Francisco Ortega and Kaya Ortega
Growing up in rural Tijuana, Mexico, Francisco Ortega was among the youngest of his family’s 10 children. In 1975, his parents made the difficult decision to leave him and his siblings in the care of his beloved aunt, Trinidad, and move to Los Angeles to find work. Once there, his father worked as a busboy and his mother as a seamstress in a clothing factory; each month they sent back money for food and clothing.
Only about 6 years old when his parents left, Francisco was an intuitive, energetic, and excitable boy. He spent hours playing in the hills and fruit orchards of Tijuana, and chasing rattlesnakes with his dogs. He also acted up a lot and often gave his aunt a hard time.
He didn’t see his parents for nearly three and a half years, and couldn’t understand why they left. He missed his mother terribly but through hard work his parents became more financially stable, and in 1978, 9-year-old Francisco joined them in Los Angeles.
At StoryCorps, Francisco—who works to strengthen relationships between the Los Angeles Police Department and the community—shares memories of his childhood in Tijuana with his 16-year-old daughter, Kaya, and tells her about the day he left Mexico to reunite with his parents in Los Angeles.
Originally aired December 16, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Above: Francisco and his younger sister Ana after arriving in Los Angeles in 1978. Photo courtesy of Francisco Ortega.
Fred Davie and Robert Sanchez
Robert Sanchez (right) is a social worker who helps people coming out of prison find work and get the support they need. He has a unique understanding of his client’s struggles because in 2001, Robert was released from New York’s Sing Sing Correctional Facility after serving 15 years for a nonviolent drug offense.
Robert has also recorded StoryCorps interviews with those who have helped him over the years, and in March 2010, his conversation with Felix Aponte was broadcast on NPR. More recently, he sat down with Fred Davie (left), a long-time mentor and friend to thank him for the spiritual support he has provided.
A Presbyterian minister who heads the Union Theological Seminary, Fred met Robert in 1998 when he was visiting Sing Sing and Robert was working towards his master’s degree in theology. They struck up a conversation and made an instant connection, and after Robert’s release, Fred helped him navigate the difficult process of finding work, interpersonal relationships, and fatherhood.
They have both remained outspoken about the importance of providing guidance and support to individuals following their incarceration, and together they developed the Ready4Work reentry program which provides mentoring and job counseling to former prisoners to help with their transition and avoid returning to prison.
At StoryCorps Robert and Fred remember their first meeting, and discuss how their relationship has grown since.
Originally aired December 2, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Alicia Beltrán-Castañeda and Serena Castañeda
Alicia Beltrán-Castañeda grew up in Salinas, California, in the late 1960s. Her mother, Beatriz Béltran, was an immigrant from Mexico, and her father, Manuel, worked both as a foreman at a food packing plant and as an overseer of migrant farm workers.
Their family of seven lived in a small trailer, but by working multiple jobs, Manuel was able to save enough money to buy a plot of land on which he built a house. Alicia vividly recalls sitting on a 1950s metal stool in their living room, watching her father paint some of the walls goldenrod, and others Pepto-Bismol pink.
Manuel died when Alicia was 13, leaving their mother to raise the children alone.
Beatriz began working for the Salinas City Elementary School District as a bilingual liaison for Spanish-speaking families and the administration, and later became a coordinator for migrant worker families. Through her job, she saw the poverty many migrant families lived in.
Alicia was not as familiar with the lives of migrant farmworkers until she came home one day to find that her bed was missing—she was furious. With all of her older siblings away at college, Alicia had finally gotten her own room, and she loved her bed, which had a pink cover and lace dust ruffle. When she confronted her mother, Beatriz explained that she had given the bed to a family that had recently arrived in California from Mexico, and Alicia remembers telling her mother that she did not understanding why that was her problem. Without explanation, Beatriz told her to fill shopping bags with canned food from their pantry.
Together they drove to a house where Alicia’s bed now was, a one-room shack with a dirt floor like the ones occupied by so many other migrant worker families. There they met a woman who was laying on Alicia’s bed with her newborn baby surrounded by her four other children.
At StoryCorps, Alicia told her own daughter, Serena, 13, how meaningful that experience was for her.
Originally aired November 18, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Photo of Beatriz Beltrán courtesy of Alicia Beltrán-Castañeda.
Jasmine Pacheco and Carmen Pacheco-Jones
Carmen Pacheco-Jones grew up in an unstable home and had stopped attending school by the time she was 13 years old. She was abusing drugs and alcohol, and throughout her childhood, she spent time in and out of more than a dozen foster homes.
Her drug and alcohol dependence continued into adulthood—even as Carmen started her own family. Her five children remember being raised in a chaotic home; that changed nearly 20 years ago when police in Washington state raided the house where the family was living. Following her arrest, the children were separated and placed in different foster homes.
At StoryCorps, Carmen sat down with her 27-year-old daughter, Jasmine, who was 10 years old when the raid took place, to remember what it was like when their family reconnected after being torn apart.
Today Carmen has been alcohol and drug free for 17 years and is a part of all of her children and grandchildren’s lives. This winter Jasmine is on track to graduate from Eastern Washington University with a degree in psychology and a minor in art.
Originally aired October 28, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Tariq Sheikh and Tabinda Sheikh
In 1989, Tabinda was working in a Manhattan hotel as a housekeeper. She had just immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic and one day at work, she caught the eye of a fellow employee who was working behind the hotel’s front desk—Tariq Sheikh.
Tariq was also a recent immigrant, but from Pakistan, and he remembers that the first time he saw her, Tabinda was hard at work. She was still in her yellow gloves and neither spoke English too well, but after a few clumsy love notes, a relationship was born.
Tariq and Tabinda have now been married for 25 years and have a 20-year-old son, Madani Sheikh. They live in Jersey City, New Jersey, not far from the park bench they were sharing the first time Tariq realized he had fallen in love with Tabinda.
They came to StoryCorps to share the story of how they met.
Originally aired October 21, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Lou Olivera and Joe Serna
In 2013, Green Beret Sergeant Joe Serna retired from the Army after more than 18 years of service that included three tours of duty in Afghanistan and numerous awards including two Purple Hearts. Returning to North Carolina to be with his wife and children, he found adjusting to civilian life difficult.
In 2014, following a DWI arrest, Joe’s case was assigned to the Cumberland County Veterans Treatment Court. After a probation violation, District Court Judge Lou Olivera (above left), an Army veteran who served during the Gulf War, sentenced Joe to a night in jail.
Joe was with three other soldiers in Afghanistan in 2008 when their armored truck flipped over and landed in a river. It quickly filled with water and Joe was the only survivor. Knowing Joe’s history and how difficult it would be for him to spend an evening confined, Judge Olivera decided to spend the night with Joe in his jail cell.
At StoryCorps, they reflect upon the night they spent together, the difficult memories that being sentenced brought back, and the relationship they have formed since.
Originally aired October 14, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Above photo courtesy of Joe Serna.
Vanessa Silva-Welch and Arnaldo Silva
Ten years ago, Arnaldo Silva noticed a lump on his chest. After going to a doctor and getting a mammogram, he learned that he had breast cancer.
Breast cancer in men is rare (according to the National Institutes of Health, male breast cancer accounts for less than one percent of all breast cancer diagnosis worldwide), but Arnaldo’s diagnosis and the discovery that he carried a genetic predisposition to cancer led other members of his family to get tested as well. Soon after, his daughter, Vanessa Silva-Welch, learned that she too had breast cancer.
During their treatments, Arnaldo and Vanessa became each other’s support systems as they went through chemotherapy and fought cancer together. And while Arnaldo is now cancer free, four months ago Vanessa received a new breast cancer diagnosis and once again began treatment.
At StoryCorps, they discuss their battles with cancer and Arnaldo’s concern that his children will remember him as the one who passed this hereditary disease on to them.
Originally aired July 29, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Above: Vanessa and Arnaldo in 2009 after they finished chemotherapy. Photo courtesy of Vanessa Silva-Welch.
Francisco and Frankie Preciado
When Francisco Preciado was six years old, his family moved from Mexico to the California. They entered the United States through the Bracero program, which, starting in 1942 and lasting more than 20 years, allowed Mexican workers to come to the U.S. to take temporary agricultural jobs.
At the time, Francisco spoke only Spanish, but he quickly learned English with the help of his teachers. This led him to dream of one day becoming a teacher himself, but financial demands and the need to support his family forced him to drop out of school and begin working full-time.
In the early 1980s, he took a job as a groundskeeper at Stanford University and was often accompanied to the college by his young son Frankie. Francisco hoped that one day Frankie would become a student at Stanford, and his dream came true with Frankie graduating from the university in 2007 with degrees in political science and Chicano(a) Studies.
Now 31 years old, Frankie is the executive director of the union that represents Stanford’s service and technical workers, and whose membership also includes his father.
Francisco and Frankie came to StoryCorps to talk about their relationship and their time together at Stanford—one as a maintenance man, the other as a student.
Originally aired May 13, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Above: Frankie with his father, Francisco, and his mother, Margarita, at his 2007 graduation from Stanford University.
Top: Frankie and Francisco at one of the fountains that Francisco takes care of on the campus of Stanford University.
Photos courtesy of the Preciado family.
Chris López and Gabe López
Chris López always knew there was something different about her youngest child Gabe. Assigned female at birth, Gabe always felt like he was a boy.
Gabe was always more comfortable in clothes traditionally worn by little boys (cargo pants and superhero shirts), but often switched back and forth between those and outfits often worn by little girls. Just after his seventh birthday, he convinced his parents to let him cut off his long hair and get a Mohawk—a haircut he had been wanting for years. This is also about the time that Gabe started dressing only as a boy and answering exclusively to “he” and not “she.”
At first, Chris was concerned that Gabe, being so young, might change his mind. She was scared of how people would treat him as he transitioned. But after seeing how Gabe responded to the changes in his hair and clothing, she felt confident that he had made the right decision.
Last summer, their family (pictured below) attended a camp for transgender, gender creative, and gender non-conforming youth in Tucson, Arizona. There, Gabe met similar kids and made three new best friends—Luke, Cooper, and Brock (who among other things taught Gabe how to pee standing up).
Gabe, who will soon be 9 years old, has been attending the same school since kindergarten, and this past August when he started third grade, for the first time, he began having others refer to him by his preferred gender pronouns—”he” and “him.”
Gabe and his mother (pictured in the player above) recently came to the StoryCorps MobileBooth to talk about what it’s been like for him to be transgender, and his fears about the future.
Originally aired May 1, 2016, on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday.
Photo of Gabe courtesy of Chris López.
Vito de la Cruz and Maria Sefchick-Del Paso
Vito de la Cruz’s parents were already separated when he was born, and when he was 6 months old, his father left him in the care of his 19-year-old aunt, Iris de la Cruz, a woman he called Nena.
Vito’s extended family traveled the migrant trail, finding work on farms across the United States. At 5 years old, Vito joined them in the fields. He remembers the excitement of traveling in the summers with his aunts, uncles, and grandmother from tomato fields in South Texas, to cherry orchards in Ohio, and sugar beet farms in North Dakota. During the days, they worked side-by-side, and in the evenings, they gathered together for dinner.
But their family’s migrant lifestyle was not easy; it was “equal parts hardship and poverty.” When he was 13, Border Patrol agents raided the farm where Vito and his family were working and rounded up undocumented workers. Witnessing workers’ fear of law enforcement struck a “profound chord in his being” and changed the course of his life.
Vito had always excelled in school, with Nena’s encouragement. She, herself, was the first person in the de la Cruz family to graduate high school, and she later went on to college. Following Nena’s example, Vito left South Texas for Yale University and then went on to attend law school at the University of California, Berkeley.
After law school, Vito began volunteering with the United Farm Workers union and focused the early part of his legal career on immigrant and farmworker rights. Years later, he became a federal public defender in Nevada before moving to Bellevue, Washington, where he continues to practice civil rights law.
Vito came to StoryCorps with his wife, Maria Sefchick-Del Paso (pictured together above), to remember how his childhood and his loving Nena shaped his future.
Vito’s story is one of 53 work stories featured in our new book, Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work, now available in bookstores.
Originally aired April 22, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.