The road–my road–to inspiration has not been an easy one. Yet, in hindsight, I see that everything has prepared me for where I’m at now, and where I’m headed. It’s not about the road less travelled for me, but just the fact that I haven’t gotten off no matter the number of bumps that I’ve encountered. I’m choosing to share aspects of my journey for as I continue to write about others overcoming obstacles, I’ve realized that I can’t leave myself out of their brave vulnerability realm. After all, we learn and inspire each other by sharing our parallel journeys.
I come from a world of dirt roads, nameless streets, sun, moon, and candle lit days and nights, huts, one-roof schools, and at times poverty, but never poor. My family always found a way to find bounty in very little. When I hear people talk about how bad they have it, I look at their possessions, the fact that they have food, shelter, clothes, and question their point of view. However, they have their own story that I may not be privy to.
My mother told me that when my father left to the US when I was two, she struggled to find food and provide for us. One day all she had was an egg. So she scrambled it, and split it between her, my sister, and myself. She salted some tortillas to fill us up. Sometimes she would add water to our milk to make it last, and was grateful that my grandparents would send over food. She has always emphasized that as long as there’s food on the table that she did her job. The rest was up to us.
My mom left to the US when I was five to ensure that we had a better future. Leaving my four and 11 month old sisters behind as well. I used to pretend that she lived on the other side of the volcano to get through missing her. My aunt and uncle took care of me until I turned eight when the civil war in El Salvador threatened our safety, especially of school age children like me. There were rumors and testimonies that children were being kidnapped and forced to fight on the front lines.
Early in 1984, the bridge that I crossed on my three mile walk to school was blown up. I was always afraid to see soldiers on that road. They would often look at me with an appetite that I was unfamiliar with. Bombs, bullets, fear of rape, kidnapping, hiding under my bed, and desk became my daily life. I couldn’t look at a plane flying over our house without thinking that it was going to drop bombs on us as they did on many villages. On an unfortunate day, an army plane was brought down by the guerrillas, and it plunged down landing on my uncle’s corn field behind our house. All hell broke lose, and a battle was fought in our own home.
We gathered our things as quickly as possible, and sought safety at my grandmother’s home in the hills for days. I feared that there would be no home to get back to. Soldiers occupied our home for weeks. I became fearful of all of them. They would often offer me canned fruit and candy to lure me to talk to them. That is when my aunt sent a letter to my mom in fear of my safety.
I was sent to live with a family whom I had never met in the city for several months until a coyote secured my fake visa to the US. For those couple of months, I memorized the life of a US citizen child named Blanca. My mother’s hard work scrubbing toilets paid for my flight, fake identity, and a new beginning.
I reunited with my parents two months before I turned 9 years old. Yet, I left a war to come to another as I was thrown into a volatile environment filled with fights, little sleep, and a nightmarish experience with my father’s battle with alcoholism. School, and poetry became my scape. I missed my mango trees, sisters, and the two people who had been my parents for the last five years. In spite of it all, I excelled in school, winning poetry contests, without knowing English. I loved writing, and surprisingly math back then.
I learned about work ethic during holidays and summers when I would go with my mom to clean houses. An honest job that helped pay for the rent of our mice infested, one bedroom apartment in Brighton Beach. We never lacked food, shelter, clothing (even if second hand), and a bed to lay my head on. The concept of my own bedroom was foreign to me, even a stable bed for I don’t remember ever a time when I didn’t sleep in the living room or not rolling out my bed every night. The space became tighter when my sisters arrived seven years later due to the war getting worse, and my cousin’s disappearance. Unfortunately, they weren’t so lucky as I had been, for the emergency was to get them out of the country alive. Claudia turned 13 in a Mexican detention jail as they got caught crossing the border, and my youngest sister Maritza was 10. My father who went to get them bribed the officer to allow him in the jail to be with them. Money can save people.
I left home when I turned 17. Leaving my two sisters, and mom to fend for themselves. I knew then that education was my only way up and out. With a hunger for learning, I enrolled in New York University never wondering how I would pay for it. It would just have to happen. I managed to graduate with sweat, tears, and a lot of work, and paid it on my own. I carried a full course load, took over leadership roles, and held down three jobs, plus continued worrying about the volatile world back at home. Money was always my obstacle, but I would always get through and never give up.
After graduation, and due to the recommendation of a dear friend, I began my career in marketing at major publishing companies and magazines for the next 14 years. At the time, I felt that I had fulfilled my dream. Accomplishing so much more than my background and economic status set me up for–far from the dirt roads, adobe walls, and one-roof schools from my childhood. I worked harder than ever, travelled the world, and set out to live the life that my mother had wanted for me. The life that I wanted for myself.
Yet, my world was shaken when I got diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in my early thirties. All due to my hectic work lifestyle, and lack of taking care of myself. I learned that ambition has a price when you don’t put yourself first. However, little by little I’ve taken control of it, and have improved my health tremendously. Besides living a long life, I hope to educate and inspire others to avoid this personal battle that affects so many of us.
Throughout the years, I been robbed several times starting with my identity, bank account, apartment (s), on the train, and on the street. I have been exposed to violence from war, assault, domestic violence to many other dangerous situations such as avoiding being kidnapped by a cab driver. I managed to throw myself out of that cab onto oncoming traffic to avoid whatever awful plans that man had for me. The cab driver’s license was revoked, and he was fined. A battle that I had to fight myself, and won. This and many insanely dangerous situations have marked my life. Yet, I still get up, and continue to try to live an honest and good life, because I know that it’s frail.
It showed me this frailness once again two years ago, when hurricane Sandy flooded my apartment over five feet. I was trapped for about five minutes as my door expanded due to the water rushing in. I was displaced for over a month, but never alone or without the help of my friends, family, and even strangers at home and abroad. My story reached generous people as far as Australia. I learned to accept help, and gifts. All of it coming back ten fold for what I have done for others. As much as that experience shook me, I also once again learned to push through. There were days I didn’t have the emotional strength or clothes to wear, but little by little I rebuilt my life. Employment wise, things have shifted for me, but as a good friend said to me — at least it didn’t happen a year ago. So I have to thank the Universe for that break.
As I look forward to my starting a new career in the culinary world and writing professionally, I’m gathering all of my talents and using everything that life has taught me to not just survive, but thrive. If I pushed through all of that, and then some — nothing can stop me now. Life has taught me that loss comes with a key to new things and opportunities, but that you have to look for it. I’ve also learned to not give meaning to material things, only to people that I love. As long as my body, soul, and mind are strong — I’m set to go.
The road to inspiration hasn’t been easy, but it’s one that is my own to continue. Therefore, if you ever wonder what gives me the authority to speak the words that I put out there, why I give, love, and passion is the vein to my actions — my life does. I’m grateful to the celestial and terrestrial armada that kept watch over me, and for keeping me grounded, and most of all, safe and alive. The rest has been due to my faith that keeps me going strong. In my heart, I know that the road may have been much harder as it is for others. I also know from experience that what is happening today will not be the same tomorrow. So I gotta get up and see what that next day will bring me if I’m so lucky to see it. My roots have gotten stronger, and I’ve learned to bend with the wind to face the storms that life seems to bring. I hope to continue inspiring others, as many have done for me. Lighting other’s light doesn’t take away from my own. A beautiful lesson when so many people came to my rescue after that storm.
One of my favorite quotes by Maya Angelou says, “You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.” I’m determined not to let that happen.