By Beyond Borders Gazette | Read the original Spanish version
Kayla Kirby and Vidal Ramirez met and fell in love in Imperial Valley, where they have built a bridge across a chasm between two different languages, nations and cultures.
Kayla Kirby, an Anglo, grew up in Louisiana but moved to Imperial Valley when her dad relocated to the Naval Air Facility in El Centro, California, in August 2012, right before her sophomore year of high school. The relocation meant that she would experience life in a state she didn’t know and where she had no friends. That soon changed as she accustomed herself to her new environment.
Some say that Imperial Valley is in the middle of nowhere. But, in reality, it is next door to Mexico and hours away from the big cities of California and Arizona. Imperial Valley has a relatively large Latino population — 83 percent (compared to 33 percent of San Diego and 39 percent of California). At least 27 percent of Imperial county’s population speak limited English.
“My first impression of the Valley is obvious … it is hot! But I was excited to go to a new school. It was a little bit of a culture shock but that didn’t last too long,” Kirby recalled.
Kirby admits that Spanish was a bit of a challenge at first, but the more involved she got in school events, the more she started to understand and become part of the community. She met Vidal Ramirez, a Mexican American, in 10th grade English class, and they became friends.
They joined the Latin dance club together and Kirby recalls performing twice at the county fair. “During one of our performances, I completely forgot the next dance move and I started freaking out. He calmed me down and kept me dancing without looking like an idiot.”
They started dating soon after.
Kirby describes her relationship with Ramirez like that performance. “I am often spinning between the craziness of my job, my family, being a mom, and my education … but somehow he helps me keep moving and keep it all together. He makes sure I keep dancing,” she said.
Kirby’s personal and professional career was formed in Imperial county as she found a job as the office manager, reporter, and editor of a local newspaper where she was able to win journalism awards with her team. She currently works at the Imperial County Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Ramirez and his father own a blacksmithing and welding business called D’Marcos Fence and Ironworks. The young millennial couple has been able to create a successful life together and represent what the phrase “couple goals” means by blending two different cultures and contributing to making their community a better place to live.
They have one daughter. “I don’t speak fluent Spanish but I speak enough to get by. I’m taking a Spanish class right now since my daughter is bilingual. I want her to grow up fully immersed in her culture,” Kirby said.
She admits to having a language barrier with her grandfather-in-law, but he taught her words and phrases in Spanish and she taught him words and phrases in English.
Kirby said that while her in-laws were very welcoming (her father-in-law gave her away at the wedding), the difference in culture was a struggle. “I was always very blunt and that came off as rude when I was getting to know my in-laws,” she said. It took her a while to realize that they thought she was angry, but Ramirez managed to act as go-between and explain the cultural gaps. “He helped us all see eye to eye. I don’t feel like I struggled that much to blend with his family because he is wonderful … ensuring I understand the culture we want our daughter to have.”
Marrying into a Mexican family meant that she had the opportunity to cross to the city of Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico. Living in a cross-border community where people visit their family and do business is something that not many in the world can experience.
Kirby has a sister-in-law who cannot cross the border into the U.S. and it’s hard on the family to not have as much access to her, Kirby said. They go over frequently to visit her, enjoy food, and party with family for weddings and birthdays. “It’s sad to see the family split apart but we do our best to still be together,” she added.
Vidal and Kayla want to raise their daughter bilingual so she spends a lot of time with her paternal grandfather who takes her to the fairs and festivals in Mexicali.
“I love being exposed to the art and culture in this area. The food is phenomenal. I cook more like my mother-in-law than I do like my family back in Louisiana,” Kirby said.
They visit Kirby’s family once or twice a year so their child can learn about Louisiana culture. “I do still cook some southern dishes. As she gets older we hope to teach her about the culture of both of her families,” Kirby said.
Kirby and Ramirez are living their lives as homeowners and professionals and enjoying the best of two cultures. The love they found has strengthened each other and added a special multi-cultural spice to their lives.
This article is part of the Love Across Colorlines series, a collaboration of 20+ ethnic media outlets looking at interracial marriage in California at a time of rising hate. Visit Love Across Colorlines to see more in the series.