The person I am today is very different from who I was when I was growing up. I remember the day my mother told me we were moving to California. I was only eight years old so I did not fully understand what that meant, but I remember feeling my heart racing and a smile forming on my face when she told me we were moving because I had never traveled before and my mom always told me with enthusiasm how America is the “land of opportunity.” It was just me and my mother that moved to California. We spent three days on a bus to Tijuana, then three more days to cross the border by foot. It was a long and strenuous travel, but I will never forget my reaction to seeing California for the first time. I remember my dumbstruck expression with my jaw dropped to the ground.
“Close your mouth Mija, you don’t want flies getting into your mouth!” my mother said with a huge smile across her face.
Our new life commenced as soon as we moved into an apartment in Redwood City with my mother’s friends. That day, I had my first shower, because where I used to live, we did not have showers, only bathtubs. Feeling the hot water spray me from the metal piece on the ceiling was so rejuvenating and magical.
Despite all of the enthusiasm of being in America, I did not speak a word of English and I was teased at school because of it. I was mistreated by kids in my grade, kids in other grades, and even the staff at the school who were racist and malicious. I dreaded going to school, I hated when people walked all over me and treated me like absolute trash. Even my mother became abusive and cruel. I felt so alone and worthless. Eventually, I started skipping class to go shoplift food, makeup, and maxi pads because my mother refused to buy me things and give me money for anything else but the bus. So if I wanted to eat or if I needed something, I would steal and often walk a long way home.
When I went to high school, I changed myself. I was sick and tired of people treating me like garbage and making me feel worthless so I became someone people really feared. I also turned to drugs and I met Manuel, my first love. I was twelve and he was nineteen when we met. We started dating shortly after that. When I was sixteen I got pregnant with my first child, married at seventeen, and I had my second child at eighteen. Life was very tough. I had to drop out of school to take care of my sons and Manuel was in and out of jail for drugs and violence. When he wasn’t in jail, we were fighting and even throwing knives at each other. When we finally decided to separate, the deal was that he kept the house while I kept the two boys and the car, meaning my boys and I lived in a car for about two years.
I’ll never forget what my first born Manny said when we were living in the car. My sweet, innocent three year old looks at me with his glossy round eyes and says “ I will take care of us Mommy.” Although I never let anyone see the vulnerable side of me, I couldn’t help but feeling a salty tears rolling down my heated cheeks when my baby son said this. I can easily say that those two years of living in my car with my two kids were the hardest years of my life. It was hard to see the positive side in life. I just wanted the best for my two baby sons. While I did my best to take care of them, I feel like they really took care of me by being so encouraging and sweet.
During this time period, I started thinking what kind of God would let me live in my car with my two babies? I stopped questioning my faith when Officer Peter came into my life. Officer Peter was a police officer and my guardian angel sent from God. One day, he walked up to my car and when I first saw him, I felt my heart beating one hundred beats per minute, thinking I was going to get my babies taken away from me. As he was approaching my car, I saw that he was holding a brown paper bag.
“ Hello Ma’am” he said politely and gently
“ Good afternoon officer,” I replied with shaking and clammy hands
“ I thought you and these young men would like some lunch?” He rhetorically asked as he was handing me the McDonalds paper bag.
I took a huge breath of relief and said, “ Thank you so much officer.”
“Have a nice day,” he smilingly responded.
My sons and I feasted on the delicious chicken nuggets and went on with our day.
The very next day, I see the same officer and when he spotted me, he got out of his car carrying a huge box of diapers. He started making his way towards me and eventually handed over the box to me and all he said before walking back to his car was,
“ I thought these boys would put these to good use.”
From then on, I saw him everyday for almost two years. Officer Peter took really good care of me and my sons. He would sometimes buy groceries and every so often he paid for a Motel room for me and my boys so we could shower and sleep in a real bed. Officer Peter even helped me get a job and he helped out until I could afford a small apartment. Once my sons and I were moved into our new home, I never saw Officer Peter again. I tried contacting him in any way I could to thank him, but I never succeeded in finding him. I can easily say that Officer Peter saved my life. I will forever be grateful for him.
I had a very difficult life growing up, but it made me who I am today. I have five beautiful children, a loving husband, and a job. I am extremely happy with where and who I am and I can easily say that I would not be here if it weren’t for Officer Peter and my children. I am truly living in the land of opportunity.
This story is based on an interview by a student at Palo Alto High School.