National Health Week, which runs from April 2-8, focuses on the Power of Home. The Richmond City Health District has partnered with a variety of organizations across Richmond to fight the false narratives that surround our fellow residents living in low-resource communities. Grid, along with other local publications, are featuring a series of letters from residents in Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority communities. The following is from Esperanza Vasquezz Hernandez, 37, a Southwood Apartment Community resident.
I came here from Guerrero, Mexico, when I was 23 or 24. In Guerrero I suffered a lot. I had few clothes and no shoes. A lot of people would go to the next state, Sinaloa, to work picking tomatoes and cucumbers. I tried but it wasn’t for me. I decided to find work in the US, but by then I had a baby. I wanted to bring her with me, but she couldn’t come. I left her with my parents and told them I would bring her when she was older. When she was old enough, she didn’t want to come. She’s 19 now, and I have only seen her once since I left.
My first apartment in Richmond was in Boushall. That’s where I met my children’s father, who was from Mexico too. I thought I would be with him forever but it didn’t happen. When my oldest child was born, he began drinking a lot, and we fought. I worked for a cigarette company until my twins were born, but after they arrived I couldn’t work anymore. My husband hit me a lot and was very jealous. I had no family here, and I would ask him for five dollars to call Guerrero, and he wouldn’t give it to me. I had to sit down and think about my choices, and how I was going to get through.
I knew a woman from my old job who was also from Mexico. She asked why I stayed with my husband, and I said I was scared he would take my children. She told me: it won’t happen. We can help you. This woman was always helping people – going with them to court, giving them a ride, talking with them about their troubles. She told me: if you leave him, one day you will be a better woman. I started to call the police when he was hurting me, and the police wanted to help. I figured out how to get help from the government, too. All the help I received gave me strength, and finally I left my husband for good.
I had to go back to work once he was gone, but by then my brother had come to Richmond. We would work opposite shifts and he would watch my children while I bussed tables at a restaurant. I haven’t made many friends in the US because it’s hard to know who I can trust. Today I keep my household by myself, and I give all my love to my children. I tell my children: I will always work, and I will always come home. I know I am tired, and I’m sorry. We don’t have much extra money, but my children understand.
I am very proud of my children. I can’t read in Spanish or English, and I still can’t speak English. I get texts on my phone and my son and daughters have to read them to me because I don’t understand. But we like living in Southwood. We can come and go safely. There is peace here.
When I think about the future, my dreams are for my children, but I saved some money and bought land in Guerrero for myself. I don’t need a man for any of this. I can care for my heart. I’m waiting for my grandkids, too, for my legacy. I have an image of myself as a happy grandmother, and those grandkids will probably ask me, “Why don’t you get married?” and I will laugh.
It’s okay to be alone. A strong woman can be alone. I may stay in the US, or I may build a house on my land in Guerrero. I have worked hard all my life, and I feel good to know that my children will have choices in the future, and I will, too.
-Esperanza Vasquezz Hernandez
Translated by Shanteny Jackson and Transcribed by Tara Dacey
Photo by Cheyenne Varner