By Raul Flores, 15, Leeway School (Alhambra)
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Raul has learned a lot from his foster father, Oscar, pictured here in their kitchen in Downey.

Photo by Chris Lee, 17, Walnut HS

People have different meanings for a family. A family to me is having a dad and a mom who care about and love you. Living with my foster family, I am finally in a home that feels like a family.

I was placed in the foster care system when I was 4 years old because my mom was abusive. She used to hit us with anything that was there, like belts and shoes. When it was time to shop for clothes, we got only one shirt and one pair of pants. Then she would keep the rest of the money for herself. My big sister Julia was the one who took care of me and my siblings as if she were our mom. She would cook for us and help us with our homework. She would protect us when my mom would try to hit us.

When I first got into the system, I lived in a foster home with my other sister, Susana (who is a year older than me) but we were separated because I was fighting with her. They put me in a group home, which are facilities where foster youth live with adult staff members. Julia and my older brother Juan were put into separate group homes.

I spent five years in one group home in San Dimas. It felt like a nightmare that would never end. I hated the way the staff treated the foster kids who lived there. Like if I were to ask, “Can I go outside?” They would automatically say, “No!” That’s not fair, they should compromise. If you discuss it and the answer is still no, at least you talked about it. And their food, yuck! They would get frozen food and warm it up. The worst part was they wouldn’t even give you seconds because they thought the kids were getting fat.

I acted really bad because I was angry and I didn’t want to be there. I wouldn’t go to school, I’d stay in my room and I wouldn’t listen to the staff. If I got angry, I’d leave and go AWOL (absent without leave). I’d always walk to the canyon behind the group home and try to cool down for half an hour. There were times we would go somewhere fun like Six Flags, Knott’s or Raging Waters, but someone always acted bad and ruined it so we couldn’t go anywhere else for a while.

They told me they found a home for me

I would always wonder, when is it my turn to go to a foster home. Two years ago, on my 13th birthday, my social worker said, “You’re leaving to go to a foster home.” I was very happy and I started packing my stuff. But the staff told me not to pack because the foster agency could change its mind. I kept packing, but sometimes I would stop to think about if I would actually get to go. Once before, another social worker had told me I was moving to a foster home and I ended up not moving. They just called and said there’d been a misunderstanding and that I wasn’t going.

This time, my social worker came back the next day. She asked me what kind of people I wanted to live with. I didn’t care. It had to be better than the group home. She said there was a home in Downey and that it was a good family, so we went to visit. We pulled up to the house and I said, “That house is big.” It was two stories, white with green trim, a back yard, front yard and seven bedrooms. I remember standing in the living room and being impressed. They had a really big TV. While I was there, Yuri, one of their foster sons, came home from school. He said, “What’s up?” He looked my age and seemed like a cool kid. The foster dad told me, “Whatever is mine is yours.” It felt like they wanted me to be there.

The next day was moving day and I was already packed. I had a few huge duffle bags with my clothes, shoes and my toys. I even took my betta fish because I knew that if I left him, he would get flushed down the toilet. I left my bike and my scooter because they wouldn’t fit in my social worker’s car. But I didn’t care. I had a smile all the way there. I was asking a lot of questions about the house. Are there going to be a lot of people there? Are they friendly? How old are the kids?

When I got there, no one was home but my new foster parents. They asked me if I wanted anything to drink. I was shy and said no. They asked me if I needed help unpacking. I said no. They took me to my room and showed me the closet to put my clothes in. My room was small with bunk beds. I was excited to get the top bunk. When I had to go to camp with the group home, I always had to sleep on the bottom bunk.

They turned out to be a big family. I have three foster brothers (including Yuri), two foster sisters, my foster parents’ two sons live there and I have a foster cousin who lives across the street. There are two dogs and seven cats too. It’s cool. Everybody gets along. Now I am in a family.

It took some time to get used to being there. At the group home I had to ask to go to the fridge, to go outside or to get a drink of water and sometimes they said no. At my new foster home, I would go to my room and wait until I saw Yuri getting stuff out of the fridge. I’d ask him to get something for me, and he’d tell me to get it myself. It took me three months to get used to getting things myself.

I was getting comfortable living there. I was helping out, washing dishes, cleaning my room more. And I was talking to the family more and getting to know them.

My foster dad loves to tell fibs. One time he told me that he was in the Army and he was hungry and lost. So he ate his finger and then his men found him. I started to laugh. Then he said, “Hey, hey, what’s so funny? Am I a comedian?” He made a funny face and I couldn’t stop laughing.

Even though he is my foster dad, I still look up to him as if he were my own dad. I never had a dad to look up to. I have long talks with him every day. He takes my foster brothers and me to the movies and on other trips. I can even go to work with him at swap meets where he sells clothes and jewelry. I learn how he sells. Plus, he gives me money for helping him.

I love my foster mom as much as I love my foster dad. She takes care of me. She makes the best food ever. When I first tasted her posole (meat soup or stew) it was like a chef had made it in a restaurant. She makes it with chicken, which is my favorite. She also uses some kind of corn that tastes so good! Then lemon and the best hot sauce in the world, Tapatio, that gives it flavor. When I’m about to take the first bite, my mouth waters. Unlike in the group home, I can eat as much as I want. She’s also teaching me how to speak Spanish. I really appreciate that.

I also love to hang out with my foster brothers and my foster cousin. We always play games like tag or hide and seek, but my favorite is when we play with BB guns in the front yard. We have so much fun, when everyone has a gun and starts shooting each other. (It’s just a plastic pellet and stings a little.) I think these are the best friends I’ve ever had. They’re always around. We don’t get into fights like I did with the boys when I lived in the group homes.

My foster parents care about my life

Once when my foster parents told me to clean something, I said, “No, I don’t want to do it.” We got in an argument. I left the house and I came back two hours later. I went to my room and my foster dad came to talk to me. He said, “You’ve never been like this. You’re a good kid. Everybody gets mad sometimes.” Then I started to calm down.

Living here has changed me a lot. My foster parents have helped me control my anger by talking to me when I’m mad or just leaving me alone and letting me calm down. My foster parents talk to me about everyday stuff and if there’s a problem I can talk to them about it and I don’t have to keep it inside.

This is what I think a family is—a group of people, spending time together. It’s important to me because I never had that. When I lived with my mom, no one ever gathered around the table for dinner. It’s a time when everyone expresses their feelings about how their day is going. It makes me feel good. If you don’t have anyone to talk to, there’s no one to listen to you and no one knows how you’re feeling. 

A month after I moved in, I told my foster parents that I usually go to my sister Julia’s house in Long Beach on the weekends to see my family. The group home used to take me on Saturdays and come back to get me on Sundays. My foster parents said they could take me on Fridays and pick me up on Sundays. I was happy because that meant I got to spend more time with my siblings. It also showed me my foster parents care about me.

I love to go and visit my siblings. We have so much fun. When I lived in a group home it was a hassle to visit them. When it rained they said I couldn’t go because it wasn’t safe to drive. Even if we are broke we plan something like going to the park or walking around. If not, we get comfortable and watch movies in the house. Sometimes we go to the zoo. It’s so much fun when we do because we joke around. Then we go out to eat somewhere. I also help my sister clean her house.

I don’t see myself as having two families. I think of it as one. My family is very important to me because they are the ones who are by my side. With my foster family, I’m a normal teenager. I don’t try to be extra perfect. It feels good that my foster family opened the door for me when I needed it and let me be part of their family.

Ever since I’ve been in foster care it’s been kind of rough, but some people have it worse than I do. I think I have it pretty good because I live in a foster home that I like. I’m more stable now and I feel that I can live normally. Also, some people in foster care don’t get to visit their birth families like I do. It feels good to be able to see them; I don’t feel like I’m alone. I’m thankful that I have a family that will do all these things for me. I feel better about myself. I’m a happier person and I’ve learned how to get along with people better. That’s why I appreciate my foster family.