Ana Mendoza and Pedro Trujillo have lived in Los Angeles for the last 15 years. Mrs. Mendoza recalls her time living in a real “slum” not too far from Temple Villas where she now resides with her husband and children. She recalls that for 12 years her family lived in a run down and deteriorating one bedroom apartment with her four children. Her children slept in the bedroom and she and her husband would sleep in the living room where they would convert the sofa into a bed. For 12 years this was their routine.
As their children grew to adolescence they found less and less privacy and a growth in tensions between them. “And if it wasn’t bad enough that our children had to squeeze themselves into one bed, when it rained, the water always came in through the window. During the summer time, the roaches also slept with us.” There was also a real issue with vermin. “There were so many of them that traps and other things we tried did not work.” They finally got a cat that helped rid them of that problem. “The landlords simply did not care about our conditions. All they wanted was to get their rent money and everything else was up to us to try and fix.”
The husband was a carpenter and worked sporadically when work was available. Mrs. Mendoza received help in the form of food stamps and collected cans. She also made tamales and sold them in her community. But even that was not enough for them to pay for the necessities. As her children grew and as they began to feel the need for privacy and independence, Mrs. Mendoza saw a real deterioration of her family’s unity. “I noticed my children’s attitudes began to shift to a real rebellion towards me and my husband. For the first time my oldest son’s grades were F’s and he began to show us a side of him that was unusual.”
It was then that she heard of WORKS’ Affordable Housing developments through a relative. “I applied and hoped for the best.” Then she received a call for an interview. She remembers one question about that whole interview, Why do you want to live here? "The answer was simple to me; I wanted a better future for my children" Her application was approved for a four bedroom apartment.
“My children are now happier; they feel like they can do anything.” Her son’s grades improved as well from F’s to B’s. “I began to take more interest in my children’s education by attending parent-teacher conferences.” Her oldest daughter Brenda, 21, is now a registered nurse and her other daughter Jacqueline, 18, is now in college. Her son will be graduating from High School this year. Now, the youngest who is 9, looks up to older siblings.
Mrs. Mendoza reflects on her current situation. “I have friends now who are struggling like my family once did, where six are living in a one bedroom apartment and are paying the same rent I am.” She also recognizes that nothing is without hard work and determination. “As a mother, I’ll do what is needed so that my children don’t have to feel hunger or be cold when they go to bed. Our lives have changed completely because we have this place; we would not be able to afford a beautiful place like this if projects like this were not in existence.”
Ana, Laura, Fabi, Natalie, Karina, and Isabel... They couldn’t be more different in terms of personality, family composition, dreams and desires. Each had an unmistakable style all their own: Ana, the quiet, studious one; Natalie, the self assured, independent one; Laura, the lively, humorous one. Yet, they all shared one common bond: being the children of immigrants who faced daunting economic, educational, and personal struggles.
Most of their parents had received only minimal education and the majority had not gotten past Middle School. The girls also happened to live at the Highland Village Apartments. Before WORKS developed Highland Village, gang members, prostitutes, and drug dealers defiantly roamed the neighborhood and claimed it as their own. Children walked through this spectacle day in and day out on their way to and from school. The road to a High School diploma seemed booby-trapped with the usual obstacles associated with neglected low-income communities----teen pregnancy, soaring drop out rates, gang involvement, economic hardships, depression, and low-self esteem.
Emboldened by the support and structure provided by WORKS, families began to stand up for their beliefs and people took notice. The Community Center thrived with activity offering a variety of programs including ESL, after school tutoring, and computer instruction at no cost to the residents and neighbors of Highland Village.
Almost six years later, the girls are now young women who proved the naysayers wrong. They all graduated from High School and are currently enrolled in or attending college. They now beam with pride at being not only first generation high school graduates in their families, but also first generation college students...and surely not the last.