Mother, grandmother, daughter, wife, sister, friend, & advocate
I am a product of the East Los Angeles Women’s Center and the East Los Angeles Women’s Center is a product of me. ELAWC forever in my heart and soul
East Los Angeles Women’s Center is an organization that I credit for the woman that I am today. In 1977-78, I was a single young woman with a 10- year- old son. I was working as an administrative assistant with the desire of working in social services. However, I felt like I could never accomplish this desire because I did not have a formal education nor did I think I could ever go back to school.
It was my dear friends attempted rape that brought me to the East Los Angeles Rape Hotline. In an effort to find my dear friend support services we called the hotline and were invited to attend a “Woman’s Gathering and Self Defense Class”. It was this gathering that changed my life forever. I was introduced to/and met young Chicana/Latina women who were living my dreams, as educated young women, some were single moms, and living a life of activism. These women were independent, full of confidence and self-esteem. These women mirrored who I wanted to be. In 1978, I participated in the second AdvocateHotline Training and I was certified as a Rape Hotline Advocate.
I continued to serve as a volunteer and in 1983 I was hired and trained to serve as the first Spanish speaking self-defense instructor for the East Los Angeles Rape Hotline. In 1986 the East Los Angeles Rape Hotline was approached by AIDS Project Los Angeles to develop the Bi-lingual Spanish Language AIDS Hotline. I became the Hotline director and helped the organization establish bilingual Spanish HIV/AIDS services. Between 1989-1993, I left the Hotline as an employee but continued to serve as a volunteer for both hotlines.
I returned in 1994 as the interim Executive Director. After serving as the Interim Executive director for six months, I became the Executive Director and served in this capacity from 1994-2007. During this time we changed the name to the East Los Angeles Women’s Center to capture the original mission of the organization. An organization dedicated to the elimination of violence against women and children.
I am blessed that 38 years later I am still involved with the organization that supported me and guided me back to school and helped me develop a fulfilling career. The women we continue to serve mirror the same young woman who many years ago attended that Women’s Gathering. And for this reason, I made the life commitment to do my best to give all those who called our hotlines and walked through our doors the same positive, loving experience that I received from strangers, who became my lifelong friends, mentors and colleagues.
The women I met many years ago thought me what true compassion is, and how anything is possible with support, friendship and solidarity.
Now, I am able to process and release damaged emotions from my past. It’s a great feeling to be at peace in many aspects of my life, and, being able to tell my story is one of them.
For me, growing up was extremely difficult. I didn’t have a loving home. Although we seemed like the perfect family, looks were deceiving. I was a little girl crying in silence for help. Many things happened in my home that I still cannot comprehend to this day.
Parents have a crucial role in their kids’ lives. My parents, instead of giving me an example of the right path, showed me the way to destruction. As a child, you have no choice as to how you are raised. I grew up living in constant fear, always walking on eggshells; I could never anticipate what horror the day would bring. Living under a cloud off ear is not living at all.
I’m a survivor of domestic violence and child abuse. I came into the East Los Angeles Women’s Center seeking services. This is where my healing process began, where I learned the skills needed to move forward in my life.
I discovered resilience here at the Center, by learning healthy ways of coping with life’s challenges. The services offered at the Center are fantastic! And, depending on that higher power–GOD–and my own strength, I was able to allow the healing process to begin and to envision a bright, new future for myself. Now, I am able to process and release damaged emotions from my past. It's a great feeling to be at peace in many aspects of my life, and, being able to tell my story is one of them. I would like to say a few words to my inner child, something I have never been able to do, but am ready now to express: My beloved child, you are a beautiful person inside and out. I’ve witnessed your pain, fear, tears, and your brokenness–-everything that was meant to destroy you. It is time to move forward and learn how to forgive yourself and not carry burdens or old baggage that is not yours to carry. Darkness cannot live inside of you. As you move on to the next chapter of your life, you must let go of whatever may be holding you back or keeping you stuck.
For you, my beloved child, have a great destiny. Now it is your time. Thank you, Lord, for reaching your hand out to me, for protecting my life, from beginning to end. You are my Rock. You have kept me going, and I praise You From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank the ELAWC staff for teaching me that knowledge is the key. We as women can empower each another in any situation. I am a living testimony of that, and my gratefulness is beyond expression.
Ana & Isabel
Terrified of another attack, Ana remained on the floor all night too fearful to rise or to fall asleep. While she lay there, her baby’s movements seemed more pronounced; she comforted her new daughter inside: “Calm down, Isabel, I will not allow us to be hurt.
Ana was referred to ELAWC from a domestic violence shelter in Kansas. She had decided to leave her husband only 36 days before delivering her first child, a daughter. Although she was conflicted, she knew she didn’t want to expose her unborn child to her husband’s violent and abusive outbursts.
Ana’s exposure to controlling behavior and violent verbal and emotional abuse began as a child. In her family were nine siblings: seven boys, two girls. She describes the family dynamic as very Machista: men in control and women submissive. Growing up in this way felt ‘normal’ to Ana. She met her husband in Mexico and knew him for ten years before they married. After marriage, they moved to Kansas where Ana felt isolated; she knew no one.
Her husband exhibited the same familiar machismo as her family of origin. But once the couple moved to Kansas, he became even more controlling, demanding, and jealous. When she became pregnant, the outbursts escalated. One evening, during a tirade, her husband pushed her to the floor and swung his leg back, poised to kick her. Ana curled into a ball to protect her child. He withdrew and stormed out of the house. Terrified of another attack, Ana remained on the floor all night – too fearful to rise or to fall asleep. While she lay there, her baby’s movements seemed more pronounced; she comforted her new daughter inside: “Calm down, Isabel, I will not allow us to be hurt.”
Her family came together to support her decision to leave and made arrangements for her to come to LA and stay with her brother and his family. Once in LA, Ana called ELAWC; she was offered services within a week. By then, Isabel was 15 days old. Although Ana had been courageous to leave the abusive relationship thousands of miles away and move in with a family member, she came to the Center plagued with guilt, shame, and low self-esteem. She worried she would not be an adequate mother for Isabel.
Ana’s transformation was slow and gradual, as reflected by Isabel’s growth in feeling secure with others and her surroundings. At first, Isabel and Ana were inseparable. Isabel would join her mother in the group sessions, but as Ana accepted the boundaries of privacy in counseling, Isabel displayed severe separation anxiety. Gradually, Isabel grew comfortable with Lucy, her childcare provider and with other staff.
Now, Isabel is outgoing when she arrives at the Center. She greets everyone with a story, song or hug (sometimes all three). Isabel’s confident independence and sense of security mirrors her mother’s growth over the past four years. Ana is now a confident, self-assured woman and loving mother. Ana’s desire is to be a guide and role model for her daughter. Her goal is to have Isabel grow up knowing she has the right to pursue her own dreams. And, Little Isabel, at only four years old, says she’d like to work at ELAWC when she grows up!
There is hope!
Many will have a life-changing experience in their lifetime, some are great moments we cherish and others are disturbing moments we hope we can forget. These bad experiences range from the loss of a child, friend, or loved one, to the loss of a house from fire, or personal treasures from burglary. Then there are those experiences which involve a physical violation, such as rape or incest. They are the experiences in which ghosts and demons are difficult to escape.
Over time we can hope for change as more women and other victims are willing to share their stories as survivors. They are the voice of many that seek justice, hope, and understanding during the challenges they must face. Victims of sexual violence must overcome the changes within themselves personally. In some cases, the victim never finds their way out of the emotional darkness that seems to surround them from the crime itself.
I can remember years of sleepless nights chased by demons. Forcing myself to stay awake as long as I could so that possibly I would not dream. Never able to run fast enough, never able to find a place to hide, and never able to find a place of peace. During the day, the anger boiling below the surface at all times and anyone capable of igniting an explosion from a look or a wrong word uttered in passing. Many victims don’t understand what is happening to them. They do not know the symptoms of PTSD or how to deal with the disorder. I often felt as if I were standing in the darkness of a cave. I kept walking and walking but I could never get to the end of the cave. I could see the sunlight beyond but never step out beyond the darkness and feel the sunlight on my face.
Like other challenges in life, there is no one size fits all solution. Each victim of sexual assault must find the path of recovery that will work best for them. It may take years to find what will work if they find the courage to seek out the necessary support and assistance. Some people would say, “Get over it. Get on with your life.” Not realizing that you did not have a life to get on with. No one gets up in the morning and chooses that kind of chaos in their lives. The betrayal by those you know and the system in some cases is just as devastating as the crime itself. Organizations like the ELAWC help victims find the support and assistance they need through a variety of resources.
The value in sharing our stories is that others can see they are not alone. And while you may not get a sense of justice from the system, by sharing your story at least you can say your story has been told. Others can find hope from those who found their way out of the darkness. You develop the tools to deal with the demons in your life. At some point, you may believe you have conquered those demons and a time least expected they will raise their ugly heads. It is a lifelong journey of recovery. My hope is that others will find a place in their life where they control the demons and the demons no longer control them.
I was fortunate in my life to find myself in the right place at the right time for the support needed during my recovery. I am thankful to those who were compassionate and understanding during the most difficult of times. I have done my best to be an advocate for other women. I am one of the lucky ones. I am blessed to have good people in my life; the love of family and friends. After so many years, to have found a man to share my life with is a true miracle. My wish is that through the work at the ELAWC others find hope. There is hope.
ELAWC has been the greatest gift. My life is whole. I feel happy inside, and that stems from being heard and receiving the compassion and understanding I needed.
I keep that with me every day.
For ten years, I was sexually abused by my stepfather, and my mother knew about it. It started when I was 12; finally, as an adult, I said “No more”. My stepdad would pit my mom and me against each other: she’d say to me, "If you don't do this, we're gonna be out on the street and it’s going to be your fault. We’re undocumented." My mom comes from a culture that says she’s not a woman without a man; whether or not he’s a piece of shit, doesn't matter. When I would seek an apology from her, the response was always, "It's done. What do you want me to do about it?" I went through life without a sense of purpose, feeling insignificant, especially because I needed to be rescued, and she turned her back on me.
It wasn't until I graduated college that I felt I didn’t have a reason to keep going on in life. School had been my focus, my place of normalcy, outside the home. Education gave me a sense of accomplishment. In college I felt I could be myself: I wasn't just another statistic.
At that time, I met my husband. We were going out, but I hadn't revealed my secret to him. I wanted to be taken into account for who I was as a person. At one point, I perceived he was upset with me because I had been gone all day; it triggered everything I had experienced during that last year of school. When I was being abused, I couldn’t go out, I couldn't participate in sports – I couldn't do anything. So, reliving this pattern numbed me; I withdrew inside myself. The physical sensation was like falling down a well, slowly, while things were happening around me. I saw myself sinking deeper and deeper into darkness, with no escape.
When my husband showed up unprompted, I couldn't keep it together emotionally, and that's when I finally let everything out. I think the greatest gift from my disclosure was his response: it was full of love and support. He also encouraged me to seek help.
I looked up local resources online, and I found ELAWC. The Center spoke to me because I knew that culturally, they would understand my story without judgment, without making me feel like ‘The Other.’ Their slogan, "Your silence is heard." was what I craved. While it was hard for me to discuss my past, I revealed it, which turned out for the best.
My counselor went beyond her duties to accommodate me and really made me understand that none of it was my fault. She also helped me deal with the shame. I can now be a great mom because I took care of myself first. What I learned through counseling is now what I believe to be true: Someone else chose to cross personal boundaries, and it's their responsibility. I feel powerful when I share my story, though unpleasant, because I regain my voice.
ELAWC has been the greatest gift. My life is whole. I feel happy inside, and that stems from being heard and receiving the compassion and understanding I needed. I keep that with me every day.