When I arrived in L.A. I was in complete shock. I was seven-years-old and I hardly spoke any English. With my family spending most of their money on plane tickets, we had to stay with my grandparents in a two-bedroom apartment in Van Nuys, which I didn’t know wasn’t the safest of neighborhoods. So basically, the five of us shared a single room.
My dad gave up his job as a journalist and became a part of tech support for a non-profit clinic; at least that’s what I think he did. Since the clinic was in San Diego and we couldn’t afford an apartment there, he drove there for the weekdays and I really only saw him on the weekends. Fun fact: this was the first time I ever had Cinnamon Toast Crunch and I became obsessed with it for a while. I also made a few friends who convinced me to ride down a hill on a shopping cart.
That was a terrible idea.
Pretty soon my brother and I had to start going back to school. Of course, that was terribly difficult with our broken English. It was the first time my brother and I were in separate classes so I was just overwhelmed with it all. I didn’t understand what the other kids were saying because their use of slang made it even more difficult. Being “that weird kid” I didn’t make a lot (or any) friends and spent a majority of recess and lunch with my brother, who also found it trying to make friends.
With the the help of my dad’s sister, who had already been living in Northern California for a few years, we were finally able to move to Chula Vista just a few months later in 2001. It’s okay if you don’t know where that is; it’s quite a boring part of San Diego. Well, it’s just a few miles north of the Mexican border. My brother and I had to go to transfer schools once again but at least I got to see my dad more often.
I adjusted a lot better in my new school. In fact, a few of the friends I made that year are still my friends to this day. Maybe I was able to fit in a little more because my English had improved. Nonetheless, I was still “that weird kid” and so I spent a majority of my time reading to improve my language skills. I’m going to tell you something I’ve never told anyone… I used to steal books from my class. I especially liked the Arthur chapter books and the Magic Tree House. Hey, I was seven! Give me a break.
Actually I kept doing that until I was ten. I stole the Harry Potter books… Ahem.
Once again, my parents worked most of the day because the pay for non-residents was quite low and they had three kids to take care of. My brother, sister, and I were home alone until about 6PM when my parents would get home. One day my sister actually called the police and they came storming into our house. They were pretty understanding about it.
Throughout elementary school I did what any other new kid would do: try to alter my personality to fit in. I spent so much time being ostracized that I just wanted to feel like I was a part of something. Now I know that most of those people weren’t really my friends. They befriended the person I wanted them to believe I was but at the time it seemed like the only thing I could do.
In the middle of my fourth grade we moved once again, about ten miles south of where we were living. However that meant I had to transfer schools again, this time to a Spanish-speaking one. The teacher had to make special copies of the homework for me because I was one of the two people who didn’t understand Spanish. Well, Tagalog has some similar words to Spanish, so at least I wasn’t completely lost. I tried to make the best out of the situation but I felt like I just couldn’t.
Not only did my only friend move away after a few weeks, but suddenly my mom began disappearing for days at a time.