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Neto's Tucson: San Manuel family's success is important tale of immigration

Neto's Tucson: San Manuel family's success is important tale of immigration

When Margarita and Rene Acosta arrived in San Manuel, the mining town north of Tucson in 1977, they did so with the hope of finding steady employment and, more importantly, getting an education for their three children.

The couple struggled with language and culture. They stared down obstacles. The odds were against them from the day they left their Sonoran border homes.

But last week the Acostas, who added two more children after their move to San Manuel, declared their mission accomplished. Their youngest child, Joanna Acosta, 22, graduated from the University of Arizona with a degree in biomedical engineering. She begins her career this summer at the ASARCO mine in Kearny and is engaged to Rulon Austin of San Manuel.

With her graduation, the Acostas can rightly crow about the accomplishments of their five children. They credit love of family, faith in God and a strong work ethic for their achievements.

However, before I continue with their story, let’s be clear: the Acostas’ immigrant story is not unique. Their story of overcoming obstacles is common among numerous immigrant families who come to this country with aspirations.

Yet this story bears repeating because there are too many people who believe the counter narrative that immigrants, legal or not, are a drag on our country. Immigrants don’t do this and don’t do that. Because the anti-immigrant line is as old as the country, stories like the Acostas not only bear telling but must be told.

The Acostas met in Naco when they were in their teens. He was 17 and Margarita was 15. Against their families’ wishes, they got married. The struggling, poor couple, moved to neighboring Douglas where they worked in the agricultural fields. Their first-born child, Luis Rene, died one day after birth but Veronica, Jose and Rosa followed.

When mighty Magma Copper looked for miners, the senior Acosta sought a job and a bright future for the children, which later included two more children, Rene and Joanna.

The elder Acosta worked underground and his wife took care of the house and children who excelled at school and in athletics. The Acostas, like most families, dealt with personal issues and financial constraints but moved forward.

However, 22 years after arriving in San Manuel, Magma Copper shuttered its mine, sending many families spiraling down. The Acostas’ drive held the family steady. Joanna was beginning grade school.

The elder Acosta returned to school to learn a trade. The family would not be denied. The Acostas were going to do what they came to do.

“We’ve proven to the world we did it,” said Joanna.

And they did. The Acostas have attended their children’s graduation ceremonies and other major events. And with 12 grandchildren, there’ll be many more.

Veronica, 41, is married to Joe Santiago, both are Army veterans and have two sons, the oldest in college. She served in Desert Storm, has an accounting degree from the UA and is an accountant for Krebs Engineers in Tucson.

Jose, 40, and his girlfriend Liseth Torres are raising four children. He has a degree in computer engineering from Arizona State University and is an engineer for Intel Corp. in Chandler.

Rosa, 37, is married to Andy Graves, an Army veteran, and they are raising four children, one of whom is in college. She has a degree in journalism from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and works in human resources at Arizona Nutritional Supplements in Chandler.

Rene, 31, served with the Marine Corps and is married to Dr. Stefanie Acosta, also of San Manuel. They have two children. Rene has engineering degrees from the UA and ASU and is an engineer at Raytheon Missile Systems.

Rene, the son, summed up his family this way: “We share our story not to boast, but to inspire and celebrate our parents and celebrate the American Dream. As a family, we are proud U.S. citizens and also very proud of our heritage as Latinos. We hope to touch and inspire those chasing a dream, those battling adversity, validate and share our values and inspire immigrants in hope of a better life.”

Ernesto “Neto” Portillo Jr. is editor of La Estrella de Tucsón. Contact him at or at 573-4187.

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