James Madison University
Shenandoah Valley Oral History Project
Oral History Interview With: Alice Velazquez
Interviewer: Amanda Harris
Place: Carrier Library, JMU
Date: March 30, 2006
Audio File Size: 27.8 MB
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General topic of interview: This interview follows the life of Alice Velazquez from her childhood to her current endeavors in Harrisonburg, Virginia. She discusses her family situation as a child, jobs she has had throughout her life, her marriage, her children, and her housing opportunities in Harrisonburg after moving from New York state.
NARRATOR: Alice Velazquez [Note: interviewer misspells her name in transcript and other supplementary documents as Valazquez.]
DATE: March 30, 2006
INTERVIEWER: Amanda Harris
PLACE: Carrier Library, James Madison University campus
Occupation: employee at K-Mart
Alice Velazquez was born in Puerto Rico. Her father was a native Puerto Rican, and her mother was from Dominican Republic. When Alice was about one and a half, she and her parents moved to Connecticut. Shortly after the move, her brother Danny was born prematurely at five months. As a result of the premature birth, Danny suffers from multiple disabilities. Alice’s mother divorced her father and moved with the kids to the Bronx in New York. Her mother became involved with drinking alcohol which eventually to a liver disorder and possibly led to her death. Alice met her husband in New York, and they had three children together. He was caught firing an arm near a school, served time in a New York prison, and was then deported back to Columbia. In the fall, 2006, Alice decided to move to Harrisonburg, Virginia with her three children so they could be close to their Godmother. Alice and her children currently live at (shelter)* and are waiting to find a home to rent by the end of April, 2006.
This interview with Alice Valazquez is important because it provides a first-hand account of life in Harrisonburg with children in the school systems. She gives a detailed description of the differences between schools in Virginia and New York. Alice allows others to understand what her life is like as a single mother of three living in Harrisonburg. She describes her job as a K-Mart employee and discusses her interest in business school and future goals in terms of owning a business one day. Living at the (shelter), Alice tells of frustrations residents face and her perception of how the business is run. She describes what (shelter) provides for residents and gives her opinion of what the staff could do differently to benefit residents. The interview is her life story discussing her family life, education, jobs, marriage, children, and future goals.
HARRIS: Do you give verbal consent to be recorded on April, um, March 30, 2006? (laughs)
HARRIS: And what is your name?
VALAZQUEZ: Alice Valazquez
HARRIS: Where were you born?
VALAZQUEZ: In Puerto Rico.
HARRIS: Puerto Rico. And were your parents from there?
VALAZQUEZ: My mother was from Dominican Republic, and my father was from Puerto Rico.
HARRIS: How did they meet?
VALAZQUEZ: My mother had a visa from work from Dominican Republic, and she worked. She moved over to Puerto Rico and worked there, and that’s how she met my dad, in a restaurant, working.
HARRIS: Did they get married?
VALAZQUEZ: Yes they did. They got married.
HARRIS: Do you have any siblings?
VALAZQUEZ: I have one brother. He’s younger than me. He’ll be thirty actually April third, so
HARRIS: Birthday’s comin up.
HARRIS: Um, where did your father work in Puerto Rico?
VALAZQUEZ: Um, I’m not—I don’t remember the name, but it was a restaurant. He was the cook there in Puerto Rico in San Juan. That’s where he was originally from.
HARRIS: And your mother worked there too?
VALAZQUEZ: Yea, she worked in the same restaurant. She was the waitress.
HARRIS: And how long did you stay in Puerto Rico before you came to the US?
VALAZQUEZ: Well, my mother told me that I was maybe like about a year and a half old when she moved to Connecticut. And that’s when she gave birth to my brother, Danny, in Connecticut.
HARRIS: Did your father come with you?
VALAZQUEZ: Yes, he did.
HARRIS: So the whole family moved to Connecticut.
VALAZQUEZ: The whole family moved to Connecticut.
HARRIS: And how long were you in Connecticut?
VALAZQUEZ: Um, I think right about up to I think I was probably five. My mother divorced my dad in Connecticut, so she moved to New York in Queens where she stayed with a friend of hers there.
HARRIS: Did you and your brother go with her?
VALAZQUEZ: Yes, we did.
HARRIS: What was your relationship like with your mom growing up?
VALAZQUEZ: Funny. It was funny. Um, she always had some weird to do with us, you know. And, um, I guess up to maybe when we got probably like 13 or 14 things started changing a little.
HARRIS: What do you mean by changing?
VALAZQUEZ: She, um started drinking a lot, so it kinda like, we kinda distanced from each other. She normally be workin like from the wee hours of the morning to late at night so we barely get to see her. You know.
HARRIS: Do you think you had a better relationship with her than your brother did or do you think your brother had a better relationship?
VALAZQUEZ: Mmmm, I think I did cause my brother he’s disa…he’s mentally disabled.
VALAZQUEZ: So he is um, don’t get it wrong. He’s a smart guy. He gets around good, but its, um, like to have a conversation with him, for him to understand at that level, he, it just you know. He was more in to the cartoons all the time, games.
HARRIS: How did your mother deal with his disability?
VALAZQUEZ: (sighs) I think she did well with it. You know. The doctors, from what my mother told me, the doctors had only gave him a couple a months to live when he was born. Um, I forgot the name of what causes him to be the way that he is, but it’s a lot learning disabilities. Um, he cannot see out of one eye. He’s had over 26 operations. Yea, he was a premature baby.
HARRIS: How premature?
VALAZQUEZ: He was at, at five months my mother gave birth to him at five months.
HARRIS: Oh, wow. Um, did she drink when she was pregnant?
VALAZQUEZ: No. Um–from what my mother told me, cause I was kinda too young to understand what was going on with them.
VALAZQUEZ: My father was into drugs. So he started using drugs I guess after I was born. And that’s why my brother came out the way he did.
HARRIS: What do you think led your mother to drink when you were about 13 or 14?
VALAZQUEZ: Well I guess cause we moved to New York. We didn’t have any family. You know. Her mother had died at that time, and I think that’s what got her to really drink a lot. You know, it was just us three. We were just basically depending on like each other.
HARRIS: Right. What kind of housing did you live in?
VALAZQUEZ: Um, my mother was living under Section 8. Um, nine family living in this one building. And it was kinda hard for her to keep up with the rent, so she had like two jobs at the same time. So that’s why we could barely see her so much.
HARRIS: Wh, what were your feelings at that point?
VALAZQUEZ: Well, since I was kinda—seeing from her point of view, seeing her cry most of the time, I kinda got worried so much a lot being that we were only dependent on each other. She was the only family member that I knew. And then it kinda worried me a lot too. I was always nervous, always, you know. Just kept mostly to myself. Yea.
HARRIS: What did you do? Did you have any hobbies as a child?
VALAZQUEZ: Just stayed in my room, played with my brother. I used to write a lot too when I was a little girl.
HARRIS: You did? What did you write?
VALAZQUEZ: Just stories. Make up, make-up stories, and just little things here and there. Draw and paint when I was a little girl.
HARRIS: Did you ever keep any copies of that?
HARRIS: Do you wish you had?
VALAZQUEZ: I wish I did. I really do wish I did.
HARRIS: Is there any one in particular you can remember?
VALAZQUEZ: Um—well I did a little story about a little girl and a little boy playin in the back yard. And I took that with me to school, and I’m not too sure if the teacher kept it, cause I just can’t remember that far back, but they, um, she liked it so much that she kinda like read it out to the whole class. So…
HARRIS: Were you proud of that?
VALAZQUEZ: Yea. Mmm hmm. I was. Cause, um, actually I was reading Harriet the Spy at that time. So I kinda got like the idea from that book, reading that book at that age.
HARRIS: Did you read a lot?
VALAZQUEZ: Yea, I read a lot.
HARRIS: Do you have a favorite book as a child?
VALAZQUEZ: Harriet the Spy. (laughs) That was her.
HARRIS: Anything else?
VALAZQUEZ: Mmm, no. Just Harriet the Spy. I tried when I was maybe a little bit older to understand a little Silas Marner, but—it was a little too hard for me to understand, so…
HARRIS: What kind of education did you receive as a child?
VALAZQUEZ: Not much. I couldn’t finish school cause my mother had died. I kinda like went into this depression mode. Um, I did get some sort of award for a painting that I did that went up to the museum back in Brooklyn–which I never got to see. So I don’t really remember what kind of picture I even drew. But they put it on the calendar, and they put it up in the museum for a couple of months.
HARRIS: Do you continue to paint now?
VALAZQUEZ: No. (laughs)
HARRIS: Why not?
VALAZQUEZ: I just suck. Sorry. (laughs) Hmmm mmm. I don’t…I mean sometimes when my kids if they come and ask me to draw something out for them cause they need it for their homework, I’ll help them out with that. You know. Or just trace over something, you know.
HARRIS: Do you have any desire to continue?
VALAZQUEZ: (sighs) Drawing, no not really. Playing the piano, yea. Cause I used to love playing the piano back in junior high school.
HARRIS: How did you learn how to play the piano?
VALAZQUEZ: Well just the teachers would come in and you get that one particular class, and they’ll give you the book and he’ll sit with you and just play the piano. I mean I actually got a good grade on one that I don’t remember what it was, but—-ever since then, I’ve been wanting to play the piano. If I ever get a chance to, I’ll do that.
HARRIS: Do you think that you were a good student?
VALAZQUEZ: Yea. I was. A and B until like my mother started gettin complications and everything back in high school, so.
HARRIS: What do you mean by complications?
VALAZQUEZ: When she, like I said started drinking a lot and everything she would just, I mean, I would take like that stress from home and bring it to the class where I couldn’t focus or anything like that, so.
HARRIS: What led to her death?
VALAZQUEZ: I think it was the drinking cause, um, she died from a liver disorder, and she had three strokes.
HARRIS: How old was she?
VALAZQUEZ: She was only 42 at the time.
HARRIS: And how did that affect you?
VALAZQUEZ: It, I mean, I went into an anxiety attack. Um, I was put under medication for depression. I, cause like I kinda became like a mom and a sister for my brother, and he was placed in a home being that he, you know, he had special needs and everything and I couldn’t really—between me going to school and going to work.
HARRIS: What type of job did you have at that point?
VALAZQUEZ: I was working as a secretary.
HARRIS: What were your duties?
VALAZQUEZ: Just filing, typing, answering phones, um, setting up appointments, making sure the cust, um, clients come in for their appointments that particular day or the next day.
HARRIS: Did you enjoy that job?
VALAZQUEZ: Yea, I kinda did. Yea, cause I got along with everyone there at the job.
HARRIS: What other kinds of jobs did you have?
VALAZQUEZ: Ok, um, from that I was a CNA, certified nurse’s assistant. Um, from that I was a home health aide, and, um, then I went back to secretarial work for a company called (unintelligible) in New York. Um, there I was filing, just desk duty jobs and everything, and, from then, from that I went to work for the New York City Department of Parks and Recreations. Um, I was mostly doing maintenencing job there, making sure the parks was maintained clean and stuff, which I got hired fully after my 6 month, cause there was like a 6 month term only. Um, I got hired permanently for a landscaping company called The Lions (unintelligible) which is another big park there at, um, New York in Brooklyn. And, um, I did a lot of landscaping there, a lot of grounds-keeping. And then I caught another anxiety attack just going crazy cause my rent was going up, and the money just wasn’t adding. No help from my ex-husband cause he got deported, and it just brung me here to Harrisonburg.
HARRIS: How did you become a CNA?
VALAZQUEZ: Um—-there was an advertisement on TV, you didn’t have to pay anything. It was a private company called Patient Care. They were willing to train, so I just went and did an application. They called me in for an interview, I did the interview, brung in all the credentials they needed from me, and they called me up to start classes, and I did a training I think for a couple of weeks, maybe like three or four weeks, and just they started, just just put me to work as soon as I graduated.
HARRIS: Graduated from?
VALAZQUEZ: The CNA.
HARRIS: The CNA. Um, what grade did you get through in school?
VALAZQUEZ: The eleventh.
HARRIS: The eleventh. Do you wish that you would have continued?
VALAZQUEZ: Yea, I do. I really do. Um, actually, I’m going to school now.
HARRIS: Are you?
VALAZQUEZ: Mmm hmm. I got a class at 12:15, so… (laughs)
VALAZQUEZ: Mmm hmmm.
HARRIS: Where is this?
VALAZQUEZ: At the TARK program.
HARRIS: Can you describe that?
VALAZQUEZ: It’s across from the health department. Um, the professor’s name is Chap. He’s a wonderful teacher. He’s giving me tests now. He’s having issue just preparing me for the GED.
HARRIS: So you are gonna finally get your GED?
VALAZQUEZ: Yea, finally, yea.
HARRIS: How did you find this program?
VALAZQUEZ: Um, I started working. I was under a program called VIEW, which, um, if you apply for TANF, they put you in this program called VIEW.
HARRIS: If you apply for what?
VALAZQUEZ: TANF. TANF is for, um, families that need income. When you don’t have any, they help you with that. And they put you under this program called VIEW where if you’re working like at least 30 hours or less, they put you to do like other things to come up. And they just, um, I, they asked me what I wanted to do, and I said I really wanna go back to school. And, they just sent me to TARK, which is the, um, program for school.
HARRIS: Now you said you were, you said you had an ex-husband. How did you meet him?
VALAZQUEZ: Um, the neighborhood where I grew up. He had family there, so, um, when he came to see his family, I met him. They, um, I’m friends with that family. They introduced us, and—I regret it, yea.
HARRIS: Did you hit things off right away?
VALAZQUEZ: Oh, we did. We hit it off right away. Lasted about six seven years. Got married.
HARRIS: So you dated for six or seven years?
VALAZQUEZ: We dated for four years.
HARRIS: And then you got married?
VALAZQUEZ: And then got married.
HARRIS: What was, what was the relationship like?
VALAZQUEZ: The relationship was great until just letting other family members intervene came along, kinda got all messed up, and he started drinking, which I couldn’t understand that. And, kinda got worser by the minute. Then he got in trouble with the law, and I just seed myself going back to what I just didn’t wanna go back to just with my mom going through the same thing. So, when he got deported, I mean, I don’t wanna say it was the best thing for me, but it was the best thing for my kids.
HARRIS: And how many kids do you have?
VALAZQUEZ: I have three.
HARRIS: What are their ages?
VALAZQUEZ: My son is twelve. He is, his name is Charles. Um, my daughter’s name is Ashley. She’s eight. And my youngest is five, and his name is Wally.
HARRIS: And are they in school in Harrisonburg?
VALAZQUEZ: Yea, they enrolled in school. The two youngest one go to Stone Spring, and the oldest one goes to Thomas Harrison Middle School.
HARRIS: Do they enjoy school?
VALAZQUEZ: Oh! They love it here cause it’s so different. The schooling system here is so different than what they know in New York. I mean they make the kids wanna come to school–which is great.
HARRIS: What was school like for them in New York?
VALAZQUEZ: It was the average. You just wake up in the morning, go to school, the teacher’s teaching, and you got homework and you get sent back. At least here, you go to school, the teachers are coming dressed up all funny cause they got a certain day to dress up all funny. You don’t even have to do your hair on one of the hair-do days. I just couldn’t…I was. Ashley was like, um, Ma you don’t have to do my hair today. I was like why? She said cause it’s wacky hair day or something. I was like are you serious? She was like yea. Another time, they come in with their pajamas that one day. I mean, they make it fun for the kids, you know. Make them wanna get up and learn at the same time, so…
HARRIS: And do your kids want to participate in that stuff? Are they excited?
VALAZQUEZ: Oh! They do. They, uh, oh my God. My son, he loves dogs. So they had a police officer that came in with his dog. I could not hear the end of it for about that whole week. That whole week. He’s like, Ma, I hope, I wanted to go home with the dog and I asked him can I take the dog home with me? I was like no. You know you can’t. (laughs) So yea, they make it fun for them. They really do.
HARRIS: So do you think the kids like being here more than New York?
VALAZQUEZ: They love it. They love it. I have yet. I thought I was gonna hear they wanna go back home. I have yet to hear that. I have yet to hear that they wanna go back home. They love it here, so I, I kinda thank God that I made that step to come here, which I thought woulda been a mistake cause I don’t have any family. The only reason why I came here cause my kids have their Godmother that lives here. But, I’m glad that I made that move.
HARRIS: What led you to the decision to move here?
VALAZQUEZ: Like I said, um—my boss when I was working for landscaping company had offered me a certain amount of a certain salary, which she didn’t fall through with it, and in order for me to do something about it, it was gonna take a process of maybe over a year from what I heard all of the, um, I guess the rules that you would have to go through, and like, my bills were backing up, the landlord wasn’t fixing anything, cause he supposedly wasn’t getting the proper money from Section 8 which I had in New York. So everything was just like looking so small, and when I started getting like the symptoms again of getting another anxiety attack, I was like no. I can’t. I can’t do this, cause my kids are dependent on me, and I just, I can’t. So, I just got up and left.
HARRIS: What was the kids’ attitude when you mentioned moving?
VALAZQUEZ: They were happy cause they wanted to see their God brothers and sisters. They were ecstatic. They just could not wait for that day to come.
HARRIS: And how long between when you decided you were gonna move until when you actually moved?
VALAZQUEZ: A week.
HARRIS: A week?
VALAZQUEZ: A week. I mean, my kids’ Godmother was talkin to me about it since she moved here. She’s been here for like bout five or six years. You know, we were talkin about me coming here and everything and I told her, well maybe, you know, let me save up some money and see how it’s going with my job here, excuse me, and then, you know, then I’ll, I’ll see about it. But then it just came to that point couple a months ago where I was like, I called her up and I said Natalie, you’re expecting me in a week. She thought I was lying. She was like yea, right. I was like no, I’m actually coming in about a week. And that’s exactly how it, it went. I left everything. I just left clothes. I left everything.
HARRIS: So how did you get down here?
VALAZQUEZ: We took the Greyhound Bus. I waited for my last check—paid the, um, tickets, and just came the Greyhound bus.
HARRIS: What did you bring with you?
VALAZQUEZ: Just a bookbag for each of one of us. Socks, undershirts, t-shirts, I mean, underwears. That was it.
HARRIS: Where did you go when you got off the bus in Harrisonburg.
VALAZQUEZ: Um, Charlottesville. The bus doesn’t come here to Harrisonburg cause they took it out for some sort of reason, I don’t know. So we got off at Charlottesville and then from there we took a cab from Charlottesville to here to Harrisonburg where she lives.
HARRIS: And you went to her place?
VALAZQUEZ: Mmm hmm. I went to her place for just a couple of weeks, and then, um—we had like this little fall out where I was staying with her, but I had put the phone in her sister’s house, and then her sister has a teenager who wouldn’t get off the phone, so they wouldn’t give my messages or anything like that. I had important messages from New York, they wouldn’t give em to me, they wouldn’t just get off the phone, so when I disconnected the phone, I guess I was wrong for that, and they just, um, offered me the Salvation Army. Where I went to the Salvation Army for a week and a half before I got called for (shelter)*.
HARRIS: Did that affect your relationship with them?
VALAZQUEZ: Yea, I mean I don’t see her no more since that day. I have not spoken to my kids’ Godmother.
HARRIS: How does that make you feel?
VALAZQUEZ: Aw, it hurts. It does, but, I mean, I can’t do nothin about it, you know.
HARRIS: Do the kids know about the…
VALAZQUEZ: They don’t know what happened because they still see their God brother and sister in school. They still see them in school, but as far as like anything personal going on with me, I don’t let them know, you know. It, I don’t want worrying, want them worrying about anything, so… I don’t really, you know, sustain myself with that as far as things that happen to me, I’m not…
HARRIS: What do they know of their father?
VALAZQUEZ: They know that he was in trouble with the policeman cause I told them that—and he had to go back home for a little while.
HARRIS: What was his run-in with the law?
VALAZQUEZ: He was caught firing an arm—a distance away from a school which is right across the street from where we lived. And there was a lot of witnesses that saw him, so… And being that he wasn’t, he was legal to be in New York as far as his work permit was concerned, and we were married and have children, but I guess, you know, the law says otherwise, you know. You got a privilege coming here, you messed it up, so… They sent them back.
HARRIS: Where did they? Where are they from?
VALAZQUEZ: He’s from Columbia. So they sent him back to his house.
HARRIS: So when you say deported, the US just made them go home?
VALAZQUEZ: Yea, um, he was fighting the case for about a year—and in February of 2002 or 2003, they, um, gave him some time to do for New York, being that he was caught in New York with the fire arm, and then they sent them home.
HARRIS: So he went to jail?
VALAZQUEZ: Mmm hmm.
HARRIS: What was your relationship status at that point?
VALAZQUEZ: We weren’t living together at that point.
HARRIS: Were you divorced?
VALAZQUEZ: No. I’m not divorced yet from him.
HARRIS: Oh, not yet?
VALAZQUEZ: Hmm mmm.
HARRIS: Do you plan to go through with that?
VALAZQUEZ: Yea, yea, as soon as I can get everything together, get my home and everything, and I save up the money, yea, that’s the first thing I’m gonna do.
HARRIS: So the kids just know that he went back to Columbia?
VALAZQUEZ: Mmm hmm.
HARRIS: Are they ok with that? Do they talk about him?
VALAZQUEZ: No, they don’t talk about him at all. They don’t talk about him at all.
HARRIS: Are you ok with that?
VALAZQUEZ: Yea, I’m fine, you know, cause I wouldn’t know what to say to them. I mean, I don’t wanna lie to them, but I don’t wanna keep the truth from them either, so… I’m hoping that they’ll wait until they get a little bit older and be like well Mom, what ever happened to my dad? So, you know, then I’ll be a little bit more prepared. (laughs)
HARRIS: Do you wish that there was a father figure in their life?
VALAZQUEZ: Yea, My boys need that—cause you know, I can be both but it only comes from a man what a man can teach, you know, so. Yea, I really do. I do.
HARRIS: You said you regretted your relationship with their father?
VALAZQUEZ: Yea, I did. At one point, yea. I mean, I kinda figured out that it really wasn’t worth keep going, but I did anyway because of the kids so that they could have him around which didn’t do nothing but just cause more problems between him and I, so…
HARRIS: Did you love him?
VALAZQUEZ: Yea, I did. I really did.
HARRIS: Do you still love him?
VALAZQUEZ: No— I love my kids…that’s it.
HARRIS: Do you—think that you could’ve done anything differently or he could have anything differently to make things work?
VALAZQUEZ: Well, since the problem kinda started from his side of the family, he could have done a lot of things differently. You know, I would have still been in New York, we would’ve already gotten everything together by now, you know. He had a job which he also lost—behind just, you know, just, I guess, just letting his family tell him what to do. So now the whole entire family, some are dead, some are in jail, and some of them are deported. —So I guess that I’m hopin that he’s back at home now just—using this as an experience, learning from it.
HARRIS: Do you think he’ll ever come back to the US?
VALAZQUEZ: Um, he had a penalty. I don’t remember how many years he wasn’t allowed to come back into the US, but I’m taking it where yea, he might.
HARRIS: Do you think he’ll try to contact you?
VALAZQUEZ: He probably already has, but my friends, since they kinda knew what my relationship was with him, they don’t tell him anything. They just be like, well the last time I spoke to one of my friends which was maybe two months ago, he said he called here and he asked me where you know, he can’t get through to your number, do I have the new number? And I told him no because you moved, and he asked me where and I said I don’t know because about a week after she moved, that’s when I found out she moved, and they just leave it at that. They don’t let him know anything.
HARRIS: Do you hope to have another man in your life eventually?
VALAZQUEZ: I already do. Yea, he’s a sweetheart. Um, he is a truck driver. He’s kinda young, but he’s 28, and, um, has a daughter of his own, and he’s been through a lot of stuff that he’s going, he’s still going through with his father. But, um, you know, my kids haven’t met him yet, cause I feel like, you know, lets get our relationship a little bit stronger before I introduce you to my children, cause they already at that stage where they understand, you know. My kids are pretty smart, so…
HARRIS: How long have you been with this?
VALAZQUEZ: For bout three months now.
HARRIS: How’d you meet?
VALAZQUEZ: A mutual friend from the (shelter)—introduced us.
HARRIS: Do you see a future with him?
VALAZQUEZ: I kinda do, you know, he’s a little bit strong-minded where I kinda, I could, like, see him and I growing a little bit together, you know. I mean, he’s awfully smart, he’s been to the Marines, um, he was a, he was fixing submarines also. I mean he’s, he’s done awful a lot for his age. You know, he finished high school which is a great thing. Um, he’s really likes that his advices that he gives me, I kinda be so shocked cause he’s so young, you know, but, yea—he’s accomplished a lot, and I can see it.
HARRIS: Do you want to have anymore children?
VALAZQUEZ: (laughs) No. (sighs) No, I don’t, but he does. (sighs) I—I kinda figure maybe—I really don’t wanna have no more. I really don’t. I have three of my own.
HARRIS: Any reason?
VALAZQUEZ: Old. (laughs) I’m old. I’m, my kids are—12, 8, and 5. All their birthdays are gonna be in the same month, so they’re gonna be a little bit older this year. I mean—I just, I don’t wanna start all over.—with the experiences I have with my ex-husband, you know. Things could change, which I’m hoping not, but I just don’t wanna get dropped off with a fourth child and then something goes wrong between my next relationship.
HARRIS: Do you take active steps to prevent pregnancy?
VALAZQUEZ: Yea, which he doesn’t know about, but, yea. I’m using birth control, there’s just no, I can’t, not right now.
HARRIS: When do you plan to let your children know about him?
VALAZQUEZ: I feel—when I know for a fact that things are going really serious between him and I. When I see that I can lean on him and he has leaned on me and I know fully about his background and once he gets everything together cause he’s going through a lot of situations with his father, you know. Once I get my own place and we just build that strong of a relationship, and I’m not talking about any time soon. So it might just be a year or two within before I decide to even say well Mommy has a friend, you know.
HARRIS: How do you visit with him?
VALAZQUEZ: Um, I ask a friend of mine can she watch him for a couple of hours, and then I meet him at a, at a restaurant or go to the movies. I meet him at the movie theaters. We have dinner and stuff like that.
HARRIS: What do you tell the kids?
VALAZQUEZ: Um, that Mommy’s going to work. That’s what I tell them. Mommy has to go to work now. I’ll be back within maybe two or three hours, not gonna be long. They’re like, Ok.
HARRIS: And where do you work??
VALAZQUEZ: I work in K-Mart.
HARRIS: How did you find that job?
VALAZQUEZ: I applied, just went around Harrisonburg, applying for jobs, and they called me in, back in January for an interview, and they gave me the interview and hired me that day.
HARRIS: What is your job like there?
VALAZQUEZ: I do replenishment, and I do check-outs.
HARRIS: What’s replenishment?
VALAZQUEZ: Replenishment is when you come in at six in the morning and you unload the trucks, stock everything up, make sure everything is out on the floor ready for its sales, you know. And you have to make sure everything is stocked up on the shelves, make sure that you have all of everything that you need. And, um, you fix, um, I mean basically you’re like running the floors for the managers when they come in, or the supervisors when they’re ready to come in and make sure that you did what you needed to do. And then in the afternoons, I’ll take my hour lunch and then I’m doing check-outs which is running the cash register.
HARRIS: Do you enjoy your job?
VALAZQUEZ: I love it. I love it. I get along so much with everyone there.
HARRIS: So you’ve met a lot of friends?
HARRIS: Do you see them outside of work at all?
VALAZQUEZ: Um, well, I see my boss outside of work. His name is Donny. I’ve seen him outside of work a couple of times. Run into him at restaurants and stuff like that, or we’ll sit together and huddle. (laughs) Mmm hmm. So it’s great.
HARRIS: Do you find it hard to make ends meet with what you make at K-Mart?
VALAZQUEZ: Um–if I wouldn’t be at the (shelter) saving up my money, yea, I could see it. I would see it. That’s why I wanna finish school so I can just get a better job. I used to love my landscaping job in New York, which I wish I can get one here cause it was paying good money. Um, which I’m very grateful for the (shelter) cause they opened up a residential account, and I have saved up over a thousand dollars and something in savings, plus my taxes which I’m getting frustrated with that cause I haven’t received it yet. So hopefully when all that gets together, you know—
HARRIS: Do you foresee having to take a second job?
VALAZQUEZ: I had a second job working at Wolfhound Research which was, um, telecommunications, like a sales-rep over the phone. Wasn’t selling anything, just asking questions for a Ford company. But, um, my kids when I would get home, my kids was like Mommy, you know we miss you and everything like that, and they just break my heart when they talk like that, so I left the job. I left the second job.
HARRIS: So how did you find out about (shelter)?
VALAZQUEZ: Well, through the Salvation Army—-cause they said there was only a time limit for you to be there. They gave me a list of all the other (shelter)s and stuff. So I called (shelter), left my name and information, and one of the adult coordinators there called me in, told me that, um, she could do a phone interview, and then I did a phone interview which only lasted about five or six minutes, and then she called me about two days after that—to come in—and my time limit there is up in June. Which the only thing that’s holding me back like I said is my W-2 so I can go and find a place.
HARRIS: So what do they provide for you?
VALAZQUEZ: They provide (shelter), they provide food, um, they make sure that you’re on your Ps and Qs, that’s for sure.
HARRIS: Do you think the process to be accepted there is appropriate?
VALAZQUEZ: Yea. Mmm hmm. It is. Gotta have a job. You have to do what you would normally do if you weren’t in a (shelter). Cause if, I mean, you’re out—if you don’t have a (shelter), you’re out there on your own, you need a job to survive—to make sure that your bills are paid, you have children you gotta have a roof over their heads, so yea. This is what make that makes sure that you have. And you gotta save your money up, so…
HARRIS: Do you have a plan for finding your own place?
VALAZQUEZ: Um—once I get my W-2, just going to apply at every apartment that’s available. Apply. Just go everywhere, doesn’t matter.
HARRIS: Will (shelter) help you?
VALAZQUEZ: Um, they’ll give you maybe a list or two of things that where you can go like housing, you can go to housing, but as far as them actually going out finding a place for you, no. You have to do that on your own.
HARRIS: What is a typical day like for you?
VALAZQUEZ: I look forward to just waking up with my kids—listening to them early in the morning talking about what they gonna do after school and at the school what they have to do. Um, go to work—do what I have to do there—come back home, cook and clean, help them with their homework—play a little round with them, go to my neighbor which is right next door in the (shelter), play with her kids, talk with her, and just that’s my typical day.
HARRIS: What time does your day start?
VALAZQUEZ: Phew…four o’clock in the morning.
HARRIS: Is that when you wake up or the kids?
VALAZQUEZ: We both have to wake up, take them to the babysitter’s house cause I have to be to work at six.
HARRIS: How did you find a babysitter?
VALAZQUEZ: Um, the (shelter) gave me a list of all the daycare providers and called her up, met her, and she was willing to take my three kids, and that’s—
HARRIS: What kind of environment does she provide?
VALAZQUEZ: Oh, great environment. She has—a ton of like acres of a yard and toys all over the place, and she has her license and credentials sitting up. That’s the first thing you will see, so if you have any questions. Any, if she has anyone that’s gonna help her there for that day, she makes sure that they’re also licensed. She won’t allow no one else, even if it’s a family member, but they have to have a license for CPR, first aide, and all of that, too. So the environment, um, she’s great. She is. She has other children there that she watches which she makes sure that they all get along. There will be no fighting. She does not have none of that, so… I’m really comfortable with her.
HARRIS: Does she provide a structured agenda?
VALAZQUEZ: Well—when I talk to my kids about that, you know, she has like for one hour we’re sitting down, we’re reading books, for another hour, we can sit down and we could talk about whatever you guys wanna talk about. If you wanna help me do some arts and crafts, we can do that. You know, things like that.
HARRIS: So she doesn’t just stick them in front of the TV.
VALAZQUEZ: No, hmm mmm. She has, she makes sure that they’re busy, you know. They take their naps. Once they get up, they eat, and it’s time to do whatever it is that she has on the list.
HARRIS: Do they nap before they go to school?
VALAZQUEZ: Um, yes they do. They do cause it’s so early in the morning. My son has to be to school, the oldest, at 7:10, so—he goes to bed maybe for like about an hour. And since the school is right across the street from where she lives, he actually leaves at seven in the morning, and he makes it to school fine. And then the other two, they go to school I think like 8:15 the bus picks them up, so…
HARRIS: So the bus comes right past the babysitter’s.
VALAZQUEZ: Yea, mmm hmm.
HARRIS: Do they enjoy being at the babysitter’s?
VALAZQUEZ: Oh! They love her. They love her. I mean, should I ask my questions, are you sure she’s ok? Is she mean? No, Mommy, she’s not, so yea. They enjoy being there.
HARRIS: And you trust her completely?
VALAZQUEZ: Completely. Which is kinda hard for me to trust anyone, but, yea.
HARRIS: Why do you say that?
VALAZQUEZ: Because of, I guess from growing up by myself with just my brother and my mom, and just, I guess from her experience of how her friends used to deal with her, and as I was growing up, I had friends that I thought were friends, but eventually they weren’t. So, I kinda like got like this little cubicle where I just don’t let myself get close to anyone. So, it’s kinda, yea…
HARRIS: What do you think would help break those walls down?
VALAZQUEZ: I really don’t know. I’m trying now. I’m seeing a psychiatrist at Community Service Board to see what I can do, but—I just, I don’t know, I just—
HARRIS: How did you find your psychiatrist?
VALAZQUEZ: Um—I think the (shelter) gave me cause they either wanted me to come see their like go to the some cross roads for therapy there, but since I explained to them my background about me, you know, the depression and my medication and everything, they said well, we have, you know, a clinic called the Community Service Board where they have exactly what you need there. So, I called them up, they gave me an interview. I came in, they did an intake, and I’ve been seeing their doctors and therapists there.
HARRIS: For how long?
VALAZQUEZ: It’s been three months now.
HARRIS: How do you feel about that?
VALAZQUEZ: Well, I think it’s a long process. I really, the only thing that’s helping me out is the medication–keeps me from either getting nervous, breaking down, anything thing like that, but as far as the therapy, talking to doctor that she can’t really tell you anything but just ask you questions, how do you feel? What can you do? I mean, I don’t see that going anywhere, you know.
HARRIS: So it hasn’t helped so far?
VALAZQUEZ: No. I think I have better conversations with my kids. (laughs)
HARRIS: What kind of medication do you take?
VALAZQUEZ: I take Zoloft. That’s for the depression, and Geodon. They say I’m kinda schizo, so…
HARRIS: Do you believe that?
VALAZQUEZ: No—but then again, you can’t tell a doctor about his profession, so…
HARRIS: Do you think that that particular medication is helping?
VALAZQUEZ: No, it doesn’t. That particular medication does nothing but put me to sleep. And I can’t function throughout the day if I’m sleeping. Can’t do that. So, I, I lie to the doctor and tell them I’m taking it, but I’m not. I don’t take it cause it just puts me to sleep. Now the Zoloft, it helps. The Zoloft helps. I don’t feel no anxiety pressures. I don’t feel the depression, you know. I’m more focused. I wanna stay active doing stuff, so…
HARRIS: Do you think you will eventually tell the doctor you’re not taking that medication?
VALAZQUEZ: Yea, one of these days when they piss me off. (laughs) Cause they wanted, they gave it to me for a certain milligram which was forty. Then my last visit, she wanted me to go from forty to eighty. And she said that we might take it another notch on my next visit. So I’m like—yea, OK. Maybe I should pop one in your mouth and see how you go through the rest of the day.
HARRIS: Let’s see.—How long have you been living at (shelter)?
VALAZQUEZ: Since November of 2005.
HARRIS: Do the kids like it?
VALAZQUEZ: No, I’m sorry. December. They like it because of the other kids that are there. But, as far as, um, like if I would have to go and dump my garbage out, I gotta take them. They don’t have. It’s only one room, so they don’t really have like tons of places where they can just go. So I leave them just going out in the hallway playing back and forth which is kinda dangerous cause, you know, it’s kinda small. And it’s not really a play area. They have a playground, but if it’s too cold outside, I mean, they can’t barely do nothing in the house but just read a book or watch TV, and they’re like Mommy, when are you getting your house already? You know, cause they want, they want a puppy. You can’t have a puppy there. Yea.
HARRIS: What type of housing would you enjoy?
VALAZQUEZ: I wanna see if I can rent a home. I don’t wanna live in an apartment. I really don’t. I wanna see if I can rent a home. Hopefully—I’m looking for three bedrooms, which I’m tryin to push for four to see if I can—get my son, the oldest, his own space cause he’s at that point where he needs his own space. He loves being around his brother and sister and myself, but I know that there’s times when he wants to have a friend come over, no privacy, but, I’m tryin to shoot for a four bedroom home hopefully.
HARRIS: Do you have any future goals career-wise?
VALAZQUEZ: Yea. I want—to be, I wanna go to business school—cause I want to, even though (shelter), they have their own rules and stuff, I kinda—had this ever since I was in New York, though, cause a friend of mines a couple of friend of mine were in the (shelter) system, and it’s a lot of things that I feel that you can do differently. So, I wanted to always go to business school and run my own (shelter), you know, and help a lot because I see now what my friends are going through, and it’s—it’s, it’s rough. There’s a lot of things that a lot of people don’t understand because the shoe is not on the other foot, you know. You see them talking to you, and you make, they make you feel this small, you know. They expect all of this from you, and you’re like trying to tell them well I can do that, but in order for me to get there, is, is, is it ok for you to help me, and they’re like no. They’re expecting you to do everything on your own. A lot of (shelter)s are doing this, and, you know, it’s, it’s frustrating, so…
HARRIS: Do you think (shelter) falls into that category?
VALAZQUEZ: Yea. They do. They do because they makin their rules as their going along. One minute they’re tellin you you can do this, and the next minute it’s something totally different. And then they don’t let you know right then and there, so they wait until you actually break a rule to let you know, well, no this is how it’s supposed to be now. You know, a lot of people, um, a lot of people at the (shelter) are frustrated with them, you know. Even though like I said, they are helping you, I guess they putting a roof over ya head—so I guess they feel like they’re doing a lot, but there’s a lot of other things that they can do differently. There’s a lot…
HARRIS: Can you give an example?
VALAZQUEZ: Like—Ok. They called CPS on me. This is one. They want—your money—in order for them to put it in the savings, right? My job doesn’t give me a check. They either put a direct deposit, or they give you this K-Mart card. I don’t want anybody to know I work for K-Mart, you know. So, ok, I open up an account. They wanted me to withdrawal half the money to bring to them. Now the other half of the money I am not allowed to touch neither. They lowered my food stamps, which I was receiving four hundred and eighty dollars in food stamps, which is now a hundred and ninety-two. So, I have to improvise. But, I can’t do that if you’re taking half of my money, not giving me anything back. I asked for forty dollars—for a twenty dollar card for my phone which is pre-paid. And then, a couple of friends of mines from work wanted to go to the movies, and they invited me, so I was like, OK, if my, if my neighbor at (shelter) can watch my kids, I can go with you guys. I just gotta ask (shelter) to give me at least forty dollars. Twenty for the phone card and the other twenty, ten for the ticket and ten for popcorn and soda. They told me no, it’s not a necessity. Now that same week, I went to get paid. That Thursday, I told her my money doesn’t go into my account until that Monday, so she says try anyway tomorrow to see if it’ll come go in in your account tomorrow, Friday, and bring it in that Friday. Now my kids were sick for those three days before then, which they missed, which was the first, the second, and the third. The first they normally would get a calendar telling them of the whole month of everything that’s going on in school. They didn’t get that because they missed that school. So I didn’t know my kids had a half a day that Friday. I sent them to school that Friday, and I got outta work at twelve in the afternoon, went to the bank, it still wasn’t there, but then the lady at the bank was like, try back at four thirty. We might get it cause it depends too on when they put it in. So I went back to my job to get the letter stating when they put it in my account and to explain to me so that when I go back to (shelter), I’ll explain that to them. Four thirty came around. I went to the bank—it still wasn’t in there, so I went home. When I got home, CPS was sitting there waiting for me.
HARRIS: What’s CPS?
VALAZQUEZ: Child Protective Services. Stating that if I’d a came in five minutes later, they were already in the process of sending my kids to a home. So I’m like for what? For child abandonment. I said what child abandonment? Because your kids were here for a couple of hours. I said, well my kids don’t get home til four, and Charles is doing community service. He gets out at two fifty. He does community service, and the other two do not get home until four. They was like no. They’ve been here since one fifteen—and Charles been here since twelve o’clock. I’m like well I didn’t know that. I didn’t know that because my kids were sick from school, so I didn’t know they had a half a day. So, um—when I asked for the forty dollars, I said well since you decided to call CPS on me, how come you couldn’t get in contact with me? She said I called your job. They told me that you had left already, and I couldn’t get through to your cell phone. I said, but do you remember when I asked you for my forty dollars so that I can put minutes on my phone? Had you had given me those forty dollars, I’d a had minutes on my phone and then you would’ve found out where I was at, and I would have came. Do you honestly think I would’ve abandoned my kids this long knowing that they would’ve had a half a day? And they’re just looking at me like snickering with each other. I turned my back, which I have a witness that came in. She doesn’t live at the (shelter) no more cause she left maybe like two weeks after she got there. Where I was asking a couple of questions, and I left. She called cause I used to work for McDonalds when I first got here. At the Wal-mart. At the big Wal-mart. And, um, I left that job because the supervisor there just talks to you any old kinda way, so I left the job. So, um, I needed to fill out this form that they wanted stating when was my last day there. And he wouldn’t give me the form. It’s been sittin at his desk for two weeks, wouldn’t give me the form. So I said, well Amanda, call him and find out why. So she’s calling him on the phone and he’s actually giving her the lip, talking down to her. And she’s like mister you don’t need to talk to me like that. So as soon as that happened and everything, I was like see I told you. It’s like I ask him a question, and he just talks down to you. She was like you just go first thing tomorrow morning and get that paper back. So when I’m leaving out the office, and I’m coming back cause I needed to ask for some of the bus tickets that they give you for you to take the bus, they’re in there talking about how I brought it upon myself, which is not professional, you know. She’s sitting there with someone else saying, you know, I don’t even understand why these New York people come here. And I’m like listening to this, and I looked over at the other resident that used to live there and she just bowed her head down and shook like, you know—and I’m like what the hell did I do? What did I bring upon myself? You know? So, yea. There’s a lot of things that they can do differently. You know, if they wanna be professional, be professional. Other than that, if you know that you’re gonna be two faceded, then this should not be your type of job. This should not be your line of work. It shouldn’t. The other then there’s some other girls that wanna act better than you. The only way you got this job is because your mother is the manager here. And the only way your mother’s the manager here is cause her husband owns (shelter). You know, so… I can only do nothin but kill em with kindness—until I get what I need to get so I can get my place. And they just strive me to hurry up and go to business school because I probably wanna buy (shelter). You know—so, I mean. It’s frustrating when you know that you don’t have the kind of education that you wanna talk to them so that they can understand—you know, the shoe is not, you, you’re not going through this. You’ll never go through this. You have, you know, you were very well-off because you had your mom and your dad in your life, and I’m pretty quite sure they pushed you to finish college and all of that stuff. I didn’t have that. You know, but they don’t understand that stuff.
HARRIS: Do you wish that you would’ve done anything different in your life so that you could have gotten a better education?
VALAZQUEZ: Um—since I didn’t have, I kinda feel since I didn’t have like the right people talkin to me—didn’t have any other family, I could have probably went into a group home like they asked me to at the time, but I didn’t want that cause they would’ve split me and my brother up. You know, and I didn’t want that. I really didn’t want that, so I’m thinking maybe if I’d a went to a group home I probably would have went into the hands of a family that could’ve, you know, probably would’ve steered me the right way.
HARRIS: Maybe foster care?
VALAZQUEZ: Mmm hmm. They could have probably steered me the right way, but other than that…
HARRIS: Where’s your brother?
VALAZQUEZ: He’s still with Edwin Gould in the Bronx in New York. That’s the foster care that he’s, well children’s services that he had to go to.
HARRIS: Do you keep in contact with him?
VALAZQUEZ: Yea, I try to call him like every three or four days just to make sure that he’s alright. I asked him how did he feel me coming over here, and he was like well sister, I mean you had to do what you had to do. He said and in a way I’m glad cause now I can go over there to see you, you know, instead of just being in the same place in New York, so, yea.
HARRIS: Do you think he’ll come down and visit soon?
VALAZQUEZ: Yea. He’s waiting for me to get my place and everything. But he can come.
HARRIS: When do you think you might have your home?
VALAZQUEZ: I’m hoping by the ending of April—-the beginning of May. I’m just hoping—I can find a house that’s renting, you know.
HARRIS: What do you hope for your kids in the future?
VALAZQUEZ: I’m gonna stand firm. I want them to finish school, something that I couldn’t do. You know, I’m gonna try my best to always be there for them. My daughter, she’s actually coming here for breakdancing class. Yea. ____________ You know, I’m trying to keep them active. Things that I couldn’t get when I was younger and I couldn’t do. I’m trying real hard for them, you know. If they don’t wanna do something, that’s fine with me. At least give it a try first before you say no. You know, other than that, my kids are my world, so—they kinda basically have me wrapped around their finger. So I’m trying everything that they want, here. If I can do it for you, I’m gonna do it. You know. My son, he wants to be an architect, which is the oldest one. So, I mean, he’s good in his math, and he’s good in everything he does, so I’m real grateful for that. My daughter, she wants to be an actress slash dancer slash, I just, uh, little bit of everything. Now the little one, he wants to be a construction worker. So, I’m keeping them busy with everything, you know. You wanna be an architect, I bought him some books for his age as far as, you know, drawing out stuff and doing a lot of things. So he draws, and he keeps himself busy. My daughter, like I said, she’s going breakdancing class here, which I’m hoping I can put her in a dancing school soon. And the little one, I buy him construction books at his age, little construction trucks, you know, just to keep him. If that’s what you wanna do, fine. You know. It’s, it’s keeps them busy.
HARRIS: What do you hope for yourself in the future?
VALAZQUEZ: Like I said, own a business. I wanna own a business. That’s why I needed this to come here and just focus. You know, keep to myself and my kids, finish school, and become a business major. Finish, own a business. I really do.
HARRIS: What happened with CPS when they were at (shelter)?
VALAZQUEZ: Well, um, they were asking me questions, like trying to differentiate like the time gap between twelve and four thirty, and I let them know everything that I was doing between that time. I told them that I had had no clue that they had a half a day because they were sick. They would usually get a schedule on the first of that month about the whole month, but they haven’t been in school until today, Friday, because they were sick. So he’s asking me question. He was like trying to be real sarcastic cause that’s how some of them are. And I’m looking at him like, listen, you’re wasting my time because for me to abandon my child is like abandoning my life. Cause that’s the only thing that I know—is my kids. Okay. And for these people to come this far because, why didn’t they call CPS on a different family when they came after five o’clock in the evening, which I couldn’t understand that. You know, but they wanna be so harsh on me, maybe because I talk back to them? Is this all why you’re here because other than that, I don’t see the reason why. I would never abandon my children. So they said that they were gonna come back the following week, which they never did. Cause I guess, I mean, they probably got all their facts together and they said, well yea, you know, the kids weren’t in school, she didn’t know that they had a half a day. It coulda happened to anyone. And it just so happened that that particular Friday they wanted to close the office at four thirty that afternoon, which they don’t tell no one, you know. And they supposed to leave at five o’clock. So it’s like—I don’t think nothing of it. I’m not gonna talk down to them. Kill em with kindness. That’s what my mother always taught me. That’s what you do so that they did, so you do leave, they can never say anything bad about you, and if they do, that’s shame on them. So, just leave it be. Leave it up to God.
HARRIS: So CPS just dropped it?
VALAZQUEZ: I haven’t heard from them. I have not heard from them.
HARRIS: Have you had any other trouble with any other social services in Harrisonburg?
VALAZQUEZ: No. That’s just been it. That’s it.
HARRIS: What do you think of the police department in Harrisonburg? Do you know anything?
VALAZQUEZ: I don’t know anything about them. Um, my kids had a Christmas here in, um, (shelter) where they actually had Santa come in, and the police force escorted Santa to (shelter), so that’s the only thing I know, you know. Other than that…
HARRIS: Do you feel safe in Harrisonburg?
VALAZQUEZ: Yea. I do. It’s a total change of pace and lifestyle from New York. That’s why I love it. It’s not crazy. I mean, people actually wake up, walk by you, and say good morning without looking at you strange. In New York, they don’t do that. You tell them good morning, they’re looking at you like you got four monkeys on your back or something, you know? So, I love it. I love it. I love the hospital… I love everything. I love it.
HARRIS: Do you think you’ll stay in Harrisonburg for a while?
VALAZQUEZ: Yea. Mmm hmm. I’m not going back to New York. I’m staying here. I am. I like it, so. My kids love it, you know, so. It’s a good way of raising them, you know, than that style that they were in in New York, so yea, I love it. I really do.
HARRIS: Is there anything else you’d like to say?
VALAZQUEZ: Hmm mmm. Guess that was my life story. (laughs)
*name of shelter has been removed to protect VALAZQUEZ