Gretchen Shartle

As Interviewed by Hailey Ripp, March 19, 2018

Gretchen Shartle: In Her Own Words

My full name: Gretchen Lara Shartle. My education is a school in Houston, small private school, fifth through the 12th grade. Before that I went to two other schools, and then I went to Wellesley College in Massachusetts, which was extremely hard and challenging. In 1955 after I graduated from high school, I went with the Experiment for International Living and lived with a French family; which, really, was the first big change in my life. And then, when I came back to Wellesley, it was kind of a let down, to come from France, going to a very hard college, and that was challenging. My sophomore year at Wellesley, I went with the Experiment in International Living to get involved with international programs as much as I could at college. I decided I didnít want to continue at Wellesley. Then my next educational commitment was getting my masters degree in French Lit, a masters degree in social work later, and a degree in south asian studies.
I began to realize when I was young, that my life was really privileged. When I would catch glimpses- like my dad had a factory...When we would go to the factory and I saw these poor peopleís houses nearby, I mean I thought, my goodness, thatís hard for them, and I began to feel like I wanted to help. Itís import- I mean, just in terms of life, I think itís important to think microcosmically, and think macrocosmically.
It was around 1981 or so, my older daughter Kyria got assigned to represent Nicaragua in the [Model] United Nations. She called me up and said ĎMama, I donít know anything about Nicaragua. Can you find out something about it because Iím representing them in the Model UN.Ē And I said, ďI donít know anything about it, either.Ē So I went to the library and began to read about it and about the United States supporting Samosa. And that was a big injustice. Then the Contras were sort of an outgrowth of this Somosa group. Reagan kept supporting the Contras and there was no doubt in my mind that the Sandinistas were the better people.
The first time I went [to Nicaragua], [my younger daughter] Greta was here, so it meant just leaving Greta. Greta was cared for, so I was ok. I was with a group from North Carolina and there were about 30 people. They were going to Jalapa, which is right on the border with Honduras, so I had to make a decision will I go to Jalapa or not. And I decided not to go because Greta had begged me not to go. She was afraid I would get killed. But I was never scared. I just wanted to learn all I could. And then, through a man by the name of Bill Glade, I met a family in Leon, Nicaragua, named the Laras and they were very strong Sandinistas and I stayed very close to them and I got to know them. I fell in love with that family. I also went to a Base Ecclesial Community meeting and that was very exciting. And the Sandinistas prayed for their enemies. And that impressed me a lot, that they were not blasting their enemies, they were praying for them. From then on, I just got more and more involved in Central America. There were lots of artists and people doing craftwork, and that impressed me, and they were all Sandinistas.
My second trip to Nicaragua, I think that was one of the most exciting times of my life, to be there. And that time we did go to Jalapa. The people we met there became the nucleus of the group which we used to start the whole effort: raising consciousness about what was happening in Central America.
We saw a terrible housing situation in Mexico City and I wanted to help but they said ďNo, you canít help internationally.Ē Luckily, that was right about the time when Ann Richards was becoming Governor, and I knew Cecile Richards and my cousins knew Ann pretty well, and this helped because we got millions of dollars for housing.
Iím most passionate about the Central Americans and the Hispanics, Mexicans, coming across the border, the immigration issue. And Iím most passionate about the deportation centers and the fact that they have one right here in Hutto.
[My advice for young people wanting to make a difference in the world is to] travel, learn languages. I have a sign that says ďOpen your heart and let Godís love in.Ē Yeah, travel and open your heart. When you see other countries and other people, when you visit a country, try to find a way to live with them, not apart from them.