When she was 17 years old, Cristina Solis left Coatzingo, Mexico for the United States. She didn’t think at the time that she would have a reason to come back — much less own a property in Coatzingo and visit once a year.
But things have changed 35 years later.
Solis, a certified nursing assistant in Gig Harbor, travels to Mexico each summer with a small group of women, dubbed the Coatzingo Chicas.
It’s different from when she would visit her father years ago. While staying with him, she began to feed the poor in the town
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Her father died three years ago, and Solis, 52, felt her tie to Coatzino was severed.
“I thought, ‘I don’t have a reason to go back,’” Solis said. “He said, ‘Daughter, you keep helping the poor people — always.’”
Her heart broke when she saw the need there, she said, so she resolved to continue visiting.
Coatzingo is located in the Puebla area of southeast Mexico. Once her father died, Solis said her heart told her to build in Coatzingo. She purchased a plot of land and employs locals to help build the mission. Solis funds the project with her salary.
“I work so hard and every cent has to go to the mission home,” she said.
Once it is completed, she doesn’t want it to only be used for visiting missions. Her dream is the mission home will become a community space.
All year long Solis gathers things to take to Coatzingo, especially medical supplies. She plans to use her training as a nurse to teach those in Mexico some medical skills. She takes supplies such as reading glasses, blood pressure sleeves and more.
“Kids die, they don’t know why they die... they have no training for basic (First Aid),” she said.
She also takes requests, such as one from a junior high school band teacher in Coatzingo. Students were sharing a small number of instruments, making performances and lessons difficult.
Solis called Becky Sharrett, a music teacher at Lighthouse Christian School. She told Sharrett about the junior high school that wanted instruments.
“(Solis is) always thinking about the kids and the people there,” Sharrett said.
Sharrett and her musicians at Lighthouse began to gather instruments for the band in Mexico — not an easy task considering the women fly south with all the supplies in checked luggage.
Last summer, Sharrett went to Coatzingo with Solis and helped with the band. Not a Spanish speaker, she saw first-hand the universal language of music.
Solis thanks God for the gift of living in the United States. She became a citizen in 1995. It’s the life she found after leaving Coatzingo in 1980 that motivates her to return.
“I feel proud of myself (going back),” she said. “I want to make a difference in this little town.”
Part of family of 13 children, Solis grew up in poverty. She wants the children of Coatzingo to grow up in a better environment.
“I believe I have a gift in my heart to help people,” she said.