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Martha Vargas: A story of relocation, acclimation, separation, reunion

By Anthony Sturt

Martha Vargas, a grill cook at the Tobin Dining Hall at Casper College, fulfilled the roles of wife, mother, pastor, and employee since arriving to Casper in 2001. 

Vargas overcame the difficulties of immigration from Mexico, engaged as a leader of her church, and worked to raise her daughters to adulthood. Vargas also overcame the departure of her husband when immigration officials ordered him return to Mexico for one year, and then prevented him from returning for 13 years.

According to Vargas, she was born in Villa Aldama Tamaulipas, Mexico. She moved to Casper with her husband and two daughters, while her adult son remained in Mexico.

Vargas said that the family came to Casper because her brother-in-law already lived here.

Vargas described her first winter in Casper as ‘very bad.’

“(There was) a lot of snow, and we didn’t pray for this because we didn’t know (there would be) a lot of snow,” said Vargas.

Vargas said that the family had never experienced a cold winter before arriving in Casper. They didn’t own suitable clothes for the weather, and the freezing temperatures caused the pipes in their home to burst, leaving them temporarily without water. Vargas said that her brother-in-law helped the family overcome the difficulties of the family’s first winter in Casper. Vargas said that her brother-in-law already lived in Casper for ‘a long time’ when they arrived.

The family also struggled with the language barrier when they arrived in Casper. Vargas estimated that there were only three families in town who spoke Spanish at the time, and in most places she went, she could not talk to anyone.

Vargas’ daughter, Sara Mena-Vargas, said that her mother stayed home to take care of the children when the family lived in Mexico, and she entered the labor force upon arrival in Casper.

According to Vargas, she first worked at the Hometown Buffet for three years, then One Hour Martinizing for 16 years before starting at Casper College nearly three years ago.

Vargas said that she and her husband both served as pastors at the Iglesia De Dios Pentecostal church in Casper. Vargas’ husband led the church until 2010, and then she took over the role when her husband was no longer able. Vargas then fulfilled the role until 2022.

According to Vargas, immigration officials determined that her husband needed to return to Mexico for one year in 2010, so he had to vacate his role as pastor of the church. She said that every time the return date drew near, the time officials required him to stay in Mexico increased. Initially, the timeframe changed from one year to three years and then increased to 10 years. Vargas said that when the 10-year mark approached, the closure of Immigration offices due to the COVID-19 pandemic further delayed her husband’s return. Vargas’ husband returned in July of 2023.

Mena-Vargas described her father’s departure as a deportation, but Vargas clarified that her husband cooperated with immigration officials and returned to Mexico when he was ordered to do so.

Mena-Vargas said that she was 14 when her father returned to Mexico. Her older sister had already left the family home by that point, so she and her mother shared the house from that point on.

Mena-Vargas said that the 43 years of her parents’ relationship includes the 13 years that they were separated.

“I think it was difficult because she had to become a single mom to me and take care of me, and figure out all the bills, and figure out all the car rides. She had to be the one to teach me to drive when my dad taught everyone else to drive,” said Mena-Vargas.

Mena-Vargas said that she and her mother fought about various issues in the weeks following her father’s departure. She attributed these clashes to the stress brought on by her father’s absence. 

“But I think it made our family stronger because we all had to just rely on each other, but it also was super hard on my mom because suddenly everything was on her,” said Mena-Vargas.

Vargas said that she served as a chaplain from 2019 to 2022. As a chaplain, Vargas attended events such as queinceaneras, funerals, and graduations as a representative of the church. Vargas also helped new families find housing, food, and anything else that they needed.

“Yeah, when they were sick, we can help apply for the doctor, for the medicine, for the different parts of help for something. We help in this and we talk with them to help them stay calm,” said Vargas.

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