By Name Withheld,
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Illustration by César Delgado, 17, Foshay Learning Center

My parents were teenagers in El Salvador when my mom, who was 16, got pregnant. In our country, she and my dad didn’t have many opportunities, so after she gave birth, they went to America, leaving me behind with my grandparents.

Growing up in El Salvador was depressing. In school, my classmates asked me where my parents were and I didn’t know how to answer. I actually flunked first grade twice because I didn’t want to be at the graduation without my parents.

One of my aunts told me that my parents abandoned me because they didn’t want me. I used to go to the hills and wonder what my parents were like. I would ask myself why they left me. Why couldn’t they take me with them?

When my parents got married they sent my grandmother a wedding picture and she put it on the wall for me. I stood on a stool, got the picture and threw it on the floor. My grandmother saw me and said, "You need to respect your parents!" Before she could slap my hand, I ran away and hid.

I was 8 years old when my parents brought me to the United States. Everything came as a shock to me. I couldn’t believe how tall the buildings were in Los Angeles and how many cars were on the freeway. My parents took me to McDonald’s and when I saw the pancakes, I thought they were tortillas. On the radio I heard only English music—I wondered what they were saying.

Seeing my family was hard, too. It was very painful to meet my younger sister. I was angry because I felt my parents loved her more than me. I refused to call my parents "Mom" or "Dad."
When my parents enrolled me in school, I cried because I didn’t want to go. I was scared because I didn’t know the language and I had never seen black people before. Since I couldn’t read the street signs, I memorized the way so I could get back home.

Slowly I got used to living in L.A., but I didn’t get along with my parents. Since they had left me in El Salvador, I felt they owed me, that they should treat me better and let me do whatever I wanted. In eighth grade I started smoking. I had to be home at a certain time, but I didn’t like going home, so I used to tell my parents that I had detention or tutoring.

Sometimes I took classes that would be easy to pass so it wouldn’t matter if I ditched. The days that I didn’t go to school, I’d go with a friend to a restaurant and we would order something and never pick it up. Or we’d go to stores and try on clothes but never buy them.

A year of secrets

In ninth grade I started drinking. I would sit in the back of the classroom and drink. I chewed gum so the teachers wouldn’t notice anything wrong. As long as I got straight A’s, my dad wasn’t concerned. But one day I was walking home and I saw a drunk man asking for money. I got scared that I would end up like that and so I decided to stop drinking.

At the end of ninth grade I met my boyfriend. We dated for a year without my parents knowing—I was not allowed to date. I felt my boyfriend really understood me. There was a big connection between us so I would do anything to see him. Even though I was supposed to go home right after school, he would take me out to eat or if he had a soccer game, I would go see him play. One day he walked me home, we got to talking and forgot about the time. My dad came home and found us talking. He was suspicious but I told him we were just friends.

Illustration by César Delgado, 17, Foshay Learning Center

One day my mom saw me at church with my boyfriend and she told my dad. They both wanted to know more about him, so I told them the truth. I decided to tell them about everything—the smoking, drinking and sneaking around with my boyfriend. My dad got very quiet. When I finished, he had a very serious look. He said, "So this is all the bad stuff you’ve been doing." He was really angry and he blamed my boyfriend. My parents told me that my boyfriend couldn’t call me anymore and that I was not allowed to see him at school or anywhere else.

After that we saw each other a lot less—only at school. Sometimes he would walk me halfway home. I was depressed. I used to ask my boyfriend why bad things happened to me if I didn’t deserve them. My boyfriend would tell me jokes to cheer me up but things that used to make me happy weren’t working anymore. I started thinking about suicide. I told my boyfriend that I was tired of everything and if only I could end my life, I wouldn’t have to deal with all my problems.

One Sunday night a friend called me, and my dad asked me if he was my boyfriend. I told him he wasn’t but he didn’t believe me. That night I didn’t feel like arguing but my dad did, so we got into a fight. The last thing he told me was, "I can’t wait for you to become 18 so you can be responsible for yourself and your actions. These next two years will seem like 20." That really hurt me. I thought that when a man and a woman decide to have a baby, it is forever and not until you are 18.

My terrible night

That night I went to bed crying and I decided to run away. Once I was sure that my parents were asleep, I left. I decided to go to my boyfriend’s house because I don’t get along with my uncles. The streets were foggy and lonely. It was really dark and dogs were barking. I was scared so I walked fast so that the police wouldn’t see me. I was also afraid that my parents had already found out that I had left and were out looking for me.

At my boyfriend’s house, I knocked on his window but he didn’t answer, so I went to the front door. He came to the door, shocked to see me at that hour. He said, "What are you doing here at midnight? Are you OK? Did something happen?"

At first I couldn’t answer him, I just cried. Then I told him that I had run away. I told him what happened and we didn’t know what to do. We stayed up all night talking and the next day I went home because I didn’t want the problem to get bigger. When my parents got home from work that afternoon, they just looked at me. They didn’t seem too happy to see me. The first thing my mom told me was, "Nobody will take care of you or support you." I just stayed quiet. My dad told me, "You are still under our responsibility—you can’t do whatever you want! We take care of you for free—other people won’t do that. If you’re not going to be happy here, you can leave right now. Just say good-bye to your sister."

My little sister was crying when I hugged her and walked to the door. Just before I walked out, my mom grabbed me by the arm. She told me things don’t work like that. She said I had to wait until I was 18.

I sat down on the living room couch. I was angry and sad at the same time. I didn’t know if they really wanted me, or if they were afraid of getting in trouble with the police or a social worker or something.

My mom told me it was stupid to run away and put myself in danger. She said I only ran away so I could sleep with my boyfriend.

That wasn’t true, but I didn’t contradict her because I knew that would just make things worse.
My mom started laughing over the stupid decisions I had made. I was mad that she was laughing because if they had paid more attention to me, or asked me questions or listened to me, none of this would’ve happened.

Then my dad lectured me for a long time, telling me everything I could and couldn’t do. I couldn’t talk on the phone, listen to music, watch TV or stay after school. I had to tell them everything I did. He wanted me to spend my spare time thinking about my bad decisions and to stop being a bad influence on my sister.

It was nothing new. He had gotten angry with me before. But he also said he was going to give me another chance. The next day my boyfriend went to my house to ask for permission to talk to me. My dad said he could come over, but only when my parents were there. When I asked my dad why he did that, he said, "We want you to trust us and we’re going to trust you." I felt happy and hoped that things would get better, but I wondered if he would keep his word.

I noticed that my parents started keeping a closer eye on me. They’d ask me, "Are you doing bad things? Are you smoking? Are you drinking?" They were doing what they should have done all along. When my parents got home, I just pretended I was doing homework so we didn’t have to talk. I felt weird. After everything that had happened, all of a sudden they wanted to be good parents.

Every night, I’d talk to my sister about them. We’d make fun of them and all the things they did. But I came right home after school and did my homework.

My parents are getting to know me

Slowly as they saw me following the rules, they trusted me more. They let me stay after school to do projects and they let my boyfriend come over. I could watch TV and use the phone again.

My mom came into my bedroom one night and got in bed with me. She hugged me and told me she was going to try to be more understanding. I cried because she had never done that before. She told me that all she wants is for me to graduate from high school, and not go through the things she went through at my age, like getting pregnant.

It’s easier to talk to my dad now. Sometimes he lets me go out, if he feels I’ll be safe and he knows where I will be. He lets me take my sister along if I want to, because he knows that I’ll take care of her.

Recently my mom told me that you don’t study to be a parent, you learn as you go along. Even though I’m almost 18, my mom is just starting to be the mom she wanted to be. Now that I’m a teenager, and I see classmates becoming mothers, I have more understanding for my parents’ decision to leave me behind in El Salvador. I see how hard it is to be a parent at a young age.

And just like your parents have to learn, you have to learn. Finally I’m learning how to be a daughter. If I want to stay out of trouble, I have to tell them what I’m doing so they can give me advice. If something’s bothering me, I can’t assume my parents will know what’s wrong.

My dad let me go to my boyfriend’s prom, and when I told him about it, he said he never went to something like that. So this year, I asked my dad to take me to the prom. He was so happy when I asked him. My friends think it’s weird, but I told them I would like to share one of my senior activities with my dad.

It seems like sometimes something big has to happen for your parents to notice that you’re there. Even though it was really hard, I’m glad that my parents and I are closer now. I’m going to graduate this year and make my parents proud. That’s my way of paying them back for everything they have done for me.