Pastor Miguel Aragon of Buena Park's Iglesia Cristiana Nuevos Horizontes church has worked hard showing his congregation how to be good American citizens. He has also worked hard to make himself a good American citizen.
Earlier this month, after more than 10 years in this country, Aragon, 43, finally became an American.
A native of Puebla, Mexico, a predominantly Catholic town near Mexico City, Aragon was ostracized by children and adults as a child because his family chose the Protestant faith.
Following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, a Catholic, in November 1963, Aragon was beaten by classmates after his teacher told him that he was personally responsible for the fallen leader's death.
"He pointed to me and said that I killed the president . . . that since I was a Protestant, I was just as guilty as the person who killed Kennedy," Aragon said. "But I know that he was just one person and that he just did not know any better."
He chalks up the abuse to a lack of understanding by the people in his hometown.
"The community that I grew up in was very conservative," he said. "That's the only [reason] I can think of for them to call Christians, 'murderers.' "
This lack of awareness on the part of his people led him to join a seminary in Mexico in 1975.
"One day I felt like God just called on me and told me I had to serve him," Aragon said. "I believe if God calls upon you then you must serve his will."
Aragon came to the U.S. looking for work in 1981 and volunteered as an assistant pastor for a Baptist church in downtown Los Angeles, while working as a cook for a Topanga Canyon restaurant.
During the '80s, Aragon saw the congregation change from predominantly Korean and Anglo to El Salvadoran and Guatemalan. As the faces changed, so did the needs of his congregation.
Many of the congregation began to rely on Aragon for more than divine inspiration because he was a Spanish-speaking native of Mexico.
The influx of low-income, uneducated churchgoers meant that Aragon had to be more than a pastor spreading God's word. He also had to be a teacher, showing his congregation how to function in American society. Now, with his own church in Buena Park, the need for his special kind of service is even greater.
"Most of the people who come to our church are poor and have little, if any education at all," said Eurice Aragon, Miguel's wife of eight years.
She said immigrants must understand the laws and customs to function here.
For example, in Mexico and Central American countries, authorities may not be as strict in enforcing such things as traffic violations, Aragon said.
"We teach them that what they do in [those countries], they can't do in the United States."
Nonetheless, "Many of the people work here to send money back to Mexico and their families depend on them," she said.
Andre Briscoe can be reached at (714) 966-5848.