Maria Elena Vidana

Vidana—Maria Elena Vidana, 76, on June 1, 2016, in San Diego, Calif. Maria Elena was born on February 9, 1940, in Amatitan, Jalisco, Mexico, the second child of six to Josefina Jimenez, a nanny and a bottler at the tequila factory during the summers, and Santos Pacheco, who worked in the agave fields.

Josefina immigrated to Los Angeles with her children when Maria Elena was about 10 years old. Maria Elena hated the cultural shock of moving from her rural home, where she had felt secure and loved. All of the children had to work to help support the family. Her mother emphasized education’s importance, and her goal was for the children to graduate from high school. Maria Elena graduated from Montebello High School in 1958. At 21 she married Anthony David Vidana, a community college student who went on to become an electrical engineer. They had three children, and she devoted herself to her family but also suffered from a serious depression when the children were young. The couple divorced when Maria Elena was 36, and she moved with her children to San Diego. Enrolling in San Diego State University, she worked 20 hours a week, graduated magna cum laude in three years from an accelerated program with a bachelor’s degree and a teaching credential, and put a warm meal on the table each evening for her children. As a symbol of her new identity, she changed her first name to Sandi. In later years, she also received a master’s in education from United States International University.

Sandi was a bilingual Spanish–English elementary teacher at Logan Elementary School, helped start Darnell Elementary School as a charter school, and finished her career at Golden Hill Elementary School. She was a mentor teacher and a GATE teacher for San Diego Unified School District and was nominated as Hispanic teacher of the year.

Even though she believed in the worth of all religions, her strong Christian faith informed all aspects of her life and was an anchor for her. She traveled the world and loved and felt loved by the people of Turkey. She was a political activist, philanthropist, and advocate for equal rights and the underprivileged, including the Cocopah and Kumeyaay indigenous people of Mexico. Her heart knew no bounds; she took anyone with needs who crossed her path into her care with warmth, generosity, and acceptance. She loved children and helped raise many besides her own.

She was a member of La Jolla (Calif.) Meeting for over 20 years, teaching in the Children’s Religious Education program and serving on the Peace and Social Order Committee. Her insight and perspective were invaluable on the Ministry and Oversight Committee, and for Pacific Yearly Meeting, she traveled to Mexico City Meeting and helped with the translation of Faith and Practice into Spanish as Fe y Practica. Soon before her death she joined the Asylees, Immigrants, and Refugees Committee to help immigrant families adjust to life in the United States, as she had done. She expanded the horizons of La Jolla Meeting and patiently worked with Friends to convey the perspective of people of color, introducing the meeting to the custom of installing an altar to deceased loved ones on Dia de los Muertos. She was humble, had a great sense of humor, gave heartfelt vocal messages, and was loving to everyone. She went back to her original name the last six years of her life as a way of embracing her culture.

Maria Elena is survived by three children, Tony Vidana, Jon Vidana, and Melissa Vidana; four grandchildren; three sisters; and three brothers.

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