My daughter inspired me to continue doing what I had always loved to do.
This story begins 14 years ago. I almost completed high school in Los Angeles in 1996. But I was struggling. I was very rebellious, I didn’t get along with my mother’s boyfriend, and at 17 I thought I knew everything. My father lived in Florida and was worried about me. I wanted to leave my home at any cost, especially because of my mom’s boyfriend. I even joined and then dodged the Navy!
Later that year the police and my parents made me return home after 2 days of living with my much older boyfriend. After being remanded to my father’s custody in Florida, I had a difficult and isolating junior year. In Florida I failed a couple of my classes because of lack of support and because I went through extreme culture shock.
When I returned to California for my senior year, I was so behind in my classes that taking Saturday school and summer sessions did not save me. I ended up needing one more class, but it would be three years before I was able to make up those credits in continuation school.
By then I was 20 years old, eight months pregnant, and working two jobs, while my boyfriend had zero jobs! I finally got my diploma through writing about my community involvement in Los Angeles. My daughter Sienna was born in 1999, the same year that Toyota released a minivan of the same name. At 21, I was too cool for a minivan, though in need, and had no driver’s license anyway. Again, I had two jobs, one working as a teacher’s aide for the Los Angeles Unified School District in a special education program, and the other, an evening job, working for a jeweler. Two jobs because I needed the extra income. But is it “extra” when you don’t make enough with just one job and you have a baby?
Higher education was not a priority, as I was not sure about what I wanted to study. It was hard to stay up studying, and then get up to play with my baby girl, but I enjoyed every minute. I had to return to work when she was six weeks old. I was lucky to find a nice babysitter who did not charge too much. This was huge because there wasn’t a childcare program for us. We got by.
Sienna’s dad finally found work, and bills were just barely getting paid. He found work as a bike messenger downtown and helped me with Sienna when he was home. But by the time Sienna was a year old, her dad and I had broken up. I had to navigate through the child support system and move around for a while before we found our way.
Looking back on this journey, my daughter inspired me to continue doing what I had always loved. This included learning about health and the environment as it relates to women, and starting in 2007 becoming very involved with California Latinas for Reproductive Justice.
I think of myself as a life-long learner, and I know that women hold families together. I’ve grown so much since having my first daughter 14 years ago. Since then I’ve been in and out of the community college system, still trying to find my way. The deepest knowledge I have gained has been by falling on my face and getting back up. As a young mom, I still would have appreciated more help from my parents, programs, or even school. So this Mother’s Day, I ask you to think about helping a young mom get the support and services she needs to make it to her daughter’s or son’s 14th birthday!