gmhTODAY 22 gmhToday Oct Nov 2018 - Page 87

The Story of Maria A t 16, Maria was married in a small town in Mexico. Her husband quickly began to exert control over every aspect of her life. He prohibited her from returning to her job. In fact he wouldn’t let her leave the house without him, even to see her mother. He told her what to wear. Maria had no money of her own to spend. Soon she discovered that he’d been unfaithful to her. It hurt her deeply. Her husband’s infidelity grew, and he flaunted it, going so far as to sleep with their next-door neighbor and to have his mistresses call their home and leave their belongings in his car where Maria would see them. When she began to protest and asked him to change his ways, he beat her and called her a whore. He was disrespectful and violent toward her in front of their two young children. Maria turned to her brother for help, but his response was “What are you going to do? You’ll suffer the same treatment anywhere. It’s between you and him. Stay home and don’t bring it up again. Cook his favorite meal.” During the holiday week from Christmas to New Year’s Day, he left her alone with their children. He took his mistress and went to visit his family. Maria had no money, no food, no car. That was a turning point. Maria made up her mind to take the children and leave her husband. She began to dress nicely and leave during the day to spend time with a women’s support group at church. She helped them with projects and they comforted her. Maria began to regain confidence. On the chosen day, Maria was in the process of packing, but she had nowhere to go. She asked him to leave instead. He left, but not before beating her again. Even so, that was the best night of her married life. He was gone and she felt safe for the first time. Maria went back to the women’s support group and got help starting a little business cooking meals to sell. The more confident Maria grew, the angrier her husband became. He went to court to try and force her out of the house. His anger escalated until one day he beat her up in broad daylight, in front of neighbors, while she was watching her son play soccer. Later, he forced himself into the house, and beat her again. She called the police, and they caught up with him at a nearby bar, but he denied any wrongdoing. They released him within a few hours. Not long after that, Maria’s husband shot and wounded GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN her while she was driving her daughter to school. It took the better part of the day to file a police report and get medical treatment. In the end, neither the doctor nor the police offered her any recourse. Instead, they warned her to leave town right away for her safety. Maria took her children and with only the backpacks on their backs, they headed for the U.S. border. She stood in line for several days, waiting to ask for asylum. She didn’t speak English. Immigration officials separated Maria from her 11-year-old son for two days. She needed a sponsor in the U.S. but the only two people she knew of were both illegals. During the day, Maria and her children were housed in a detention center where they slept on the floor. Her cell phone was confiscated. At night they were sent to a hotel room but had to leave the door open so immigration officials could keep an eye on them. On Christmas Eve, after 14 days, immigration officials said Maria could go if she had money for bus tickets and agreed to wear an ankle bracelet. They didn’t care that her sponsor in San Jose was an illegal. Someone gave her bus fare. Maria ended up in a shared room in an overcrowded rental house. She took jobs cleaning houses, had to report regularly to the immigration office in San Francisco, and immigration officials checked in on her weekly. There was drug use at the house, and the landlord soon told them all to move out. Maria had no idea what to do next. Then a teacher at her children’s school mentioned a workshop on immigration services for parents. She went. While workshop leaders were talking, her ankle bracelet went off. There was nothing she could do about it. A woman approached and invited her to step outside the room and talk. That woman was Perla Flores. Perla asked Maria if she needed help with immigration. Maria said “What I need is housing. I’ve been kicked out.” “How about a women’s shelter? Perla asked. Maria’s response was, “What’s that?” She had never heard of anything like La Isla Pacifica. Community Solutions and Step Forward Foundation helped with Maria’s immigration case. She got her papers, and then she was allowed to have the ankle bracelet removed. She moved into La Isla Pacifica with her children. They received a variety of services including group counseling for the kids and therapy for PTSD for Maria. She received life coaching, made a life plan, got job counseling and referrals, and rent support on a graduated program where she assumed more of the payment over time. “For me, I call that shelter ‘the nest.’ Me casa and me familia, they are there. My wings got strong again and now I’m flying.” She enrolled at the Lea rning & Loving Education Center, began taking classes, and made new friends in the community. “Coming to America was the best decision I ever made. America opened its arms like my native country did not. Community Solutions changes lives, it has changed mine.” Today, Maria has a home, a job, she’s learning English, and her kids are doing well in school. OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2018 87