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Madison East teacher raising money to provide students a once-in-a-lifetime experience in Tepatitlán, Mexico

Madison East High School Raza United students hold up the banner painted in collaboration with Madison and Tepa artists at the Madison/Tepatitlán Sister Cities Annual Banquet.

Silvia Gómez de Soriano, a bilingual resource specialist at Madison East High School, is leaving on Saturday on a cross-cultural Sister City service trip to work on a mosaic mural project in central Mexico at an elementary school in Tepatitlán, Jalisco, and she is looking for a little community support to help set up a program to bring her East High students there, too.

Gómez de Soriano is a Xicana mentor for students at East, an advisor for Raza United, and a co-founder of the Xicano Institute for Education and Self Determination, a program that helps students learn about their self-identity and cultural roots. She tells Madison365 that many of the students she works with on a daily basis who have lived their whole life in Madison have never had the opportunity to visit Mexico and she wants to “initiate a student exchange program that will benefit many young people from Madison and Tepatitlan for many years to come.”

“While we’re there, we’re going to be talking to the superintendent and the principal of the high school about a cultural exchange program with high school students at East and those at Tepatitlán,” says Gómez de Soriano, who is also a member of the Sister Cities of Madison/Tepa committee. “I want to give students this incredible experience who would otherwise never have the experience to visit Mexico.”

Last fall, her students hosted students from Tepatitlán Regional High School in celebration of the 10th Anniversary of the Madison/Tepatitlan Sister Cities. The 10 Mexican students spent time at East High, visited the University of Wisconsin-Madison, went to a Badger game, and attended the Madison/Tepatitlan Sister Cities anniversary dinner on Sept. 30, 2022.

Silvia Gómez de Soriano (left) and Shadayra “Shady” Kilfoy-Flores (Photo: GoFundMe)

“They experienced life in Wisconsin in Madison and what our hope is that we do the same for students to go over to Mexico to kind of experience that life in Mexico,” Gómez de Soriano says. “It would be a great opportunity for somebody who has never been there, especially students of Mexican descent, to have that educational and cultural experience there.”

Shadayra “Shady” Kilfoy-Flores, also a member of the Sister Cities of Madison/Tepa committee, will be accompanying Gómez de Soriano on the upcoming Tepatitlán trip which will take place from March 11-29. 

“It’s tough if the student’s parents don’t have proper documentation for their parents to facilitate a trip to Mexico, so this would be a way for students who may not have that opportunity to travel with their parents, for them to still be able to experience going to Mexico,” she tells Madison365. 

Kilfoy-Flores and Gómez de Soriano will be working on a mosaic mural project at an elementary school in Tepatitlán, Jalisco. While there, Gómez de Soriano will be facilitating Tepatitlán high school students to help the elementary students with the mosaic project while making new meaningful connections. 

Tepatitlán de Morelos lies nestled deep in the highlands of the Mexican state of Jalisco. Founded in 1883, this midsize city is a significant producer of agricultural commodities for domestic consumption and global export. It is the largest producer of eggs, pork, and milk in Mexico and produces world-class tequila. 

Madison East Raza United students give Tepa students a tour of East High School. They were super impressed with the size of our field house, Gómez de Soriano (in the forefront) says.

Well-known Madison artist Sharon Kilfoy, Kilfoy-Flores’s mother, has previously spent time in Tepatitlan in 2014 painting a mural with students at the same elementary school in a sister-city artist exchange and she also set up the current mosaic project.

This will be an extension of that original project,” Kilfoy-Flores says. “It will be new students, but it will be with the same [elementary school] principal that she worked with before and we’ll be working with the principal from the high school, too.”

Kilfoy says she expects there to be between 100-200 children working on the mosaic from the grade school with 15-30 students coming from the high school to help out.

“Every student in the grade school will be able to participate at some level on the mosaic,” Kilfoy tells Madison365. “The young kids will do the simpler drawings and the fourth and fifth-grade kids will help do a lot of details. There’s a high school that we’ve been involved with so we will have high school students helping out with the mosaic, too.

“Silvia and Shady will be overseeing all of that. The goal is to create a beautiful work of art, but also to engage kids that maybe have not done mosaic work before or don’t consider themselves to have a lot of artistic talent,” Kifloy adds. “We think it’s important for them to be able to know that they’re capable of creating art and that, collectively, they can certainly do something that’s going to be really, really gorgeous.”

Kilfoy adds that she’s looking forward to seeing the joint project that will see Tepatitlán high school students helping the elementary students.

“The high school is a college prep school with students who are fairly well off and the grade school is in a much, much poor neighborhood,” Kilfoy says. “So it’s getting some of those high school kids, who were recently here visiting Madison from Tepa, involved with a low-income school doing community service right there in their own community.”

Students and staff from the Preparatoria Regional de Tepatitlán with Peppy the Purgolder at East’s Homecoming Pep Rally in Sept 2022.

During the upcoming three weeks in Mexico, Gómez de Soriano will also be looking to initiate a student exchange program that will benefit numerous young people from Madison and Tepatitlan for many years to come. She recently started a GoFundMe to help cover expenses, as Gómez de Soriano makes it clear that this is not something that MMSD is paying her to do. “I will not be paid by MMSD during the 3 weeks while in Tepatitlan. I will be taking time off without pay. This is not a vacation, nor medical leave, and MMSD does not pay me any vacation time,” she says in the GoFundMe.

“She’s not getting leave of absence or any of the such and so really the GoFundMe is to supplement her loss of income that she won’t be making, but particularly to help Sylvia make those cross-cultural connections and for her to be able to set up these programs,” Kilfoy-Flores says. “We set the goal of $3,000 for the GoFundMe because we feel like we wanted to be realistic about Silvia’s needs and we wanted her to be able to come home without being super far in debt.”

Gómez de Soriano says that she is very excited about the trip and plans on giving plenty of updates, including live video updates from Mexico. Her plan is to make as many connections as she can and to meet with the school superintendent and school leaders to organize a safe, educational, and fun program for students.

“My goal for this program is to teach East High School Raza students about their culture and heritage,” Gomez de Soriano says. “And I want them to come back with more knowledge and a stronger sense of cultural pride.”