Associate Yolanda Duarte



Tell us about your growing up years and family.

My dad was one of ten children, but I had only one older sister who was nearly ten years older than me. Given the span of years between us, I was raised as an only child. Therefore, my memories of summer at my Lita’s (abuelita’s/abuela’s/grandmother’s) house full of cousins are filled with mixed emotions. The positive side was that, in a blink of an eye, I had a dozen ‘siblings’ to run, play, and yes, even argue with. The negative was that I was no longer the single focus of attention! I thought all students spent their summers with their grandmothers. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized my Lita was a lifeline for my parents while they were working and couldn’t afford quality childcare. In the early 1950s, two working parents was an anomaly. Because I didn’t want for much, I had no clue that my parents were struggling to provide for us.

My grandmother, Lita, was remarkable. She never complained, she was never cross, and I thought she prayed all day! Actually, she prayed the Divine Office while we younger ones knelt with her three times a day (morning-noon-night). I thought we knelt by her side because we were the most angelic of all the cousins, but it was really her only way to keep an eye on the most mischievous ones! Lita was a Third Order Franciscan and served as the sacristan for St. Turibus Church, the first church built for African Americans by the Los Angeles Archdiocese in 1923. She was also a trusted “gate-keeper” for the church. Her daily chores included opening the church every morning so it could be accessible to the community and locking it up in the evenings. Some days, she would stay after Mass to clean the church. I got to dust the sconces and some of the pictures of saints around the nave and in the vestibule. For some reason, eight-year-olds were not allowed in the sanctuary. Lita always closed the door in the railing behind her just to make certain I wouldn’t follow her. The moms and older women in the parish looked to my grandmother as a secular ‘woman religious’ and a church leader and they always let her cut in line at the confessional. She also prepared meals for those neighborhood families dealing with food insecurity.

My dad was the other role model in my life; he was a champion for social justice. He worked all his life to make a difference for Latinos and people of color in East Los Angeles and surrounding areas to right the wrongs of injustice, abject poverty, inequality, and racial bias. In his later life, there was an article in the Los Angeles Times recognizing his lifetime achievement, featuring him as the “Elder of ELA.” I accompanied my dad to a rally for Farmworkers where he was one of the organizers and, afterward, we attended a private meal with Cesar Chavez! I remember he actively worked to increase Latino representation by working with community leaders to increase the number of Latino elected officials. He worked for the State and for the County for more than 25 years and was one of the founding members of the Chicano Employee Association, an affirmative action association for more than 3,000 County employees.

Both my dad and my “Lita” were leaders in their community. Both were concerned about bringing people living on the margins closer to resources. My grandmother hired jobless men to work in the church and she and a group of women like her cooked countless meals for their families. My dad was a labor organizer always working for equal pay and decent wages, as a young man in the hosiery mill, in Mexico unionizing the oil and gas workers, for the State of California and, lastly, for Los Angeles County workers. They modeled how to live a Franciscan life.

Please share a favorite story about your early community service.

I was looking to deepen my prayer life as I felt the traditional prayers rosary, novenas etc. were too robotic. I was searching for something different, something more. In my parish, I served as a Eucharistic minister and lector, and I made myself open to the readings although none of them were new to me. I remember thinking I wanted something more than corporate prayer and I found that praying and serving with others was true communion and fellowship. I worked closely with non-profits to improve the lives of those living on the margins, incorporating Franciscan ideals into the programs I developed, although, at the time, I didn’t realize that these ideals were distinctly Franciscan. I was a community organizer due to values instilled in me by both my Lita and my dad.

Why did you decide to become an Associate?

Why the Franciscan community? I was destined to be a Franciscan. In the process of working in the community, I met Lourdes Caracoza. We discovered so many intersections in our lives and, more importantly, in our shared dreams for a better quality of life for struggling families in our community. I sensed the familiarity of a Franciscan charism in her methodology and actions. After a couple of years of discussions, she invited me to meet Sisters living locally. Meeting Sisters Louisa and Jeanmarie and hearing about their connection to St. Turibius was yet another connecting thread to my Franciscan heritage. The rest, as they say, is history.

How do you share your Franciscan values and spirituality now?

I am a woman of color, mother to four beautiful children and a dozen talented, articulate grandchildren! This is my joy and probably the most key role I have ever had. It has been a gift and a blessing. God is truly Good. Living in Long Beach for the last eight years, I joined a new parish. I still serve as a lector and Eucharistic minister. My son and I teach 3rd and 4th grade youth formation and, for the last six years, I have been an RCIA facilitator, which I find inspirational. In our Province, I have gradually assumed larger roles, serving as Charism Animator for several years, as a facilitator with our Southern California group of Associates. Most recently, I joined the Communications Committee, first co-developing a Communications Plan and now helping to launch a website. I retired a couple of years ago from my role as an organizational development consultant to local non-profit organizations serving families on the margins dealing with abuse (drugs, alcohol, child/spousal) and physical, mental, and emotional disabilities. However, I chair several commissions and non-profit boards. In each role, my goal is to be God’s instrument, a champion for positive outcomes and informed decisions for my community.

What would you like us to know about being a Franciscan?

I highly value my spirituality and I intentionally strive to articulate my Franciscan charism to keep it ever present in my life. It was not a coincidence that I joined the Sisters of St Francis of Penance and Christian Charity as an Associate. I believe I ‘became’ Franciscan because it was always in my heart and was stirred in me by the Holy Spirit. (“While you are proclaiming peace with your lips, be careful to have it even more fully in your heart.” This is a quote attributed to St. Francis.) My parents and my grandmother modeled how to live the Gospel and relationships with my fellow Associates help me to nurture it. Together our prayers have uncanny ripple effects, resulting in many gifts and blessings!

Please share a favorite quote or verse.

These three statements are credited to Francis of Assisi: The deeds you do may be the only sermon some persons will hear today. Make me and instrument of your peace. Start by doing what is necessary, then what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

My children are grown. Each one is strong, capable, talented, and committed to serve our community. I consider myself a good mother and each one has surpassed me. They are exemplary parents with beautiful children of their own. I have been able to see my grandchildren thrive! Because I have been given the gift of old age, I am truly blessed. There is heightened vulnerability in aging that I did not anticipate. I always perceived myself as a strong, confident, and capable Latina. Yet, I am ready. I am not afraid because I can say, “Here I am Lord.” My dad used to say “encomendarse a Dios” (“commend yourself to God’).

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