Chicago newspaper coverage portrays Mario J. Aranda, age 39, as a capable and wise advocate of the Hispanics in the United States. The Church lists him as a patriarch for the Schaumburg, Illinois Stake. His neighbors and fellow ward members in Elgin, Illinois, know him as a man of fine spirituality, intellect, and love.
As I ask Brother Aranda to share something of his formative years, his kind dark eyes and easy gestures put me quickly at ease. He smiles as he asks, “Are you sure anyone wants to know?” I nod, so he takes a chair across from me and sits there waiting. His wife, Dana Adele Rosado, waits with him.
For Mario Aranda, waiting is an art. This time it is a pleasant persuasion to get me to formulate the first question. On other occasions he has chosen to patiently and calmly reason with anxious, even angry people until they have exchanged their pent-up feelings for understanding.
With equal control he reveals his beginnings, his views and attitudes, and his present occupations. Brother Aranda was born July 1941 in the mountains of Chihuahua, Mexico, the son of Angela Carrasco and Salomón Aranda, who managed the local sawmill. In a short time the family moved to Colonia Juarez, where he grew up. His father was a third generation Latter-day Saint, and his mother joined the Church when Mario was one year old. After a few years, he, his older sister Gloria, and his parents were sealed as a family in the Arizona Temple. A younger sister, Lily, was born several years later.
The branch he attended was comprised of a few poor families who felt rich in their kinship, for those who were not actually related felt as though they were. His cousin Ninfa and he were the only two students in his Sunday School class taught by his mother’s best friend. They were told that they should prepare well-ordered talks, know them well, and keep them to exactly 2 1/2 minutes. He and his cousin would dutifully appear at their teacher’s home on the Saturday before a scheduled talk, where they would rehearse to her as she did her chores.
Mario received early training in compassion and integrity. When a Church sister would pass away, for example, Mario’s mother, the Relief Society president, would lovingly bathe and prepare the body for burial and then, on occasion, care for the small children for weeks until the bereaved family was able to care for them. “She is a real healer. Her arms were open, and young and old alike wept on her shoulders, myself included. She wept with us and we were not ashamed. Male and female, we accepted this as an honest and helpful expression of feelings and absorbed the curative properties of it.”
Sister Aranda also taught her children that one does not accept an idea simply because it is accepted by one’s peers—even a majority of one’s peers. So it was that Mario learned to feel comfortable being a minority; and well he needed to, for his father is part Chinese, which made Mario a Chinese minority in a Mexican country. He was also a Latter-day Saint in a Catholic country and a Mexican in an “Anglo” colony.
“Being in a minority can be difficult,” he comments. “It makes for confusion at times, but there is growth in the overcoming. It is a temptation for a child to exchange integrity for acceptance, for one does get tired of being alone.”
He feels the experience also taught him how to sort out “the difference between those things spiritual and those things simply cultural. The struggle is helpful so that spiritual dependence becomes based on eternal principles rather than prevailing cultural notions. In the long run, the Lord’s way is always easier. Deception always complicates.”
His father, who became the art teacher at Mario’s high school, taught him to see the subtleties in art, to recognize that the intent and the spirit with which one executes his work will always influence the art. These sensitivities led him to love the classics. Libraries were scarce, but his grandmother, Juliana Aranda, had her own rudimentary library. Here Brother Aranda became familiar with Don Quijote de la Mancha, Greek mythology, and English language classics, among them works by the Brontë sisters and a tattered primer on Shakespeare. His mother, a voracious reader, set up a book exchange with an itinerant doctor, and Mario was soon reading everything his mother could get.
This sort of education was not altogether good, he suggests, because it “came too early in life and made me trust the cerebrum more than the heart.” While he was serving his mission in another part of Mexico, his keen mind and knowledge of the language brought him leadership positions too early, he feels, before he could handle them wisely. He reminisces: “A kind mission president soon saw that I needed to learn a few things and sent me out into new territory to start over. I was forced to take a good look inside.”
His missionary journal reveals his search for self and truth. He felt lost without the trappings of his former leadership positions and needed someone to help him find the way. “And so I started reading the book Jesus the Christ,” he recalls. “This began a long, painful journey seeking the presence of the Spirit, trying to discern what the Lord would have me do.”
He learned that intellect by itself is destructive, that it must be tempered with the love of Christ. The classics had helped him gain a sense of morality, a code of ethics including such qualities as honor and compassion, but he knew now that “one can be a moral atheist without Christ as the ultimate authenticity. We need the Lord as the center,” he says, “for even the best of minds will err.”
I ask about his ability—well-known to associates—to find humor in life even amidst trying times. He responds by first telling me of a dear friend, George Rojas. George was not LDS, but during adolescence he was Mario’s closest and safest friend. They talked a lot, laughed together often. Much of the time they comprised the straight minority and needed that laughter. (George later joined the Church and was called to be a Regional Representative.) Mario comes from a family that refreshes their souls with humor—an uncle on his mother’s side used laughter to push away pain, even on his deathbed.
A surge of deep chuckles is the response when I ask about his courtship. “Terrible! Terrible! Not fun at all. We both knew we had found our eternal mate on that first date, but we were much too young to accept the idea.” Dana had come from San Diego to Brigham Young University to study dance.
“Neither of us wishing to consider marriage,” he continues, “we tried to go our separate ways. It was torture. Eventually time passed, we matured, and Dana became my wife in September 1965. She has also become my best friend. She has taught me how to practice the gospel, has led much of the way in building our relationship around Christ. Much of what I know of Christ I have learned from Dana. She is the purest person I know. A discussion with her when I am troubled bathes my mind in light and truth.”
After Brother Aranda’s return from his mission he earned his way through the remaining years of college by teaching in the Language Training Mission in Provo, Utah. Following marriage, he taught seminary in Mexico for a year, then he and Dana returned to Provo as young parents. They now have six children, Mario Jaime, 14; Xiomara, 12; Julian Danilo, 10; Clara Ximen, 8; Alexandra, 5; and Jacob Andres, 2.
Brother and Sister Aranda have agreed upon a child-rearing philosophy, influenced by Reed Bradford, a BYU professor. Thinking of God as a God of experience, they concluded that slapping a child might indeed get immediate needed results, but that it is only by working through the problem with the child that he can gain experience and growth. Brother and Sister Aranda seek to implement prevention rather than punishment. “One of the alternatives that the Lord has provided is the use of prevention,” Brother Aranda says. “Only if we have completely failed in preventative measures, if things have gone awry to the extreme, would Dana and I consider other measures.”
“An important part of being parents,” his wife adds, “is discovering and respecting what the child already is and guiding him or her to develop his potential. While at first we tended to think that each child came as a blank sheet of paper upon which we could write perfection, with each child we have realized that each already comes as his or her own person. As parents we desire to protect the integrity of this child.”
Brother Aranda, nodding confirmation, continues, “Our first and basic teaching is to make the children aware that they must turn to Christ when they need to rectify a wrong act. We try first to help them identify their feelings, to recognize the voice of conscience. The Lord and his love are the best discipliners. We try not to yield to the temptation to remove the pain of remorse. We empathize, but help them to take the way God offers, to seek out the feelings of closeness to him again by way of repentance. When we make the issue one between the child and his conscience, the Spirit thwarts the likelihood of the child’s using manipulation with a false apology to please us, his parents. When he has done wrong, the child of accountable age needs to feel the actual withdrawal of the Spirit to learn what causes the Spirit to leave and what causes it to stay.”
In 1972 Brother Aranda left the Church Educational System, where he had helped develop multilingual curricula, and became a consultant for a research center on multilingual education, traveling throughout the USA in this capacity for two years. When the traveling began to put too much strain on family life, he went to the Lord in prayer for direction.
Many doors were opened, including one in Chicago which had little appeal for him. But he gave one short seminar for educational administrators in Chicago and felt the Spirit strongly with him, and his contact with Chicago became an exhilarating experience. Going against the advice of friends, he moved to the Chicago area. For the next two years he administered multilingual programs in the Chicago Public Schools, programs serving children who collectively speak over a hundred languages other than English.
Brother Aranda continued for another three years as director of the Department of Bilingual Education for the Illinois Office of Education. Here he learned to navigate the shoals of big government and became known to legislators, policymakers, and the media as a persistent advocate of those forgotten by the traditional public school curricula. His experience with the Church had already taught him that it is possible to alter mainstream instructional programs on behalf of cultural and language minorities when people care enough for the individual.
Soon after Brother Aranda’s arrival in Chicago, President Willard Barton of the Wilmette Stake called him to a position on the high council, blessing him that he might serve the Church by gaining understanding of the needs of the forgotten and interpret them into Church action. He worked closely with President Barton to bring about significant changes, strengthening non-English-speaking branches and giving Church programs a universal scope.
He recalls this time with fondness: “President Barton was a great inspiration. He approached his responsibilities with imagination and creativity. For me, this time was a bit of heaven. Diversity was not only tolerated but also encouraged. President Barton believed the Lord holds us responsible for all and encourages us to reach out to all. Our stake conferences provided multiple translations for Asian and Hispanic members and had a corps of members trained to sign for the hearing impaired.”
His next professional opportunity was to open political and institutional systems for the large Hispanic population of Chicago to help ease their integration into a better life. Since 1979 he has been the director of a private civil rights agency whose mission it is to see that the Hispanic life is seen as one of value. This requires him to examine systems and policy-makers—that is, city governments and corporations. Where he finds discriminatory practices, unfair wages, or little value put on Hispanic life, he confronts and negotiates.
His early training at being an outsider, at being comfortable as part of a minority, has prepared him to fulfill his opportunity. A frequent talk-show guest, he serves on councils as diverse as the national board of the Children’s Television Workshop, the Illinois Council on Employment and Training, and the Chicago Civic Coalition of the Chicago Bar Association. He sits in council with the mayor of Chicago, the president of the United States, and the president of Mexico. Recently the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times, as well as Chicago papers, covered his comments regarding philanthropic organizations and their lack of responsiveness to Hispanics.
Brother Aranda is highly concerned with blindness to real human needs. “I cannot stand by and witness a sister standing at her factory job with blistered hands, working sixteen hours a day because she must support five children, and quietly walk away when I find that she is being paid less than the man working next to her. We must not blind ourselves to the reality of such conditions. These mothers hold to the dream that they can teach their children honor and sobriety and that with hard work there will be progress.”
Though he believes in the purpose of his work, it is not always pleasant. He is sustained and strengthened by his family, by fellow Latter-day Saints, and by his local priesthood leaders. But most of all, as are all of us, he is sustained by his personal relationship with God. Turning to the scriptures, he reads Mosiah’s and King Benjamin’s words again and again. Then he goes back to work. Perhaps he teaches a sister how to negotiate with the police for more protection after she has been robbed twice in the same week. Perhaps he himself will go directly to the police, persuading them to train more Hispanics as law officers.
The Hispanic people accept and respect Brother Aranda’s LDS family life-style and the time he needs away from his work to care for his duties as a patriarch. “It is a joyous calling,” says Brother Aranda, “but one that demands much. I was told by older patriarchs that I must not plan to give more than four blessings a day. When I went past this I found the wisdom in their counsel. I found myself totally depleted, a poor vessel for carrying out my responsibilities.
“I have learned that words are in themselves a poor means of communicating a patriarchal blessing. We have all been nurtured, trained, and taught at the feet of our heavenly parents, and this knowledge is just a veil away. None of us needs to be self-demeaning. In this life we have to learn obedience and how to integrate our spiritual and physical selves, and find harmony in so doing. We already have vast knowledge and experience from our first estate. I have learned that our patriarchal blessings are evocative, meant to trigger a lifting of that veil and to reveal ourselves to ourselves,” he says.
“I have learned that any mother who has received a spiritual manifestation as she seeks counsel in directing a child, or any father who has taken part in a child’s healing, or any bishop who gets a sudden insight beyond his or her own knowledge to satiate a young person’s wonder has an awareness of the power by which a patriarchal blessing is given.”
He constantly encourages members to listen to the still small voice telling them the right road that will take them back to our heavenly parents. “Kindness, scruples, and thoughtfulness are already written in our souls (though more heavily veiled in some than in others); we should read our patriarchal blessings with great eagerness to lift the cobwebs of mortality and find our true spiritual selves.”
Sister Aranda was called to be Brother Aranda’s scribe for these patriarchal blessings. I ask her how she feels about this behind-the-scenes, time-consuming job: “As you know, the blessings are tape-recorded and need to be transcribed, then finally copied in duplicate. For the blessings in Spanish this involves an additional rough draft.
“I was junior Sunday School coordinator and pregnant when Mario was called. Typing wasn’t my forte. (The only class I failed in high school was typing.) But sending tapes to various Spanish- and English-speaking typists was time-consuming and the work was falling far behind. Finally, of sheer necessity, I was called and set apart.
“It was very slow going at first, but I felt that with persistence and prayer miracles were happening, and I was able to catch up and make the work current. Each blessing requires that Mario and I spend three to four hours of preparation time. It’s a peaceful and strength-giving job, and it brings me great joy and added perspective about life and its meaning.”
Her observation leads Mario to express his deep feeling that the Church has room for all of us with our diverse talents and needs and cultures. His remarks more than any other typify the direction of his life. “I believe in the sacredness of the individual,” he says, “and in the need to translate the gospel into a nurturing and strengthening program that accommodates this divine and desired righteous diversity.”
One brother I spoke to privately attested to action that shows Brother Aranda practices his philosophy. This brother said, “I didn’t welcome the Latinos into our ward, and most especially I found it hard to accept Brother Aranda’s excellence. But when I had a need it was Brother Aranda who found a way to fill it, and he loved me beyond my prejudices.” I told this to Brother Aranda and he chuckled, a warm understanding loving sort of chuckle.