here, to a point that they don’t feel that they need to go to different places to be able to have an impact in this world – so that they can really see the value that they bring to our community…. As well, that they can see themselves in positions of leadership within government, within organizations. Specifically for our Latino, Latinx youth and children, that they see themselves represented in a lot of spaces where we haven’t seen representation of our diverse community.”

For a young woman, Bendito has accomplished a lot for the Wenatchee community. In addition to Parque Padrinos, she has served on Our Valley Our Future’s Equity and Inclusion Working Group, the Northwest Advisory Board for the Trust for Public Land, and in leadership roles for such community organizations as Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, the Community for the Advancement of Family Education, and the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation.2 She told Gutiérrez Vásquez, “I see all the ways that the community came together to help my family during our difficult times, and I want to be able to basically give back…. I have other skills and abilities, privileges, that I can use to support others…. So my goal would just be to be able to afford to live here, to continue to help in the ways that are the best fit for me, that fit with my skills and abilities.”

Dulce Gutiérrez Vásquez conducted a 33:24-minute interview with Teresa Bendito Zepeda on June 21, 2022 and transcribed the audio file into a Word document. The audio file and written transcript of this conversation, and all interviews included in this Confluence issue, are now part of the Wenatchee Valley Museum’s collection, “Diversity in Local History: Collecting Latinx Community Stories.”

OTHER SOURCES

Chris Rader interview with Teresa Bendito Zepeda and Teresa Zepeda Sosa, Sept. 21, 2020.

Rufus Woods, “Young leader Teresa Bendito fosters neighbor involvement,” Wenatchee World, Aug. 22, 2018.

ENDNOTES

1. Sydnee Gonzalez, “Teresa Bendito-Zepeda reflects on Parque Padrinos and progress,” Wenatchee World Progress Edition, Feb. 24, 2022.

2. www.tpl.org

This story was originally published in Confluence Magazine in the Fall edition of 2023. In an effort to preserve these stories, the Wenatchee Valley Museum and Cultural Center will be posting these stories on the museum’s official blog.

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