When Teresa Hernández’s son was a young boy, she saw a girl the same age who became attached to her because she did not receive attention from her parents. When she started using drugs as a young woman, Hernández began counseling her and got her on the right path.
This interview was conducted in Spanish, translated and edited for clarity.
Interviewed by Dulce Domínguez and Abraham Castillo
Boyle Heights Beat/Legacy: Are there any major changes you’ve seen in Ramona Gardens since you moved here?
Teresa Hernández: Oh yes, it’s calmer, safer.
BHB/L: Have you felt unsafe there?
TH: No, no, because I tell you, I am in an area where… in a building that is not affected.
BHB/L: And you haven’t seen any gang activity or anything like that?
TH: No, well no.
Seeing that other parents did not take care of their children, she decided to dedicate herself to the education of her only son, who today is a 25-year-old professional.
BHB/L: And in your opinion, what was the best period of time that you have lived in Ramona Gardens, since you arrived?
TH: At that time my son was little and the neighbors told me not to come down Lancaster because they were going to rob me and not to come over the bridge, because on the way up and the way down they would assault me. If I took the Alcázar route and crossed to the projects, they also told me that cholos would attack a lot there, but the truth is, thank God I have never been assaulted or frightened by… if there are any cholos there.
BHB/L: And have you felt sick from the smoke that comes from the highway?
TH: No, no.
PBH/L: Any advice you have for us young people, anything else you have to tell us?
TH: Well, what I experienced with a little girl there who was called [Cristal]. That girl joined the gang. And she always… As I took my son here to the park to play basketball, baseball, flag football she was there, they are the same age, and she always told me that I was her grandma. So I told her, “Look Cristal, don’t go around doing this.” But unfortunately, her mom left her with her granny and she went off the rails, the little girl started doing drugs. And when I found her I told her, “If you really say I’m your grandma, you have to pay attention to me, don’t go there, please, Cristal.” “Oh grandma,” she said, “it’s just that nobody pays attention to me.” And I told her “well, come to my house, come… you’re too young to be doing silly things, mija”. “Okay, okay, I’m going to put it into practice,” and that was the only experience I had with her. She was a good girl, because she played and was involved in sports, but unfortunately there are parents who sometimes do not pay attention to the children and many times we say that it is because the children are to blame for taking the wrong path. And I’m the kind of person who thinks that it’s not that children are bad. Children sometimes do things to get their parents’ attention.
Because what many dads do is work, work, work and neglect the children. So they take the easy way out and say, “yes, in a way they don’t pay attention to me, maybe by doing bad things they will pay more attention to me.” That’s my point of view. That is why I always dedicated time to my son, even when my son left school in the summer it was my summer vacation, I stayed with him to take care of him. And his father said, you take more vacations than me, but that’s what we agreed, we’re going to try to get the boy on the right track. And thank God, my son is a good boy, he doesn’t hang out in [gangs], he doesn’t smoke, he doesn’t drink, he doesn’t have friends. Right now, he could be at work and suddenly… look, 25 years old and he asks me for permission to go out. He says “Mom, can I go?” I tell him, “mijo, you know you can go, just take care of yourself and don’t do bad things.” He says “no” and then calls me and says “Mom, I’m going to be a little late.” I say “why?” He says “because my friends from work want to go to Universal Studios to Citywalk. There’s a nightclub here and they want to drink and I’m not going to leave them alone”, he says. “I’m going to be their Uber.” And I start to think he is a good boy, because, what friend takes you, is waiting there, even if he doesn’t drink and it’s not his environment, he takes you home?
BHB/L: But that’s because you raised him that way and for that you should be very grateful.
TH: Yes, for me it is my pride, my son. And look, I was sick, a lot. I have lupus, I have high blood pressure, I have diabetes, I survived a lymphoma, which is cancer. But I tell him that… oh, sorry! I get emotional. I tell my son that I want to live, because my son is alone, he only has me and his father, but if something happens to me, I die, the husband doesn’t… he gets a new wife right away, but my son does not get back a new mother. So that’s why I really fight for my life. And then my son tells me “Mommy, you are a warrior.” But there are times when, in truth, I have suffered so many illnesses and so many family losses, it will be two years since my father passed away and for me I cannot get over it because for me he was my idol, my father. I did cry for my mother too, but what happened to my dad got me bad.
BHB/L: Because he raised you.
TH: So, my dad doesn’t… we say in Mexico that moms are alcahuetes [they spoil you], my dad was a real alcahuete with me. I used to go to dances because, as I tell my son, “Mijo, I was young. I wasn’t born a woman, I wasn’t born a mother. That’s why you have to understand.” I know how kids think when you scold them. They say, because I used to think that way, I would say, “Oh, my mom is already done, she’s already an old woman. Since she’s already had her life, she doesn’t want us to have ours.” And my son stares at me and says “I don’t think that, Mom.” I tell him “Mijo, I was a girl too, I was a girl, I was a baby, a girl, an adolescent, now that I am mature I’m a mother.” So I’m not one of those who think that children don’t think that. They’re going to say, “Oh, why do you always want to be bothering me?” Because that’s how they think. “She’s just scolding and scolding, don’t do this, don’t do that.”
“I tell my son that I want to live, because my son is alone, he only has me and his father, but if something happens to me… my son does not get back a new mother. So that’s why I really fight for my life.”Teresa Hernández
And I tell you this: we parents, when we tell you things it’s because we’ve already lived that, not because we want to bother you, because we don’t want you to reach rock bottom. I have a neighbor, and it hurts me, because a year ago he lost his father. He had already lost his mother a long time ago. I often tell my neighbor, “Look mijo, don’t do that, because in the end the only one harmed is you. So don’t do it. Go the right way.” Why? Because I love the child. I saw him as a child and even though he is now an adult, what is happening to him hurts me, because he also does not have his parents and his brother, because he is also on drugs. But it’s not easy, it’s not easy. And then I kind of reflect on that. I mean, if I were to die, I don’t want [my son] to go bad, because of the pain, to embrace that way of life. And I tell my son, because he is 25 years old, and I’ve only known him to have one girlfriend. I tell my son “Find yourself a girlfriend”. “No mommy, what for?”, he says, “the girls today just want to get money from us and I only have enough to spend it myself, to feed myself, and to give to you, because I’m always going to give you everything Mommy.”
And that is what I say to you, “improve yourselves to become someone in life,” because this country, I have told many children, this country gives you a lot. It is not like in the countries where we come from, we have to pay for everything. Here I… my son, when he was little, I used to tell my son, “When they give you breakfast, don’t throw it away.” Because I saw how the children grabbed the trays, threw them in the trash. And I told my son, “No, son, don’t throw it away.” I tell him “just think about your cousins in Mexico, if the mother is able to give them a sandwich, they take a sandwich, if they can give them money, they take money, to be able to buy something there.” Here everything is given to them, it costs them nothing. Why? Because if they are good students they help them with scholarships. My son got scholarships and I am very proud of him because he is already a professional. That unfortunately this pandemic came to harm our lives, but I tell my son, “An opportunity is going to come.”
BHB/L: Yes, it will arrive.
TH: “It’s going to come and then hold on to it”, I tell him, “because opportunities only come once. Just one time”. And you are young, fight for your dreams, dreams can all be achieved, as long as you want it. And you are destined to become a professional.
BHB/L: Thank you, thank you very much for your time. We really loved this story.
TH: Thank you, thank you.
Boyle Heights Beat staffers Jackie Ramírez and Jennifer López contributed to this report.