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.
Leslye Huff and Mary Ostendorf
Leslye Huff (left) and her partner, Mary Ostendorf (right), met in 1983. Leslye was open about her feelings for Mary and wasn’t shy about publicly showing her affection—even on their first date. Mary felt less comfortable with public displays of affection and had not told many people in her life about her sexuality, including her family.
When Mary introduced Leslye to her mother, Agnes, they did not immediately reveal to her the nature of their relationship, but during that meeting Leslye felt a connection with Agnes. “I liked her. She was short like me, and pretty vivacious. She and I sat and talked and I thought the makings of a pretty good friendship was beginning.”
Later that year, days before they gathered for Thanksgiving, Leslye picked up the phone and told Agnes the truth about her relationship with Mary.
At StoryCorps, Mary and Leslye discuss what happened after the phone call and how their relationship with Agnes changed in the years that followed.
Originally aired November 27, 2016, on NPR’s Weekend Edition.
Saboor Sahely and Jessica Sahely
Saboor Sahely grew up in eastern Afghanistan’s Laghman province. He remembers the village in which he was raised as being like a big family, with neighbors coming and going freely from each other’s homes, sharing food, and attending one another’s celebrations. On hot summer nights they would sleep on their roofs entertaining each other with stories late into the night. That is also where he first heard about America, planting a desire to one day come to the United States.
In 1978, a long Afghani civil war began, and Saboor’s family, fearing that he would be unable to soon leave the country, urged him to go to the United States. He had already been accepted to Utah State University, and when he arrived in New York City, he only had with him a suitcase, the phone number of a relative he had never met, and a few hundred dollars. He used the money to purchase a bus ticket to Logan, Utah.
In Logan, he got a job as at a restaurant as a dishwasher and quickly moved up to cook, eventually becoming a district manager. But the restaurant ran into financial problems and closed. Saboor used the money he had saved to purchase the building, and in 1983 he opened Angie’s Restaurant—named after his then 2-year-old daughter.
Starting 26 years ago, Angie’s Restaurant began offering free meals to the Logan community on Thanksgiving. Saboor came to StoryCorps with his younger daughter, Jessica, to talk about his life in Afghanistan, and how the lessons he learned continue to inspire him.
Originally aired November 25, 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.
Jay Hollingsworth and Rick Williams
On August 30, 2010, Native American woodcarver John T. Williams was crossing the street while carving a piece of wood when he was shot and killed by a Seattle Police Department officer. John, 50, a member of the Nitinaht First Nation was deaf in one ear and didn’t immediately respond to Officer Ian Birk’s calls to put his knife down. Less than five seconds after giving his first command, Officer Birk had shot John four times.
John descends from generations of well-known and respected carvers whose work is part of museum collections and has been sold for more than a century at Seattle’s famous Ye Olde Curiosity Shop. He carved his first totem when he was just 4 years old and knew more than 250 figures by heart.
Even with a long history of alcohol abuse and homelessness, carving in Seattle’s Victor Steinbrueck Park was a near constant activity towards the end of John’s life. He spent the morning of the shooting in the park with his brother, Rick Williams, carving together. Rick was waiting for John to rejoin him when he heard about what had happened.
In February 2011, the Seattle Police Department’s Firearms Review Board found unequivocally that the use of deadly force by Officer Birk was unjustified and recommended that Officer Birk be “stripped of all Seattle Police powers and authority.” Shortly thereafter, Officer Birk resigned. In April of 2011, the city settled all legal claims with the Williams family for $1.5 million.
Rick, who visits his brother’s grave weekly, is teaching his own sons to carve so that they will carry on the family tradition. He also continues to carve in Victor Steinbrueck Park where he last spent time with his brother.
At StoryCorps, Rick (right) and his friend, Jay Westwind Wolf Hollingsworth (left), remember John and the day that he was killed.
Originally aired October 7, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Top photo of John taken on August 30, 2010, the day he was killed, courtesy of Jay Hollingsworth, John T. Williams Organizing Committee.
Terri Roberts and Delores Hayford
It has been a decade since Charles Roberts IV took 10 young Amish girls hostage inside the West Nickel Mines School one-room schoolhouse in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, before killing five, wounding the others, and committing suicide.
Immediately following the tragedy, the Amish community reacted in a way that many found surprising—with forgiveness.
Forgiveness is an important tenet of the Amish faith, which closely follows Jesus’ teachings to forgive one another and place the needs of others before your own. Vengeance and retribution are left to God. Their quickness to forgive the killer led a number Amish to attend the funeral of Charles Roberts, and closeness developed between his family and the community—particular his mother, Terri Roberts.
Terri sat down for StoryCorps with her friend Delores Hayford (pictured together above) to remember the events of October 2, 2006, how the Amish community treated her following the killings, and to discuss her current relationship with one of the severely wounded girls.
Originally aired September 30, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Larry Kushner and Eileen Kushner
For as long as she can remember, Eileen Kushner has had a difficult time reading and doing simple math. Growing up in Detroit the 1950s, she recalls her teachers calling her “stupid” and “lazy,” but no one knew she had a processing disorder until she was tested and diagnosed by a psychiatrist when she was in her mid-30s. “It was like a door in my brain would drop and it wouldn’t allow me to process any of the information.”
After graduating high school, Eileen married Larry Kushner and over time they had three daughters. Eileen hoped that staying out of the workforce would help her hide her learning difficulties, but surviving on the money Larry earned as a bank teller was hard. There were days when their family didn’t have enough food in the refrigerator, so Eileen began to look for a job.
She worked briefly as a secretary but was fired because her notes were riddled with misspellings, and then Larry suggested that she apply for a job at the McDonald’s next to the bank where he worked. Eileen was overjoyed when she got the job and started by making French fries and milkshakes and cleaning the floors. She secretly hoped she would not be promoted because she knew that would mean working at the cash register.
In the 1960s, McDonald’s cashiers manually calculated the cost of an order, and Eileen was afraid that a promotion would lead others to discover her secret — she wasn’t able to add. But she did so well with her first responsibilities that a promotion to the register soon followed. For Eileen, it was a tragic moment, and she told Larry she was going to quit. That’s when he came up with a solution.
Larry brought home different denominations of bills from the bank, and Eileen brought home Big Mac boxes, French fry containers, and cups, and they began playing McDonald’s at their kitchen counter. Larry would pretend to be the customer and Eileen would practice adding up his order. They did this every day until Eileen felt comfortable enough to accept her promotion.
Eileen moved her way up at McDonald’s eventually becoming a manager and then attending Hamburger University. Together Eileen and Larry have owned five separate McDonald’s restaurants (currently, they own one). Now in their 70s, she credits Larry with their success while he believes that it was her dogged perseverance and hard work that got them to where they are today.
They came to StoryCorps to remember their earlier struggles.
Originally aired September 16, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Top photo of Eileen and Larry at their February 1963 wedding and bottom photo of Larry and Eileen in their McDonald’s uniforms courtesy of the Kushner family.
Jenna Henderson and Laurie Laychak
On June 17, 2007, Army Sgt. First Class Chris Henderson and two other soldiers were killed when an improvised explosive device detonated near their Humvee in Afghanistan.
Chris enlisted in the Army during his senior year of high school, and soon after graduating in June 1991; he went off to boot camp. He spent more than 15 years in the military serving tours of duty in Bosnia and Kosovo, and was still in uniform when the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, occurred.
A month later, in October 2001, Operation Enduring Freedom began and in January 2007, Chris was deployed to the Kandahar Province in Afghanistan where he was part of a team working to help train Afghan National Army forces. Chris was killed on Father’s Day of that year; he was 35 years old. He is survived by his wife, Jenna Henderson, and his 8-year-old daughter, Kayley.
Jenna and Chris met while in their 20s and had been married for seven years before he was killed. The family lived together in Fort Lewis, Washington, where Chris was based. He was a loving husband and a devoted father, and Jenna says, a total goofball. She remembers coming home to find Chris and 18-month-old Kayley in their bathing suits playing in mud puddles or riding on Chris’ motorcycle. The two were inseparable.
Now 18, Kayley bears a striking resemblance to her father. “When she’s upset, her little eyebrow twitches,” says Jenna, “And when she smiles, she’s kind of got that little crooked smile he had.” She has even participated in Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) at her high school and is hoping to soon get her motorcycle license.
Jenna still misses Chris terribly and holds on to one of the last letters she received from him. “In it he said, how much he loved me and how he was glad that he had married me, and that he wouldn’t have changed that for the world.”
Jenna came to StoryCorps with Laurie Laychak (left), a mentor she met through the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) — an organization that offers compassionate care to those grieving the death of a loved one serving in the Armed Forces—to share memories of Chris.
Originally aired September 3, 2016, on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday.