Consul of Mexico Vicente Sánchez Ventura is trading the dry heat of Fresno for the Caribbean breezes of Havana, Cuba.
Sánchez Ventura recently accepted a three-year position as head of consular affairs at the embassy in Cuba. He leaves Fresno in June.
Fresno’s new consul will be David Preciado Juárez, who currently serves in Little Rock, Ark.
Sánchez Ventura said becoming Cuba’s head of consular affairs will be a challenge, but he hopes to improve relations between the two countries. He said things will change quickly now that the United States’ embargo has been lifted.
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“We’re going to see the transition,” he said. “We are in a global world.”
Sánchez Ventura admitted the move is a drastic change from his mission in Fresno. Cuba has few Mexicans, and those who go there are mainly students, professors, researchers and artists. But he expects to facilitate the arrival of more Mexican businesses and increase tourism. Many Cubans migrated to Mexico and now have mixed families, he said.
You make your home wherever you are.
Vicente Sánchez Ventura
In Fresno, Sánchez Ventura served a large population of of working-class Mexicans, many who are farm laborers. He learned to value their work in our food economy: “Everything depends on Mexicans.”
Some people who go to the consulate for legal documents no longer have thumbprints because of years of farm work, he said.
The consulate does more than process passports and identification cards. It offers civil registry and notary public services, health and legal support, and help for the homeless, seasonal agriculture workers, those who speak indigenous languages, victims of violent crimes and more.
Sánchez Ventura has responded to the needs of Mexicans in Fresno by changing the way some services are offered. For example, after seeing people arrive at the office’s healthcare window with serious conditions, he started weekly lunchtime visits to farms to offer checkups and catch illnesses early.
The San Joaquin Valley branch has existed for 85 years and serves around 1.5 million Mexican nationals in the eight-county service area from Merced to Bakersfield.
“Coming to the consulate is not coming to an office,” Sánchez Ventura said. “It’s coming home, to the house of Mexico.”
Sánchez Ventura’s focus in Fresno was education. The consulate partners with the Education and Leadership Foundation to give scholarships to local college students. It also has earmarked funding for a planned community square in Fresno that would serve as an education center for Mexican adults in Spanish and English.
He also made it a point to employ more “Dreamers” – undocumented young adults who have benefited from the California Dream Act. Many now have work permits through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
One of Sánchez Ventura’s last projects in Fresno is the forthcoming launch of a group of Mexican leaders in Fresno. However, he didn’t get to finish everything.
Sánchez Ventura wanted to establish more partnerships with Mexican businesses and institutions, and plan bicultural events with the honorary Armenian consul Berj Apkarian, as well as with the Hmong community. Now it will be up to the new consul whether to follow through with those ideas because each consul determines areas to focus on.
But a continuing goal is to reach more people. Mexicans need to know the consulate is there to help, he said.
We have to keep putting Fresno on the map.
Vicente Sánchez Ventura
Sánchez Ventura is used to moving around. His career in diplomacy spans more than 30 years, and he has led consulates in Dallas and Austin, Texas, Puerto Rico, New Orleans and Nicaragua. Before arriving in Fresno, he was consul in Detroit for seven years.
Sánchez Ventura said he grew to love the Central Valley. Among the places he’ll miss:
▪ Woodward Park in Fresno
▪ Dewar’s Candy shop in Bakersfield
▪ La Estrella Bakery and Oaxaca Restaurant, both in Fresno
“You make your home wherever you are,” he said. “When you move, you change everything. You start from zero, and it’s like you are born anew.”
As Sánchez Ventura prepares to leave his home of the past three years, there’s one thing he knows for sure: “We have to keep putting Fresno on the map.”