A s a 5th-grader in Vera Cruz, Mexico, Maggy Saldana Diaz ’22 and her siblings were rushed out of the back door of their school in the middle of the afternoon and into their mother’s waiting car. Later, she learned that she and her brothers were the subject of a kidnapping and ransom plot.
Events like this were so frequent in Mexico that schools had to develop protocol for abductions. The beloved birth-home of Saldana Diaz and her parents was overrun with dangerous criminals and threats of violence––it was time to go.
Saldana Diaz explains her journey from Vera Cruz, Mexico to British Columbia, Canada, eventually landing in Paoli, Pennsylvania. Her path was not a straight line, more zigzagging, across the Americas. She moved to Canada with her family when she was 12, attending school and learning English, until the summer before her senior year of high school. Her dad was progressing to the next step with the family’s immigration to Canada. During the period of change, he was in limbo and unable to enroll his children in Canadian public schools. With one year left (her brothers had graduated), Saldana Diaz was sent back to Mexico to attend the school she left several years before.
Over those years, her mom had been traveling to Mexico for extended periods to work as an accountant for her brother’s company so she could help support her family. I can see on Saldana Diaz’s face how difficult this was for her. She learned how to be independent during those stretches of time when she was alone in Mexico. The lengthy immigration process took six years, but her family finally became permanent residents of British Columbia.
After her high school graduation in Mexico, with her family in Canada, she headed to the United States to serve as an au pair for two young children in Paoli. The family treated Saldana
Diaz as a daughter and even offered to pay her college tuition.
“I always knew I wanted to go to college. I looked at Immaculata and Cabrini. But I didn’t go then. There is another part of my life that happened,” she hints with a mysterious grin.
Saldana Diaz was not the type to go to college just because it was expected. She wanted to find something that inspired and excited her––something that drew her in. And frankly, she explains, something that was worth the investment.
When she completed her au pair commitment, she wanted to travel. With a keen interest in monastic living, she chose to explore Southeast Asia, temporarily leaving behind Pennsylvania life with her boyfriend, Skyler, and a newly acquired freelance photography job. After six months of meeting new people, exploring different foods and cultures, surfing, meditating and practicing yoga, she was ready to go home. But where exactly
At this point in her life, home was in Canada, where she could stay with her parents if she were on a student visa or work visa. She entered college there, majoring in sports and fitness leadership, which is similar to a physical therapy program.
“I was thinking health, nursing, something like that, so I started with physical therapy,” she remembers. “I’m very active and do a lot of sports as well, so that tied with it.” After completing one year of college, Saldana Diaz realized that she was more interested in a nursing career—and spending time with Skyler. “This is where it all ties together,” she assures me.
She mentioned her desire to pursue a nursing degree to Skyler’s mom. His mom happened to have a close friend with daughters who graduated from Immaculata’s nursing program. “You really need to talk to them. They have a great nursing program,” she remembers Skyler’s mom telling her. Saldana Diaz was offered a scholarship at Immaculata. “I attended Catholic schools in Mexico before moving to Canada and grew up Catholic, so this just made sense. It felt right.”
Having to save money to attend college makes her fully appreciate her opportunity to attend Immaculata. She is committed to excelling in the rigorous nursing program and keeps very busy in the off-hours working and volunteering.
Although her transition to Immaculata has been mostly smooth, at 24, she admits that being at the older end of the traditional student range, she initially had some difficulty connecting with her classmates. To forge stronger bonds with the community, she participated in the annual service trip to Peru with fellow IU students and IHM Sisters. It was a life-changing experience
One of the unexpected advantages of attending Immaculata and traveling to Peru was that she rediscovered her Catholic roots. She tells me, with a sense of awe: “God brought me here; he picked me up and put me right here.”
Spending time in Peru, nearly 3,500 miles away from Pennsylvania, made her feel closer to her mom and dad. She explains that in Peru, love for her parents flowed out of her. I suspect that working with children from a poor, rural school with no running water may have amplified the realization of her parents’ sacrifice to provide a better life for their children. There is no doubt that the warm, friendly atmosphere in Peru lends itself to reflection.
The young Peruvian children are jubilant when Immaculata students visit bearing colored pencils, erasers and notebooks. The school supplies are a necessity but also foster a deeper bond. The IU students also bring the possibility of a better life by teaching English to the Peruvian youngsters. Saldana Diaz explains that English is the cornerstone to opening doors to a brighter future. The teachers also strengthen their English skills during the time that she and the others spend in the classrooms.
I am not surprised when Saldana Diaz tells me that the Peruvian children are eager to learn and appreciate that the Immaculata students come back year after year—just for them. “They honestly don’t want us to leave. When it was our time to go, they would hold on to us,” she says with a chuckle.
Back in the United States, Saldana Diaz is embracing the abundant opportunities in her new country, and becoming a true Philadelphian—ramping up her support of the Eagles. Of course, in Canada she followed the national sport of hockey and was a Vancouver Canucks’ fan. Soccer was the game of choice in Mexico, so she grew up rooting for the Tiburones Rojos.
I imagine that these sports teams represent more than just recreational diversion for her—perhaps it is a way to acclimate to her surroundings and make connections.
Though it is not surprising when Saldana Diaz says that 24 does not feel young at this phase in her life, she still has so much to offer the world, and her family, including her new husband, Skyler.