I did it. I am a high school graduate. As I stood on the stage in my cap and gown last month, I thought about two little girls in the audience: my daughters. I did it for them. They will say with pride, “That’s my mommy.”
They will know that I never stopped fighting for our future.
I was not much older than my daughter Isabel* when I came to the United States.
My mother left me with my grandmother when I was very young. I had no memories of my mom, only photos. When I turned 8, suddenly she was back in my life.
My brother and I were sent from Nicaragua to America to reunite with my mom and her new husband, Omar. I remember crawling into the backseat of a car with my brother and falling asleep.
When I woke up we were in America, and on our way to meet our mother in Houston. Our reunion was a good sign, I thought. My mom had finally found the life she had sought, and now, she was ready to share it with my brother and me.
Life with my mom didn’t turn out like I thought it would. She had to work around the clock to support our family. We lived in the same house, but she still felt like a stranger. I spent a lot of time with my step-dad.
Two years passed, and the way my step-dad treated me started to change. I was only 10 when the sexual abuse started. I grew to hate the sound of the bell at the end of every school day because it meant returning home to him.
ITZA IS NOT ALONE
1 in 4 girls in the U.S. are victims of sexual abuse or exploitation before age 18, most often at the hands of someone they know.
When I was 12, I found out I was pregnant. Now, I had to live with the fact that my step-dad was not only abusing me, he was also the father of my unborn child. I felt scared and alone.
I didn’t think I could go on, until I felt my daughter kick inside me. At that moment, I decided that I could do it—I could be a mom.
Only three months after Isabel was born, Omar began to rape me again. No one was protecting me, and I was desperate for a way out.
I turned to the only person I thought I could trust, my school principal. I told the truth about Omar and searched for organizations that could help me find justice.
My life changed when I found Tahirih. My attorney helped me obtain a U visa, a special protection available to victims who help police bring criminals like Omar to justice. Today, he is in jail.
My attorney did more than help me win my case. She encouraged me to finish high school and think about my future. Finally, I could. I was free—free of Omar, and free from the constant fear that comes with being undocumented in the United States.
I began to heal, and learned a lot about how to have a healthy relationship with the father of my second-born daughter. Today, I have big goals. I am the first high school graduate in my family, and I won’t stop there.
I plan to earn a degree in engineering. My girls motivate me to work hard every day. I know that my past is a part of me, but I refuse to let it define me, or my daughters.
We are survivors, and our future is bright.