"I Said NO!"
“I was born and raised in Santa Barbara. Most people who are not from here think I must be rich and live in a big house. They laugh when I tell them I grew up in the projects on the Westside of town. I am the first-born US citizen in my family. My mother was born in Sonora, Mexico, she had always dreamed of living in Santa Barbara. When she was eighteen, she ran away from home to live her dream. It wasn’t at all what she imagined. To survive, and pay off her Coyote, she was coerced into working as a Fichera “token girl”, at places like La Chosita, and Las Conchas. Ficheras were girls that danced or had a beer with customers in exchange for tokens. At the end of the night, the Ficheras turned in their tokens, and the bar manager would pay them. When she was twenty-two, she became pregnant. I was born in 1979. She would take me to work and hide me under the bar in a bassinet.
Life had always been rough; we moved around a lot. I went to five different schools in six years. We lived in either rented rooms or studios. My favorite meal was hotdog on a fork. I hovered the hotdog over the stove until it was brown; it always felt like I was camping. I remember taking the free napkins from McDonald's. We used them for many things, to clean up and do our chores, to blow our noses when we were ill, and as toilet paper, because we couldn’t afford to purchase paper products. I would also take the golden aluminum ashtrays from the smoking section of McDonald's. I called them my “trastecitos”; they were my favorite toys. The only other time I had toys was during Christmas if our family was lucky enough to go to the Unity Shoppe.
When times got especially hard for my mom, she sent us to Mexicali to stay with my grandmother; we were away for months at a time. I always came back with lice; my mother had to shave my head every time I returned home. Those were the hardest times for me in school. But the most shameful experience I can talk about is the repeated sexual abuse I suffered as a child at the hands of many different men and women. I didn’t understand why it was bad if it felt so good. I misinterpreted the touching and kissing as love; it was the only time I felt good about myself. Around third grade, my babysitter’s son taught me that the abuse was wrong. He was a teenager; he was nice and really funny, I had a huge crush on him. One night, I slept over. I got into his bed with him, grabbed his hand, led it to my body, and slowly moved it inside my shorts. He pulled away immediately and said it was wrong. He told me never to do it again and never let anyone do that to me because they were hurting me. He tucked me in, laid a blanket on the floor for himself, and fell asleep. He never told anyone about that night. The next time someone tried to touch me, I said no, it was the first time I was forced; it was then that I understood the hurt. My life after that got worse before it got better.
Now, as a mother, I try very hard to keep my children from going through the same experiences I endured. My most challenging moments as a parent have been when we confront racism. One night, for instance, while getting fast food at a drive-through restaurant. A man behind us kept revving his engine then yelled out, “Hurry up, N****r”, to my son. I was mad, but I had to do the right thing; my son was watching. I asked to pay for the man’s order. On the back of the receipt, I wrote that we forgave him for using the “N” word and to enjoy his dinner, then asked the cashier to give him the receipt. On our way home, my son asked me why I would pay for that man’s food if he was so mean. I told him, “It’s very easy to be nice to a nice person, but the hardest thing to do is be nice to a mean person. That shows who you are.” I needed to do this because I am not always going to be around my son and I want him to handle these situations the right way, with dignity. I don’t want to be the mom that gets a call saying my son is in the hospital for getting beaten up, or in jail for beating someone up.
I am a Chicana who grew up around poverty, abuse, drugs, gangs, prison, and prostitution. I am still a proud Santa Barbarian. Hope is the one constant thing that has helped me through the roughest of times. I now work at San Marcos High School, the same school that pushed me away when I became a teen mom. I run the Intervention Center. I am an advocate and Interpreter for Spanish-speaking families. I am a club advisor, a tutor, and support to students. I am a wife and a mother. The best part is that I finally understand why I have been through so much. This was my life’s plan. I never had someone that I could look up to and want to emulate. I am the person I needed when I was young. I am here to help youth and reassure them my story is similar to theirs, that I know, I care, and I am here for them.”