Her life’s legacy
On a recent sunny afternoon, Thompson-Marquez looks out over a two-story strip mall in Langley Park, her green eyes squinting past a West African clothing store, a Spanish-speaking tax attorney’s office and an Asian supermarket.
“There it is!,” she says. “That’s the Peruvian chicken place. My mouth is watering!”
She’s headed to lunch with Lopez, the film’s co-director. She’s already gotten requests from universities and churches hoping to screen the film. In many ways, she feels this film is her life’s legacy.
Thompson-Marquez’s father was a middle-class Peruvian teacher who named her after Jacqueline Kennedy. He nicknamed his daughter “True Grit,” after the 1969 John Wayne Western, when he noticed that she never procrastinated on her schoolwork. “It’s a nickname that’s defined my life,” she said. She arrived alone in the United States on a tourist visa in 1987 and decided to stay and try to earn a college degree. She was 21 years old.
She moved in with Bertha Donahue, the mother of her godfather, Chris Donahue, who was a Peace Corps volunteer in Peru and a family friend. She immediately started English classes and got a job working for two families in Takoma Park, studying when she wasn’t doing diaper duty.
“She just sponged people up, wanting to learn all she could from their life experiences,” said Mary Jacksteit, 63, a lawyer who hired Thompson-Marquez to care for her children in Takoma Park.
The two women stayed in touch over the years, and Thompson-Marquez attended the children’s college graduations and weddings. When the film was in its final stages, she asked Jacksteit to watch and critique it.
“Sometimes you can meet someone and you can feel their ambition, which gives them a rough edge, makes them kind of pushy,” Jacksteit said. “But Wendy isn’t like that. She has this combination of warmth and playfulness, the kind of person you want to take care of your children. But I always knew she was committed to going the extra 25 miles for everything.”
One year, Jacksteit’s kids asked Thompson-Marquez to help them celebrate Halloween. So Thompson-Marquez made them a haunted house in the basement. “Suddenly, all the kids in the neighborhood wanted to come over,” Jacksteit said.
‘America is changing’
Thompson-Marquez had nightmares for years about being told to leave the country. But she was eventually sponsored by the families she worked for and obtained a green card, a process that took eight years. She became a citizen in 2002.