The following is taken from the program for the National Conference on Family Literacy, held April 25-27, 2005 in Louisville, Kentucky.
When Angelica Padilla was 19, she left her mother, five brothers, and one sister to make a life for herself in the United States. She paid a “coyote,” a guide for illegal immigrants, $150 to take her from here birthplace of San Luis Potosi, Mexico to California. Eventually, she ended up in the San Joaquin Valley where she lives, as a U.S. Citizen, today. Angelica is currently attending Reedley Community College and plans to transfer to Fresno State to complete her education and obtain a teaching credential.
Angelica told her own story, which is repeated here, at the conference in a session titled, “Recruitment and Retention: In Our Own Words.”
“Can you picture in your mind seven, children and two adults all living in a one-bedroom house with one kitchen and one bathroom? That was my home; the home I grew up in. No running water; no electricity and just barely enough to eat every day. No toys, of course; no birthday parties or new clothes. I remember going to school on an empty stomach almost every day. One year, I had to drop out of school because I had no shoes to wear. I had my first job at age 10 cleaning houses, and at age 13 1 had to drop out of school completely to get a full-time job.
“My name is Angelica Padilla. I was born in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, and I came to this country about 18 years ago. It is a real pleasure for me to be here and be able to share some of my goals, accomplishments, and part of my life-story with all of you.
"Eighteen years ago I was running across the border of Tijuana and San Ysidro with the border patrol chasing me. It was a very dangerous and frightening experience. Thank God I made it to my mother's friend that same day and she took me in. My mother's friend lives in the San Joaquin Valley about 600 miles north of the border. She had sent me the money to hire a coyote, someone who would guide me across the border. Coming to this country was the only solution I could find to help my family in Mexico . My mother worked doing laundry for other families, and I remember how hard she worked. I wanted so bad to save money so she could buy a washing machine. So, soon after I arrived, I got a job at a fruit packing company earning $3.35 an hour.
"Initially, my plan was very simple: work, save money, and return to Mexico . After a few months, I realized that maybe staying longer and working more was a better idea. During my first year in Fresno , I met and married my husband. We both worked in the fields for the same company, and just like me, he didn't know any English. He also had come from Mexico. We were both illegals.
"It was so difficult to live in a country away from my family, with a different language and a different culture, the two of us alone. It was a nightmare not to be able to do simple things, like get a donut or a burger. We could not read the menu. Just to see a doctor or fill out a job application, we had to depend on others to help us. We soon had the first of our three children, and I had to stop working to take care of them.
"When my children were 5, 3, and 1 years of age, a friend of mine told me about a preschool program at the Clovis Adult School. Before that, I could not go to school. I couldn't afford a babysitter. I joined the Even Start Program and began taking ESL classes at the Adult School. I have to be honest with you, at that time I didn't know what Even Start and the adult school were going to do for me. I had no idea of how my life was going to change and my family's too.
"For two years, my children were taught in a preschool setting class while I was in an ESL class learning English. Five days a week, three hours a day, my children and I attended the Even Start program. I also received parenting information twice a week, and I was sent to the children's classroom to do activities and interact with them. Today we know this as PACT (Parent and Child Together) time or PACILA (Parent and Child Interactive Literacy Activity).
"During those two years, a new world opened up for me, I learned to do simple things with my children, like reading to them. For someone like me who grew up with no books in the home and no one ever reading to me, this was totally new. Even Start made sure I understood why that was important. The time I spent with my children in the classroom helped me to know them better; strengthened our relationship, gave me confidence as a parent and my children learned to trust me and looked at me as a role model.
"The parenting class gave me so many tools to parent my children better in a positive way. It helped me understand why sometimes they behaved in certain ways. Our communication improved, not only with my children but with my husband too. I was introduced to community organizations and programs available to parents, like the public library. A field trip to the library became our Saturday routine. My children and I learned to love books.
"After those two years of ESL, I enrolled in the GED program at the Clovis Adult School. I obtained my diploma graduating as valedictorian of the class. Even Start then hired me as a bilingual instructor for the program. Three years after that I became a citizen of this country.
"Today, I am the Program Coordinator's Assistant, the home liaison, and a member of our nationally recognized parent education team. I also collect most of the data for our yearly evaluation. I speak to parents in new programs around the valley to encourage them to attend Even Start. For some of these same programs, I assist staff members with collection of data, administration of pre- and post tests, and recruitment and retention strategies. I am currently attending Reedley Community College. In one more semester, I will complete my AA and be able to transfer to the Fresno State to obtain my teaching credential.
"Over the past 8 years, I have attended numerous workshops and trainings to help provide better services to our families and help the staff I work with. I've shared my story with others as I am doing with all of you today. Some of you can probably identify with me. For those of you who can't, maybe my story will help you motivate and inspire those in your program to believe and succeed, just as all the people who inspired me and believed in me: teachers, program coordinators, classroom aides, evaluators, and many other' people I've met along the way.
"As I mentioned before, after we started our family, my husband continued working in the fields. He wasn't earning much money. A couple of time we had to look for any loose change around the house just to buy milk for the kids. Eventually, after I began Even Start, my husband saw all the changes in our life, and he too became a citizen of this country and found a better job as a construction worker.
"Today we own two houses and three cars. We can take family vacations during summer, and my husband and I are able to help support both of our families back in Mexico . We even took our first trip to Disneyland two months ago.
"My 3 children are excellent straight "A" students currently attending Clovis schools in California. They are healthy, disciplined, respectful, and have lots of confidence in themselves. My oldest daughter, who is now 17, will attend Fresno State this fall. She has a job and is very responsible and hard working.
"Even Start and the Clovis Adult School are two of the best things that ever happened to me and my family. I am very thankful to all my teachers; ESL, Citizenship, GED, Office Procedures, Computers, and to Dave Lennon the School's Principal for the encouragement and confidence I received from them. They believed in me and that made me believe in myself. I owe each of them a lot.
"I look back now, and it almost seems like a dream when I was running over the mountains trying to get here with nothing but my desire to help my family. And you know what? While growing up with my 5 brothers and my sister, I often found myself asking these questions:
"Well, I finally found answers to all my questions, and I learned that it doesn't have to be like that. I decided my children deserved better. I am going to do everything I can to break the cycle by seeing they get a good education; help them accomplish some of their goals; teach them to be good citizens of this great country and to never ever take things for granted.