Elaine Townsend

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Elaine Townsend talks about the cultural differences that exist between her mother’s Peruvian family and father’s American family. She discusses her childhood and what it was like to live in an extremely conservative religious community. Townsend was homeschooled for much of her life. Making the transition into the public school system and progressive world has been an interesting experience for her and her family. By discussing her family dynamic, and how religion played such a large role in defining her identity, Townsend expresses conflicting sentiments she held about herself, battling with her identity even through her time as an undergraduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Through her experiences she has grown into a role model for other students, as well as her five other siblings.



Kayla Schliewe: Alright this is Kayla Schliewe interviewing Elaine Townsend on Tuesday March 31st at 11:12am and we are conducting the interview in Elaine’s office at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; could you begin by telling me a little bit about yourself I know that’s really a broad statement.

Elaine Townsend: It is. I was born in Lima, Peru. I have two parents from very different backgrounds, but kind of similar. They both grew up and were born and raised in Peru. My mom is Peruvian and her roots go back countless generations. So, she’s very much native. My dad was a missionary kid, who’s born in the jungle in Peru and grew up there. He kind of was able to experience a lot of different parts of the world too. So about until he was about 15, he kind of made that transition I think. Yeah so, that’s kind of where I come from we moved to the US when I was 2 so I was a baby still. But largely my sister was born in the US, they were visiting family and then she was born so that really catalyst everything into us just coming and officially moving to the US. My gram—my dad’s side of the family was all in the US at that point. But my mom’s family was back in Peru and so that transition---we went back and forth when I was a kid. We ended up in Georgia, South Georgia, which is very different than the rest of the world but a little bit behind the times too. Yeah, a very rural area, so we lived in a community there, extra Christian community. We, that’s the majority of my childhood, we lived there until I was ten, moved to Arkansas for a year and then after Arkansas moved to NC to take care of my Grandma Townsend who on my dads side, so he was- she he to have like a fall or something and so he was the youngest of his sibli-of his families. He is the youngest of 4 so he went; he just always went to take care of his parents when they were older so my family moved to take care of her. So we have been in NC since 2001, I think, so it’s been some time. It still feels fresh in weird kind of ways. I don’t know why that is. I have very vivid memories of Georgia and Peru, going back to Peru several times. When I was 9 we went back to- like a missions kind of project and lived in the jungle for 2 months. So as a kid that was a very different experience its like a whole another part of Peru that my mom hadn’t even lived in. she as from the mountains, It’s a very, it was a really interesting trip to say the least

KS: Yeah, I am sure. What is your… Were there any differences, and I am sure there were, but were there any differences in your mom’s side of the family and then your dad’s side of the family?

ET: Oh yeah. I mean two different cultures all together. You know, I feel like there was. My dad could speak Spanish so the language barrier wasn’t as distinct; he was raised with both languages. But my mom started learning English when she was eighteen. When she moved to the US, well they both moved, my mom was about twenty-five years old. So, by then, she had had good practice and I feel like she was still learning a lot, but had a good foundation in English. Cultural differences are, I think, still even showing themselves to this day. I want to say that my mom’s side of the family is a lot bigger. She has seven siblings. Her grand—well my grandparents, her parents, didn’t finish 2nd grade of high- of elementary school

KS: Wow.

ET: So there’s that educational difference too. My grandparents of the other side didn’t go to college, but were still had access to a lot of different resources. That she did, or than my moms side of the family did. So definitely socioeconomic status is similar- so that’s what’s weird too, because sometimes I feel like one was more well off, but one could travel more. The missionary family, my dads side, my grandpa founded a bible translating organization, bible translation, called Wycliffe, and I wish I knew what year it was founded, it was back, it was founded a while back. It’s now the world’s largest bible translation organization.

KS: Wow!

ET: Yeah it is pretty huge. But it’s all missionary, so his life, my grandpas life and my grandmas life and their whole family was really sponsored by other people. So that’s how they got their funding. Different churches were sponsoring them. So they still had income but it was based on other people. Right, so and kind of of those contribution donation aspects of they still were able to travel to diff countries and to cont. their work, so I feel like they had access to things. But the income is a little tricky, because it wasn’t always stable. And then versus the other family who’s my mom side just come from I think my – I have a long matriarchal line of llama herders.

KS: oh yeah?

ET: A different kind of work, I guess their occupations were different, but still both coming from very humble occupations. I’m trying to think about any other differences. There are a lot, so I’m trying to like (laughing)…
I think- I feel like it came down to American culture versus Peruvian culture. Those nuances.

KS: Even though he was raised…?

ET: Of course. He was raised in a community that was largely American and so but like still of course still interacting with other people and their communities as well that weren’t American. But he kind of grew up in his own bubble in many ways. (5.58.5) My grandparents just come from different experiences to what my grandpa was coming from. California on my dad’s side and my grandma was from Chicago. Their age- I think has also played a lot into my family’s’ dynamic on both sides. My grandfather on my dads’ side was 19.5 years older than my grandma when they got married. That’s a HUGE age difference.so I feel like there was like teo generations that were raising a new generation if that makes sense. It was really strange. But my grandpa was I think 60 when my dad was born… or around that age, it’s just different to be a dad when you’re so old. It’s a unique experience, and then for... he might have been 50-55.

KS: Its still up there!

ET: and then my other side, when they combined. So my dad is about 11.5 years older than my mom so that’s also a big age gap. I just feel like they play funny roles in I think their relationship. I think when my mom immigrated to the US, my dad had already been back to the US and kinda knew what to –he started going to college but he never finished college. So he had kinda gone back to life in the US, and I feel like he knew a lot more about America than my mom did. And she was learning a lot through him and I think that must’ve been an interesting perspective of America. Because my dad is very conservative and very religiously conservative too. That played a funny part in our upbringing as well. Other differences…. I think even different values I think I see difference values from different sides of the family. They are right in their own kind of world and they’ve just been raised in them. But I definitely see a strong family core in my Peruvian side of the family if that makes sense. It comes with a lot of drama, a lot of highs a lot of lows. A deep deep love for each other, to the point that it’s frustrating. And you […] a lot of responsibilities for other family members., like just wanting to see each other succeed but then trying to figure out how to balance your own success and your own path, and your own life, your own family. Once you start having your own, so

KS: So, actually how is that for your mom? Because she had to kinda break away.

ET: Yeah, she was the first one to leave.

KS: So how was that?

ET: I, as a child, I definitely saw her reaching out and help her family as much as possible as much as she could. My grandma, mi abuelita, got a visa to come to the US and so she would come and help my mom. I have 5 younger sibling, and to take care of the kids, was really pivotal I think in our upbringing, and just my mom’s sanity really because its just a lot of kids (Laughter). And my grandma she was, or my abuelita has 8 children so it was like she knew what she was doing. My mom is the 3rd older so she also has experience but it was just really helpful to have my abuelita there. I always ask my mom like “how did you do it?” especially when I’m babysitting other kids and I’m like “whoooo! I’m getting exhausted over 8 hours!” you know. And she’s like “oh, it was your abuelita.” And I was like “That makes a lot of sense.” But…. PAUSE… Can you say your question one more time?

KS: No, I just wondered if…cause it’s so family oriented and its making sure that the family has success, but was it seen as selfish of her to leave and develop her own self and her own family with her marriage?

ET: I don’t know if… I know that she got a lot of requests for help. There was like through family members back in Peru. I think financials have always been a tough subject and just trying to help each other start a business or get a new house or they all lived in some point, or a lot of the family lived in one house. It had two layers, two different stories and the house as a two-level house. Just, all everyone was condensed and there would be certain family drama, like someone would get divorced or someone would have a surprise child. Surprise! To everyone. (Laughter) Or you know there were just be certain things like…life. Life, and not all the time good, I think it was hard for my mom to be away and not to be directly there. Whether that’s good or not, we are still seeing if that was a good decision or not. I think that me having, now, I have experienced life away form my family, I lived two years in South Korea.

KS: Mhmm

ET: Kind of knowing what it is like to be so involved and so active in family then to leave, one there’s a bit of guilt, and there’s a bit of sadness too to know that you’re missing out on a lot of their life, but then understand that this is something that you have to do for yourself and in the future for your family. And I think that’s how I see my mom’s decision as something similar. She had to—she did this for her self but for her family as well in the long term and she worked really hard to bring them to the US . She, my grandparents, she’s worked on their citizenship for years.

KS: right.

ET: and my grandpa just got his citizenship, which is really exciting. I think my abuelita got it a few years back, but –and then they were able to help bring my, the youngest child in their family, which would be my aunt. Who just turned thirty I think. But helped her come to the US and to study.

KS: Mhmm.

ET: And then now she has also gotten her citizenship, too. So it’s like they’re really trying to bring family members to the US. It’s just a better, especially for the kids, I think its really finding a lot of that is for the kids and the grandkids in the family. I’m the oldest grandkid in the family, too, so that’s a different dynamic. But its because I get a lot of {in playful voice) “oh Elenita!” like I am the baby, forever the baby but when I’m like taller than all of them or something like that. Its kind of funny. I am turning 25 soon and for them its like “We held you in our arms! You were the first!” Right? (laughing). I get a lot of love. I love that. At first, I was like: I’m not a baby, but now its like: Love me! (laughter). I think it was- It’s still hard. I think a lot of their communication was over the phone.

KS: Okay

ET: I remember growing up thinking Spanish was such an angry language. [12.30.0]. (Laughing) And I think its because she would be in these really heavy conversations with them all the time, and it would just be like. My mom is very emotional—all my family on the Peruvian side. There’s a difference, its very emotionally driven and sensitive and my other side of the family is not as--they definitely have their moments. They’re not as deep; I think that when you’re so close to someone, you feel that intensity of what the emotions are even higher. So for them, it’s out the roof. Whenever they’d have an argument I would just like be eavesdropping on my mom and just hearing Spanish and going a million miles a minute, you know. Talking a million words, just coming out in one sentence, it was like: oh my gosh! I always thought she was upset when she was talking in Spanish. She might have been, I don’t know! (Laugher) When I was a kid, I was kind of linguistically confused. There’s just been a lot of hard times and I think that there’s a difference between the families and I feel like my moms side of the family has gone through a lot more hardship than the other side. In that, I think is situated too: Lack of education. Just not having access to education, like having to drop out of school and get a job, and not being able to get the best job after that because the education requirement is so important. But then working really hard. I have a lot of teachers in [13.52] that side of the family too. Actually, similarities: I have teachers on both sides of the family. And now I’m a teacher too. And they’re all like: “Don’t be one!” (Laughter) It’s just crazy! They always just ruin my answer “you want to do what?!” I really just, being the oldest of six kids, its really shaped me into this teacher mindset. I love education, I just feel like education has shaped my family in such a huge way. I find it fascinating. Its just funny how they’re like “Don’t do it! We cant, you know…They’re very supportive but they’re just like “Save yourself!” That’s more of what they’re trying to say, because it’s just been such a hard profession, here and there. It doesn’t really value it as much when it comes to the pay, when it comes to the hours, when it comes to the respect that you get, its not at the top of the totem pole.

KS: I mean if it’s bad here in North Carolina, I imagine how bad it must be there in Peru.
ET: It’s just devalued, I don’t know. It’s just valued differently. And working in South Korea where it is highly valued, it’s hard to come back and be like: this is not the best profession here, but over there it’s really coveted.

KS: Yeah, we can talk about that. So here at the University, what’s your position?

ET: I am the program assistant for the Carolina Leadership Development Office. Sorry, let me finish the cough drop! I just started chewing it was like wait! (Short Pause) Okay, so I work at the- I am the program assistant here at the Carolina Leadership office. We have, we focus on leadership development, pretty simple in the name. I worked, I’ve been a part of all or the majority of the programs as an undergrad, so coming back to the US after working in South Korea for two years I needed kind of a transition job, because I knew I was going to apply to grad school this year. I, feelings a…I worked very hard in South Korea, so feeling a bit burnt out and just needing a break. And just to be able to transition back to the US. SO this job worked out really perfectly; It’s part time. That was awesome, but just being able to be a part of this aspect of Carolina again, it’s a place where I feel like people get to really explore themselves and really come to terms with who they are and the identities they hold and really start those kind of conversations. It transformed me, and who I am when I was here as an undergrad, so being on this admin side and being able to help student leaders develop curricular for programs or participate in our programs its been extremely rewarding because I know how much it transformed me and who I am, and started me on my path towards really critically thinking about who I am and why I am the way I am and things like that. It really, it validated my experience and at the same time it pushed me to explore the identities that I hold--and kind of where that comes from.

KS: Did you think it would be different working on the “other side of the fence?”

ET: Laughs

KS: What were you expecting?

ET: Admin is more event-planning stuff, which I love, so that’s not bad. But it is different; it’s different not to be as directly involved. But I do love it; I love facilitating. I m an observer too so I like watching people and seeing their growth. It’s just part of the teacher in me. I think I am really big into technology and seeing how, ways it can enhance programming. I feel like that’s one area here that we can really develop. SO being able to implement new things and the more technological realm has been really fun. To bring us into the 21st century here, you know. There’s a lot of ways we can improve and make it sustainable at the same time.
Yeah that’s where I really enjoyed—its different and it’s a whole different mindset than actually being a participant or facilitator in these programs, but being on that side has been really rewarding. These programs mean a lot to me so to be able to see them flourish and make sure that that continues on for years to come—that’s what its about. It’s not just about this moment, but it’s about the future too. Yeah it’s been good. I really like it.

KS: Yeah, I like it, too! (laughing) I’m part of it! And then you said you were a teacher?

ET: I am a teacher. So I taught, I studied middle grades education here and graduated in 2012. Loved…. It was hard to find that major, if that makes any…okay. I’ve wanted to be a teacher since I was like 5 and the reason wasn’t always the best reason though. I wanted the red pen. I loved grading papers and I was, a teacher, like teachers in first and second grade would be like: “will you help me grade papers?” and I was like “Yes!!” (laughing) Give me the red pen! I don’t know, I think the red pen just really symbolized a lot of power and I was like “muah ha ha” Also, corrections too in a sense, I don’t know what was wrong, I was just like… now that I think back to it, I hate grading! I hate it so much! Because its just such a time suck and annoying and its funny how at first I was drawn to the career because of the POWER! I just needed to chill out. But at the same time, I always thought about it. I think it was largely connected to being an older sibling. I already was in that teacher role my whole lie that it was very natural to be there, I was always supposed it teach my sibling how to do things, all different aspects of life. They ended up teaching me probably more I think. Because I’ve learned so much from them. When I came to college, from when I was in High School, I didn’t decide I was coming to college until I was a junior, and that s just reflective of my family’s background. My mom has the one person in my family that’s always pushed towards education even though she didn’t have a background on higher education officially, I think she had started some program in Michigan and just hadn’t finished. I don’t know, it just wasn’t something she knew a lot about, but she knew it was important. And I had a lot of push to go on to college. My dad was not as supportive unfortunately, I think he, just growing up, he grew up religiously, but I think he took it to another degree, and so really valued my religious identity over anything else.

KS: mmm

ET: So growing up in his, I think when we talk about gender roles in my family, I think the male presence was very much more dominate and even down to cultural nuances, and so just really overpowered a lot of my mom and who she was and the way that her culture influenced us…except for food! Food was okay! Of course, we have access to Peruvian food, that was encouraged and very much cherished! We all loved, my dad really loves Peruvian food; that’s how he grew up. When it came down to this religious piece, really heavily Christian, but more like Eristic Christian.

KS: yeah

ET: A lot of rules, and a lot of pressure.

KS: Right

ET: A lot of pressure to think a certain way and so growing up in that as a kid, and growing up as I mentioned in a community. A lot of rules. As a child, I had to wear long skirts, long hair, we couldn’t say certain words, didn’t have a TV, didn’t know much about current events. Just was like homeschooling style school, although it was like a school. I think it registered under homeschooling because I don’t think it was necessarily credited. It was the first kindergarten class as a kid at that school it was very like, we all went to church together and ate meals together. Very conservative, that’s how my dad really liked that. We wanted to eventually move back to Peru and take that style of living of Christina community living back to--

KS: Right

ET: --back to the Jungle to different indigenous groups that he grew up with. WE just never left, but I don’t know what happened there. We eventually, eventually the community started to evolve when I was about 10, I want to say. My dad just kind of like started getting frustrated they were, you know. Things were starting to become like: listening to the radio is okay.

KS: And this is in Georgia?

ET: This is in Georgia; this is in Georgia, South Georgia. Certain things started becoming more acceptable, we start—stopped eating meals together as frequently, everyone had their own businesses, someone a man owned a coffee shop in the town, in the nearest town. My dad was a security guard for a while, He is actually an aerial photographer, and so was actually a pilot taking pictures of crops for the government, stuff like that. All had their own income, but I think it started to affect he community in a way that it was hard to be as connected, even though we were neighbors all in the same place. So my dad started looking for other places, or other communities, that would be a better fit for our family—or for him, really. (Laughs)
Lets be real. So he found, we used to have these convention where a bunch of theses communities would come together and so we moved, or he met some people from Arkansas and they were a lot more conservative. So we went out there to visit, and I did not know that I would not be going a back to Georgia, after we went to visit.

KS: Wow!

ET: As a kid, that was a little hard. He wanted…so we ended up getting there. My dad really loved it. I actually, all us girls, we were five girls one boy, at the time there was only 4 girls I think. My brother was on his way or had just arrived or something like that. We loved it because there were so many kids! Back in the old—the former community in Georgia, there were not that many kids. They had one, maybe two male classmates, and one time it was just me and a boy. It was just not fun!

KS: Right! (laugh)

ET: I wanted more friends. I wanted more kids in my life, besides my sisters. Its like Whew! Getting over them real fast! (laugh) So, we moved to Arkansas and well what they did first was left us there to kind of test it out. I don’t know what the left us there.

KS: your parents left you there?

ET: Yeah, they wanted to go back and move all the stuff there

KS: oh, okay. Right

ET: But they thought—and it wasn’t a bad idea, actually I really enjoyed this time. But they found families for us to… it was like a homestay,

KS: Homestay, yeah

ET: Right? ‘yeah, it was totally like a homestay, we kind of got split up. So me a nd Pricilla stayed, the second oldest sister, stayed with one family. Then Kristy and Amy, the next two, stayed at a different family, and I think my brother had to be a baby at that point, so they took him back and just packed up all the stuff and came in a few months.
It wasn’t, it was like a month period.

KS: wow

ET: That we were there. It felt maybe it felt longer than it actually was. It was a long time! (Laughing) but we, yeah so we lived there and we had a lot of fun. It was kind of fun to be free of parents for a little bit too so that wasn’t bad. And then they moved and it was just so conservative. And thinking back, I thought that was normal, I totally… I was just like this is how everyone lives. There were certain like really distinct memories. I mean, I remember saying, “Cool” or saying, “that’s so cool” to a kid that I had met. And they were like “oh, you cant say cool” and I was like “what??” and they were like [whispering] ”it’s a bad word.” and I was like” It’s a bad word?!” and they were like “We say neato.” [25.46.6] Because we try—so these kids really had it down pat, because this is really the theology behind everything was to be transformed form the world, and not conformed to it. Which was a very popular bible verse. And that was what the base of these communities was built around, was not conforming to the world, but being different and transforming themselves in these spiritual revelation to some extent. Down to the kids saying, “that’s out of the world, we can say that” ME, I think its funny that I wasn’t like “okay, that’s weird.” You know?

KS: Right.

ET: I was like: “Oh I can’t say this!! Oh Pricilla, you cant say this either!!” and it would just kind of continue the, the rules if that makes sense. We would really enforce them. “No, you can’t say that!” you know. Feeling very strongly about it. I felt like a sponge, I was just absorbing everything and at this point in my life, the only thing I thought that mattered about who I was my religious Identity. So it wasn’t that I was a woman, it wasn’t that I was half-White/half-Latina, it wasn’t like… I was not aware, I think I was—especially being a girl--I think I was more aware but it didn’t realize what was actually going on. I knew that there was, I was being pressured to like pink and I didn’t like pink. I liked blue. Little boys were telling me I couldn’t like blue, and I was mad about certain things. I didn’t want to play with dolls; there were certain things where I was like “Do not tell me what to do!” you know as a girl. So I remember a little, fighting those things, which now its almost ironic because those gender roles were so engrained---

KS: sure

ET: --into our lives. I was still like “No!”

KS: But you wouldn’t say cool?

ET: Exactly! Exactly, I was so sucked into certain aspects of it, but there were certain parts I was still resistant. And I could see the way that my dad treated my mom wasn’t right all the way [27.31.7] Just very, his idea of …there’s a bible verse that’s pretty extensive bible verse. There’s a lot more, but it usually stops at the first line, which is not good because its taken out of context, but it “Wife should be submissive to their husband” and its like: The End! (Laughing) There’s a lot more to that verse! But I felt like that first part was really abused in my household with my family. My mom is a very stubborn and wonderfully brilliant woman and I, it was hard to enforce that kind of mindset or mind frame in our house without a little resistance. I, I think I got the kind of like “you’re not going to tell me what to do” personality from my mom- even though she didn’t intend that. It’s funny, because it’s probably not intentional. (Laughing) She’d probably be like “hey!”
Anyways, that was kind of funny, but at the same time the serious part of it, just really, I think messed up my parents marriage in the end. Going to Arkansas made it even harder because of this submission piece and I remember, in Arkansas it was different in many ways. Like one, it was more strict, there was more rules, but I wasn’t opposed to tat per say. WE had a lot more community feel, and we did eat every meal together, the gender roles were very distinct, like the women worked in the kitchen or were the teachers, there was one woman in the financial office. The rest of them were males, and all the guys would be in, they had a construction business and a dairy farm, so they would be doing the more manual labor. What was unique about this community was that everyone would put everything in a pot. SO, it wasn’t like back in Georgia, everyone had their own business. This one, everyone put everything all together and just kind of donated all of their belongings and it truly became a family in that sense because everything is one pot. That was hard, too. My mom was not used—I could tell she wasn’t used to that and was like: “this is weird? Why are we giving them all- it doesn’t seem balanced? It doesn’t seem fair.” And we can’t, and they would distribute it, it wasn’t up to us to distribute it. If we had any needs, lets say you run out of toothpaste or something you would go into the main house and write it on the fridge. Write your initials by it, because it was about 70 people in the community, there’s not many ET’s, that mine; Elaine Townsend, it would belike: toothpaste ET. The next shopping trip, they did shopping trips every two weeks, and then I would get my toothpaste. You know, I was like this is cool! They had a system down for how they were to sustain a community of 70. But, it was very hard for my mom to really transition to this because I think there was two things that stand out to me, One was that the “elder” kind of set up. The elders played a really huge role in the community as for laying down the law to some extent and then also disciplining children and I remember she, I got in—I dint remember if it was me or one of my siblings. But somehow we got in trouble or did something; I don’t remember what we did. We probably had gotten into a fight or something and the elder disciplined us, and I don’t know if it was like a spanking. I don’t know what it was but maybe she observed this happening with another family. I remember it definitely happened with other families. But she just automatically was uncomfortable and felt like she should be the one that would be deciding the discipline of her children and should be the one disciplining the children, not someone else-- and to some extent, a stranger because not knowing them as well. So, that made her feel uncomfortable. Also, she is really big on nutrition and eating healthy. This community was not really attuned to those needs, cause we are all communal cooking, everyone’s cooking we have meal plans for everyone. They use lard or something like that, and my mom was like “I do not use lard, can I make something for my kids, like make something separately?”

KS: mhmm

ET: They were like, “well God has blessed the food” you know. They were almost insulted by that.

KS: Right

ET: So that was really hard for her to not be able to control the development of her kids really through this period. So, she told my dad that she wasn’t comfortable and she wanted to leave. It was really the kicker, and she wanted to leave. So, that was really hard for my dad to swallow. He called like a meeting. This is when you kind of start to see the craziness that is my dad.

KS: A family meeting or like a community meeting?

ET: An elder meeting, so with my parents and them in the meeting. He told them that he wanted a divorce. My mom was like, “Come again?” I mean, in this meeting…. Can you imagine? I cannot imagine.

KS: That’s the first your mom had heard about it.

ET: Exactly. I was shocked. When I heard this, of course it was when I was older. But, I did what she did, “What? Come again!” It was just a total nightmare. She wanted to leave and therefore, he didn’t want to be married to her anymore because he wanted to stay. They were like, “Um, rewind.” Even biblically, that is not means for a divorce, like that’s not reason enough. So, that kind of got shut down. I remember my mom being very, I can imagine, being very scarred from that moment and just losing a lot of trust, and then realizing that she was stuck as well. She wasn’t going to have a chance to leave anytime soon. Plus all the kids, plus she wanted… I remember asking her, “Why didn’t you leave earlier? This is such a rough situation and you can just tell there was something wrong.” But she stayed for us. She wanted us to have a dad. That was just a huge part, and I was just like, “Oh, mom. I would have been gone a lot earlier!” (Laughter). You know? When my grandma fell, my dad’s mom had an accident, and fell and needed somebody to take care of her. My dad has three older sisters and they weren’t available to really help, and couldn’t really uproot their lives and go move to North Carolina. My mom was just kind of putting the pressure on, and was like, “You should take care of your mom.” My mom and my grandma didn’t have the best relationship, but she was like, “This is my out! You need to take care of your mother.” That was something that—it resonated with my dad. He realized, “Yeah, I did make that promise to my parents.” So, we accepted it and then we moved. You know who was really upset about it? Me! I was so upset! I did not want to leave.

KS: Why?

ET: Because I was a sponge. I was sucked into everything. Religiously, I was so attune. I was working on becoming… I don’t even know what I was…. Just looking back to that version of myself, and I am just like,” What! What were you thinking?” But, it was just all I knew. It was all I knew.

KS: Yeah.

ET: I knew living in North Carolina meant not living in a community. The whole time, I had been hearing the stuff I was going to lose. You’re going to lose something. If you leave, you’re going to lose something, your faith. Become different, or become not as involved. I would lose all my friends. You know? It was just a lot of things that I thought I was going to lose something. Not really realizing how—I was like eleven or ten, really young, so not realizing how hurt my mom is. I could tell she was upset, but it was just hard to understand everything that was going on. Having such a limited understanding of the world, really a still limited social…so controlled.

KS: Yeah.

ET: So moving to North Carolina was a huge deal for me, personally and of course, for my family. Kind of back to this education piece, my dad, this is why he highly valued my religious identity and not my schooling. Going back, we were homeschooled for that period when we were in North Carolina, so it was like 6th grade through 7th grade for me. They were pretty much hooky, we played hooky those whole two years. We didn’t do school, my mom had another baby, the youngest, actually now she is the last baby. We were like, “Really? Another child?” (Laughter). We were not too happy about it, but really, now, life would not be the same without our youngest sister. I just remember my mom being really preoccupied, my dad still had his same business: aerial photography. That was really going down south because his contracts were in Georgia and we were in North Carolina. He couldn’t get any work in North Carolina. His business is a self-owned business, and so that was going downhill real fast. He was busy with that; my mom was busy with the baby. We were just like “La, la, la, la, la! We are just going to play games and do nothing.” We kind of just flipped through our books. I had a cousin who had homeschooled herself and schooled everything. She did 100% of her schooling for herself. So my parents were like, “You can do this. Your cousin’s doing this right now.” We were just like, “ehh,” you know. We were honestly not doing very much, but we were reading. We were reading a lot. We love to read, to the point where my mom-my mom has very interesting parenting methods—would ground us from reading. We would get so absorbed that we wouldn’t do our work. So with this whole thing, we would get in so much trouble for reading sometimes! That was funny. No one really gets that. We were grounded from school sometimes, grounded from reading. Because when your kids are bad and you need to discipline them, you take away things that they love. For most kids, it’s television or video games or stuff like that. For us, we loved reading, we loved going to church, we loved going to school, you know? Those things that are like, “Ugh, I have to take these things away from you so you learn.” For us, we were like, “How dare you! No one else has to do this! What kind of parents--” You know. We would get really upset about that. It made reading contraband. It made reading sneaky and we were breaking the rules to read books. We would break them all the time and try to read books. I remember one time locking myself in the bathroom, and saying I was using the bathroom, right, but forty-five minutes past and my mom comes banging on the door and go, “I know you have a book in there!” (Laughter). I was like, “No, I don’t!” I would hide it under the fuzzy toilet seat cover, and she would never find it! It was brilliant. I put it in the tub once, and she found it. I put it somewhere else, and she found it, but this one, she didn’t find. It became really funny to some point. That was just kind of a glimpse of growing up. It was a lot of kids, a lot of push and pull in different directions.

KS: Mhmm.

ET: My mom was the one who was like education; you need to have a good education. So, at some point she realized we weren’t doing school, and she was like, “You need to go to school.” My dad had really, kid of, scared her about public schools. So, she was terrified to send her kids to a public school.

KS: Mhmm.

ET: So, my grandma Townsend had a missionary connection with some of the administrators at this private Christian school. So, we went there. We got a scholarship to go there. It was super expensive, we could have never of afforded it. My grandma was able to establish this missionary kid scholarship, essentially that would allow missionary kids who are on furlough coming back from the mission field to this area-we lived in JARS, it’s Jungle Aviation Radio Services, and it’s a base part of Wycliffe, the organization my grandfather founded. It’s just a base, or a branch, of it. A lot of missionary families could come back to where we lived in North Carolina, Waxhaw, North Carolina a very small town. They could come back there. So, she would just kind of hook—she was like we’ll give you… These missionary kids are super smart.

KS: Mhmm.

ET: They were because they went to international schools or they were going to schools that were in different countries, period. I felt like they were reading a lot. Reading was the key to their understanding of the world. So, they were reading and they were performing well in academics. It was kind of an exchange. I could see the school needing more scholars, or students who were very studious in their school to up their scores or what not. It was a good exchange, and that gave us entrance to go to this school and finally get some formal schooling. I remember I went there in 8th grade, and I learned my first cuss word.

KS: Yeah?

ET: I learned like… It was funny because you’d think it was another Christian bubble, but it was very different

KS: Right.

ET: A lot of the students there, there were like three categories: one were missionary kids, the other ones were students who had been there at the church for their whole life so they just naturally went to the school, other ones were—I am sure there were other categories, but I kind of categorized them into three parts—but, the other category were students who were performing poorly in public schools, behaviorally or academically, so their parents were like, “Oh, you need Jesus. We are going to send you to this school.” So, they would end up there, which is just very…just a dynamic. It was funny; we didn’t know what to make of each other. A lot of times, we were very sheltered missionary kids and then these really like, “the bad kids” of the public school system—really the public school rejects.

KS: They got kicked out, yeah.

ET: And then these Lifers who have been at this church for forever, and then also some other students interspersed between different backgrounds. It was really a very interesting experience going to this school. The private school automatically lends it to this, “oh, it’s prestigious and it’s exclusive.”

KS: Sure.

ET: The academic rigor there was so low.

KS: Whoa.

ET: It was shocking I think to come out of it and look back and be like, “wow.” The curriculum largely depended on the teacher. There were some really great teachers who really kicked up the curriculum, like to another level. Then I had some teachers that were really just there. They had been there for a long time, who had been there since the school was founded. They needed to go, but they were still there.

KS: Right.

ET: The focus was highly spiritual and not academic. Even in the mission statement, there was not one word about making…bringing…I don’t know, academic knowledge. It was nothing. It was about creating warriors for Christ.

KS: Oh.

ET: That’s really it. So it was like another religious bubble. (Laugher).

KS: Yeah.

ET: Where that was really emphasized. I went through a lot of transitions in this school. I felt like I came in on day one, this was in 8th grade; I came in with my full, long skirts. I was there with my really conservative everything. I still remember, I still have friends who were at this school, and they were like, “Oh, we remember you in 8th grade!” I was ready to evangelize! I was ready to change everyone and make everyone wearing skirts by the time I got out of there! I was shocked at who I was.

KS: Right.

ET: Shocked. Like even now, I think about it. It really makes me want to cringe. I was so….I don’t want to say brainwashed…. There are certain words that I feel really “Ahh!” like brainwash. Ahh! Was I brainwashed or was I making these decisions? With this idea of a cult, did I just come out of a cult?

KS: Right.

ET: I remember trying to explain to my friends where I had come from, like the new friends I was making. It was really hard. I remember this one girl being like, “So, its like Amish, kind of?” I was like, “No!” I mean, we definitely had running water, and we had electricity. (Laughing). That’s not it, but it was really hard to explain.

KS: It’s like intense religious socialization.

ET: It’s very different. This school was a mixture of people. Not everyone was Christian, but for the most part, you should have been or you would have tried to pose as one because you wanted to make it through this one with your head held high. To some extent, there was still this pressure. It was a Baptist doctrine and my dad didn’t really like that actually.

KS: Yeah.

ET: He went to the administrator and asked him not to give us scholarships. That was a huge contention. My grandma was like…

KS: Wow.

ET: …which is his mom, was like, “Get your life together, because this is not okay.” My mom was so upset about that. It was just a lot of drama he started. It was hard for him to transition out of these communities. He would just make some really random decisions, and it was really tricky. Having to juggle all of this as a kid? Very hard.

KS: Mhmm.

ET: I was just waiting for the next fight to blow up or waiting for something else dramatic to go down, and it did, of course. This is the part of me not thinking about going to college. The reason I was a straight A student in High school, and the reason was because I felt like they were giving me money, and I felt like I needed to perform highly, or well for that. The other kids who got scholarships had to have their certain GPA, and I dint have any of those stipulations. I was like, “you know what, I am grateful for this opportunity to have this school and to be in the classroom and so I am going to work as hard as I can and make good grades.” That was the trend for all my siblings. They were all—the felt similarly. They worked hard. We were straight A students. What was I going to say? I remember when I first was in the classroom setting, in 8th grade, being very conservative or whatever, I got made fun of a lot. A lot, a lot, but I was loving life! I don’t think I was as phased as I should have been. I was making like 104% in math, those are my GPA—I was like, “What!” They also used to make a lot of fun of me because I was smart. I don’t feel like I was that smart, I was just doing the work and I felt like it was the first time that I had an instructor. I had just been teaching myself in this sort of ambiguous school setting. To have a structure and to have people around me, it was just like, “Yeah! This is great!” I totally loved it. It was just like a game. It was fun! So, 8th grade was pretty good, even though it should have been bad. (Laughter). I was just oblivious to all the haters. I was just oblivious, you know? (Laughter). There were some moments where I was like, “Oh, that wasn’t cool. That, also, was not cool.” I was the target of many jokes, but I just fell in love with school. Gong through school really became and outlet for me, especially with all the family drama at home. I could just focus on that. When I was about in 10th grade, I feel like back to this: Education versus Religion, which is more important? My mom was pushing me towards education. My dad was pushing me towards religion. He was saying things like, “You could make F’s for all I care. All I care about is your relationship with God.”

KS: Wow.

ET: So there’s that, and then there’s my mom being like, “You better make them A’s! You need to perform well, and that’s what you’re capable of.”

KS: Do you think they did that in spite of each other?

ET: Ugh. I know that my mom could see that my dad wasn’t the best influence in this realm, but at the same time, she knew that he wasn’t affecting me. I honestly, took my dad with two grains of salt. I was just like, “I hear what you’re saying, but this matters and I refuse to let you tell me that it doesn’t.” But, I didn’t know why it mattered. In the long term I wasn’t thinking College, I was thinking I just wanted to perform well.

KS: Mhmm.

ET: I just wanted to do a good job.

KS: Did you think that doing well in school would take away from your religious…. Like, is that what he was afraid of? If you do well in school that you were going to lose your religious self?

KS: That could have been something. There was a bible verse that’s like, “be holy as He is holy,” or something like that. Conveniently, I have forgotten a lot of the scripture I memorized as a kid. There was a different kind of social pressure. I think my dad and my mom could agree on one thing, and that was that I probably shouldn’t have any friends. What was interesting is that my mom was like, “School is not for friends; it is for studying. All my sisters, we love people! We loved people. We loved to hear stories and share stories to build those relationships. Sometimes that would take precedent over our schoolwork, but not necessarily. We never let it slide too much. But, she would just be like…. We would be on the phone with our friends for hours and my mom would just me like, “Meh, get off the phone! You’ve got to study. You’ve got something to do. You’ve got to clean, or you’ve got to do something.” You know? Then, my dad over here was worried that they would be influencing us in negative ways. I remember one of my friends. I wasn’t allowed to listen to contemporary Christian music, only hymns. Wack! So wack! I remember sneaking into the car, and turning on just the, not the engine, but just the radio and listening to 91.9 New Life. Which was the contemporary Christian music.

KS: Right.

ET: I just thought it was so fun. I knew it wasn’t anything bad. I just knew it in my heart. I was like, “This is not bad! I know it’s contemporary, but it’s not bad!” I remember my dad catching me and I got in so much trouble.

KS: Wow.

ET: I got in so much trouble. My friend gave me a CD and he found it, and broke it. I want allowed to talk to her. Things like that; they were very controlling my social life. So, that’s why I feel like that’s when they are on the same page. But when it comes to the reasoning, very different. That might be a similarity there. When I was in 10th grade, going into 11th grade, so it was the summer period….

KS: Mhmm.

ET: In 10th grade, spring period, my grandma had a stroke. My grandmother, who I am named after, that’s where I get my name. I was living in the room beside her, helping take care of her for about two years, so maybe a little bit more. She had a little bell, and she would ring it, and then I would come and take care of her and give her whatever she needs.

KS: Right.

ET: One night she had a stroke. That was really hard. I think I heard something—I don’t even know. This is such a blurry memory for me. I remember finding her and running to tell my dad. My dad calling the ambulance, and me just being like, “What’s going on?” And her being like, my grandma not being able to talk or move and looking frozen in many ways.

KS: Right.

ET: She was still trying to communicate, but can’t. She left and went to the hospital and then eventually to a rehab facility. That was a huge callus for my family. My dad’s business, like I said, was going downhill to the point where we weren’t financially stable. So my mom needed to get a job, and he really didn’t want her to get a job. She was limited in what she could do, but she ended up finding a job as an ESL program coordinator at a community college. He did not want her to work, like super hard core, did not want her to work. Because back to this breadwinner kind of thing, he wanted to be the breadwinner. He wanted to have that kind of authority. My mom was really good at finances; really good at budgeting, really good at the stuff like taxes. She was just good at it, but at the same time, he just felt like it was a man’s role to be handling those things.

KS: Wow.

ET: So, he just really didn’t want her to be a part of that. I don’t know what—he just didn’t trust her, but he had no reason not to.

KS: Right.

ET: So, I remember them fighting. My mom was like, “I need this job. I am feeding my kids. You are not going to stop me.”

KS: Right. What are the options?

ET: Right. “We have no options,” absolutely. So she ended up going and getting this job, which was really just a lot more arguments happening. My grandma’s condition was just a huge stress factor for now, and it kind of just blew up. My mom got really upset, and realized that he did not have our best interest at heart. Right? Because by limiting her having a job, that meant that it was going to affect us, and he didn’t care.

KS: That’s selfish.

ET: Exactly. So, that’s when she realized this is… I’m not in a good situation. I mean I think she realized that, but it was just this moment where she’s like, “ I need to get out. I need this to stop.” You know?

Ks: Right.

ET: And so she started asking for a separation, or essentially a divorce. It started with the separation. That was really tricky. He did not want to leave, and he doesn’t believe in divorce all of a sudden. Even though, he already asked for one. (Laughter). I was like this is convenient, when it’s convenient for him! So he… What happened? Somehow she got him to go to the basement. We were living in my grandma’s house and they had actually built that house in the 50s? Something a really long time ago.

KS: Wow.

ET: So, she got my dad to agree to go to the basement and we lived in the second floor. I just remember being on Team Mom all the way! My dad was just acting really wack, and said some really hurtful things even to me. I was just like, “no. Go.” I had lost a lot of respect.

KS:What about your other siblings? Was it divided?

ET: They…. Priscilla is the second one and Christine is the third, we were more aware. Priscilla and I really did try to shelter my siblings from this stuff. I remember we would like send them to another room or give them something to play with, and try to…it was funny, just try to get my parents somewhere else, because they were very open with their arguments. Which I don’t think was a great decision. So we would try to shelter them as much as possible. Christina knew more, who is the third oldest. By this point, I was already fifteen or just turning sixteen, so just getting them separated to two separate parts of the house it was difficult. She couldn’t start the divorce process because they had to be in two separate houses altogether to even start to make it a legal separation.

KS: Oh, right. Yeah.

ET: But, she couldn’t get him out. It was just no was to get him out. I don’t know, there was just no way out. So, the catalyst for that is a really sad story actually. It was Saturday morning; I just finished my first week of school. So, this was in 11th grade now. My brother just had his birthday. I wake up, and I am like half awake. It is like 9:00, and I am just like, “Ugh, why am I awake?” The kids are playing and my mom is at work. They’re watching TV, which I think is just—

KS: Yeah! That’s…

ET: Their life has changed, huh? Compared to when I was little. But my grandma—living at my grandma’s house is just a different environment. She always had a TV, so whenever we would visit her we were so excited about this TV. But anyways, they were watching Saturday cartoons, or whatever and I hear my abuelita, who at the time was living with us. She had come from Peru.

KS: Mhmm.

ET: I heard her arguing with my fourth sister, Amy. Amy doesn’t speak Spanish, and my abuelita only speaks Spanish. So already, I hear contention in the hallway, and it’s just like two different languages and I am just not…Oh my god! (Laughter). So I hear the doorbell and I am just like, “Oh my Goodness!” I get up and I am like, “What is going on?” Amy was holding the phone and she was like, “I am trying to call mom,” and so what had happened was that my dad was at the door. There had been already, because of the pseudo-separation, she had already said and my mom was very clear that she did not want us to talk to our dad without any permission because he had been like--the kids were playing outside and he would go up to them. They’re young; the youngest was like four. He would tell them things like “Mommy doesn’t love daddy anymore,” and they were so confused. So, she was just like, “Okay, do not talk to him unless I say it’s okay or unless I am there or something.” So Amy knew that rule, and she as trying to do the right thing and call my mom to ask for permission. My abuelita was like, “No, let me just shut it down for you and no!” Right? “This is not happening.” (Laughter). I was like, “Amy, go watch cartoons, and I’ll take care of it.” I was like, “Okay, abuelita, I am just going to call, I am going to call my mom and see what she things. I am going to talk to dad.” My dad just really wanted to play tennis with my brother. He had bought him tennis racquets and was like “I want to play, it is my sons birthday.” You know, and all of this stuff. I was like, “Okay, cool. Let me call mom and see how she feels.” So I call my mom and my mom is like, “Just because I am at work right now, I just don’t feel comfortable. Let’s plan a different time.” So, I am like, “Okay, that’s fine, mom. But, you are going to tell him. I am not going to tell him. He is not going to take this very well”

KS: Right.

ET: I passed the phone to him and she gives him the answer and he gets really upset. He tries to hang up on her and pushes the wrong button. I just remember these little details because there’s like a buzz when you don’t push the right one. Its like a “Beep!” So it’s just going in the background. I am hearing him getting really angry and just going like, “Beep!” The phone, and my abuelita, and everyone… I was just like “Chill out, everyone for just a second! Then my dad tried to come inside. I was like, “Hold up!” Then my sassy, I don’t know what kind of version of myself comes out and I am just like…. probably very disrespectful too, probably. I was just like, “Look here, you are not coming inside.” (Laughter). “You’re not allowed to.” He was just like, “I am your authority,” and I was just like, “Yo, let’s talk about that. If you are really my authority, how come you haven’t been acting as a dad? Acting as a parent?”


ET: I just let it all out. Phew! I was acting like a two year old, just going on and on and on! You know, I was just telling my feelings. He gets really upset. (Laughter). Of course! But the thing is, when it came to like physical discipline, he had not—I grew up with spankings. That’s just how the families in our communities did it too. I used to get really bad spankings, too. I thought that was normal. When I got to be about thirteen, I was tall. I am pretty tall, strong, and I have had this fight in me since I was young. I don’t know, it’s like that very submissive but still very-

KS: Right.

ET: Fire. My mom wasn’t there. She was in Peru, visiting family or something like that. He wanted me to wear a skirt, and I was like, “Eh, all my skirts are dirty.” They were in the laundry, so I cant wear skirts. He was like, “Well, go put on one of your mom’s.” I was like, “We are not even the same size!” He was just so determined to make me wear a skirt. I was in North Carolina already and I was past that skirt mentality. You know? I was like, “No. I am not trying to be disrespectful, but you know it is winter. I think I am fine. “ And he was just adamant that I put on a skirt. Just to the point where I was like, “No, I am not going to.” IT was like, “Alright, well you’re going to get a spanking.” I was already thirteen…

KS: Right.

ET: …and a young woman. So, I fought it. I actually said, “No, you’re not going to spank me!” (Laughter). I don’t know where I get these guts!

KS: Yeah! Wow!

ET: I don’t know where I get them from, because it’s just ridiculous that I was like “No!” I think that it’s my mom. I really think that it’s from my mom. She would challenge it.

KS: From you being sheltered, you come out in these bursts!

ET: I know! (Laughter). I just remember grabbing the belt and saying no, and them him fighting back. It ended up me wresting him, and then at one point I have him pinned on the ground. I am like, I could probably hit my dad right now. Just having this moment where I am like, I could do something and I am so angry, but I don’t want to hurt him. I just don’t want him to make me wear a skirt! (Laughter). It’s a simple as that. I remember my sister Priscilla coming in there and realizing what as happening and she was really scared my dad was going to hurt me. We have always been protective of each other.

KS: Mhmm.

ET: So, when Priscilla would get a spanking, she had like a--not a heart condition, but she was fragile. I would just really get upset when she was getting spanked, because I could see her psychically being really distraught. So, then I would say something, and then of course I would get the spanking too because I was saying something. But, it was better than her getting a spanking because she was just—I couldn’t decided if she was just being dramatic or if she was really being real! (Laughter). “Either you have this down, or I don’t know!” I remember at that point, when my dad realized I had him pinned down, he was like “You know what, you are too big to spank. You are a young lady, we have to deal with it.” I remember begging to be grounded. I was literally like “Please ground me! Please, find different ways. Talk to me, and have these conversations with me. Do not just spank me and call it a day. I am a t the point where I can have a conversation. All my friends get grounded. Now that I am at this private Christian school I can see what other peoples lives are like. This is not fair.” That’s when he was like “You’re a young lady. I understand. I wont spank you anymore. We will just go a different route with you. I promise I will never hit you again.” I was like, “Great. Awesome, we will see how long that lasts.” It lasted for like two and a half to three years until that moment where he is trying to get into the house.

KS: Yeah.

ET: We had a screen door, and he opens the screen door. He yanks me out; it was like a chokehold. I was shocked. I don’t know why I wasn’t—he hasn’t done anything, so I was like “Okay, I believe him.” But, when he did that, I just got yanked out of the house. I was just in shock. My abuelita, who of course, was super tiny probably like 5’1” or something small like that. She comes flying out of the house. She was very fragile, too. She was in an earthquake in Peru and got tangled up in the sheets, fell on the ground, and her hip was broken. So, she has been through a lot. She comes out and was like” Dejala! Dejala! Pounding on my dad, saying just let her go, kind of right on his back. So she is right at his shoulder. Then he with his free arm, reaches over and grabs her by the back of her neck…

KS: Oh my god.

ET: …and pulls her, well back of her hair really, and just pulls her on top of my back. So, I am like stuck in this chokehold, but I am also can feel the weight of my abuelita on my back. I know that If I move or if I fight back that she might get hurt.

KS: Right.

ET: I am stuck and I am just shocked. I couldn’t believe it. I understand that he would try to discipline me, but I couldn’t understand the fact that he was trying to hurt her, too. I was shocked. I was just like, “What?” but, then he is older, he is an older guy at this point. He is probably in his 50s. So, his grip loosens and I sneak out and grab my—I kind of wiggle out—grab my abuelita and rush her inside. I close the door and lock the door, and he is out there. I don’t know, we are all probably stunned at this point. He is stuck with the phone, the only phone that we have, of course. My oldest sister is hysterically, she is crying she is really upset.

KS: Yes!

ET: I am just like, “what the—What just happened?” My abuelita said, “You have to call your mom.”

KS: Yeah.

ET: I didn’t want to call my mom. I dint want to call her because I knew what she was going to say. But I need to call someone still because I’m shaken up. I go up to the attic, or the upstairs place, and try to find a phone to unplug and hook up a new phone. I find one of your really old, winding it up, dialing phone, and I plug it in. I call, probably a friend first, and no one answers, so I call my mom. Of course, she was like “You have to call the police.” I’m like “No!”

KS: To put you in that position when you were fifteen though?

ET: Well, she as just like “You need to…” I wasn’t surprised that she was going to tell me this, because when they would have previous fights and if she ever felt unsafe, she would call the police. So the police would come to out house, and we live in this missionary community. Everyone knows who we are; we are the Townsend family, connected to my grandpa. Everyone knows who my grandma is. So there was this weird social pressure, like “Why are there cops showing up at the Townsends’ again?” I was just very embarrassed. Being very immature and being very naïve too, just feeling very self-conscious about the police coming to our house. I just didn’t want another… yeah. My mom was like “Well, if you don’t call the police, I will just call the neighbors and ask them to call the police.” I was just like, “ I will be calling the police! Bye, thank you!” I called the police, and I just don’t know what to say.

KS: Right.

ET: What are they going to ask me? How do I say this? So pretty much I was like “My dad just came up and intentionally hurt me and my grandma and he is downstairs right now. I am not sure if he is going to come back, and I am worried about my siblings. I don’t know what to do.” They came. Two. I was like ”Really? Two cars?” (Laughter). At the same time, realizing more and more the severity of the situation. I tell them what happened and then they go downstairs and try to get—the next thing I know is that my mom is home. She comes home from work. I think a neighbor came out, and I was just dying! I remembering being with my abuelita and just trying to calm her down.

KS: Yeah.

ET: We have to start writing out testimonies down, kind of what happened. My mom is helping my abuelita translate because she can only speak Spanish, so she was trying to help her write it in English. My dad comes out, and he was handcuffed. They were walking him to the cop car and he was singing hymns. He sang stuff like “I love you, Soli. I love you, Elaine.” Soli is my mom’s name. He was saying that essentially he was like a martyr. I don’t even know what he was saying. He was saying that he was finally…his true calling was to witness to people in prison? I don’t even know half the stuff he was saying. The cops are just like “What is this dude’s issue?” He is singling hymns. I was just really upset, and I count even look at him. It was just so hard. It was a mixture of anger, hurt, and embarrassment and frustration. It was just all of these bad words, you know?

KS: Mhmm.

ET: That was the moment when my mom was able to actually have official separation start because there was a restraining order taken out. Domestic assault that is what it was registered as. He went to jail and that was really hard for me. I still care about my dad and that was hard to have those feelings of anger, shock, but then care. It’s love. He was not always crazy. There were moments when my dad was very goo—he was very generous, like he had good things about him too. But it’s just highs and lows, very extreme. So, this moment where he was exited out of our life was very hard to grapple with. This was right into junior year, that’s when I decided, once my mom was single and essentially by herself, taking care of us, I realized that I needed to step up and figure out how to help. From what I had been gathering, college was that. I started taking SATs, I started really trying to get ready to apply for college, not really knowing what that meant. Our college counselor was not any help.

KS: No?

ET: Zero help. It was just a very stressful year. School wise, junior year is a really hard year. I was just so overwhelmed and so frustrated trying to keep it all together, but it just felt like bad things were happening everyday. I felt like there was something, it was just a dark cloud. It was hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It was really hard. I feel like those were some of my most formative years of my life because coming out of that, being responsible for five kids, trying to help my mom, I was the chauffeur, I was many roles. My grandma is still alive and having these strokes, and trying to balance her, and then the drama, and then the family—It was just really overwhelming. Then there’s this whole religious context too, like “Where is God in all of this? Where… How? Why? Why me? Why my family? Why my sisters? Why my brother?” you know? ”Why us? Why do we have to go through this”

KS: Right.

ET: “What have we done to deserve this?” There’s just a lot of things to grapple with as a sixteen year old. It really propelled me. School became my outlet; academics became that thing that I could do well. I started applying to colleges my senior year. My family was a Duke family, so I was determined to not apply to UNC. (Laughter). I was so dumb; I don’t even know why it turned me off. All I knew about UNC was one, it was UNC and two, it was very competitive to get in period. Knowing that our high school was not preparing me, like I didn’t know anything about AP courses. We didn’t have any of those things. Just knowing that I was performing well, but realizing that things like summer readings couldn’t compare to what they were studying in public schools. We were just not in the same level. Being aware of that and being really conscious of that, I wanted to go somewhere I knew I could thrive. For me, I thought that was Appalachian State. App State is beautiful, I was thinking about doing international business. I left my teacher dream because I needed to make money and obviously this one is not making money. I was trying to make money and trying to figure out how to support my family. My mom was huge, pivotal part of me applying to college. I would not have gotten through those deadlines with out her. Although she didn’t really know what I was doing, and she couldn’t really edit my essays very well, she did. I do have to give her that credit, because at this point her English had tremendously improved.

KS: Right

ET: So she was able to. She had all these ideas, and my ideas were different about what I should write. I was really worried about funding. I was going to have to take out loans and my parents were in debt and I didn’t want to be in debt. How do I do this without loans? I just cannot do loans. I remember my mom coming home and telling me that she had heard at her community college about a scholarship called Gates Millennium Scholarship and told me to apply. I looked at it, and there were like eight essays, or nine. I was just like “What!” Then I found out it was a national scholarship and I was like “Come again?” I was like “Mom, get real!” Me? Apply to this? Only 1,000 kids get this out of the whole US. She was like “You need to go for this. Stop questioning it and just go for it.” I was so stubborn, and I also didn’t want to apply to UNC, but she said, “You have to apply to UNC.” WE just had a lot of arguments about this stuff, so many arguments. My sisters were like “Elaine, chill!” I had a really hard time believing in myself.

KS: Yeah.

ET: I was at the top of my class, but I still didn’t understand that I was a potential candidate. I was like “The valedictorian of the class before my class had not gotten into UNC, and if she didn’t get into UNC, how could I get into UNC? There is no way, even if I am valedictorian. She didn’t get in. Yall don’t understand!” I t was just a very interesting community of kids, too. It was a semi-college going environment. It wasn’t really. There were some kids who were going to try to go to college, but they were Christina colleges or the community college route or local colleges, it wasn’t really high-achieving. The valedictorians try to do something and get out, I remember that girl she applied to UNC, and I was like “Good for you!” Then, she didn’t get in, and I was like “Oh my gosh, how are we going to get out?” I remember in my class, I was one of three kids who were people of color, and at that point, I was still understanding my latinidad. When my parents divorced, my mom’s culture just kind of all of a sudden blossomed, and then I was like “Oh!” I really wanted to support her too. I just felt transformed in many ways and I wanted to learn more about my Latina identity and explore that.

KS: Yeah.

ET: Slowly but surely, I hoped to be able to do that in college. Anyways, Back to the scholarship applications and college applications. I had some friends who grew up with me from the community who kind of made it out, in some ways. One of my best friends that I have known since I was two, since we were babies in these communities, he was a really good writer. So, he really helped me hone in my, or just edit my essays and rally help me communicate what I was trying to say. I had a really good support team, even if we didn’t know exactly what we were doing. We were like “we are going to try!”

KS: Yeah.

ET: I remember just coming down to these deadlines and being like an hour in!
KS: What!

ET: It was so stressful! I remember my mom cut down everything I had in my life. I wanted to distract myself, I wanted to go to church, I wanted to hang out with youth group, or school. I wanted to do something that was not this. (Laughter). So she was like “You are not allowed to go to church. You are not allowed to hang out with your friends, and you’re not allowed to have a phone. It ruined my life—it sucked so hard! It as all so I could focus. Now I am grateful, but back then I was so upset about it. I ended up getting into App. I applied during college week, I had waivered—I applied to ass many colleges as I could. I got in to all of them. I got funding from all of them. I got into UNC and then I got funding to UNC. And then I get the Gates Millennium Scholarship, which is nuts! I still think is nuts! It still blows my mind because that opened so many doors to me, to this day. That scholarship that I thought I wasn’t going to get… Yeah, I thought I wasn’t worth it and it wasn’t worth it to apply. I thought I wasn’t a good candidate, I look back and I had straight As, I was valedictorian, I was involved with as many organizations as I could be, and I was really doing the most for nothing.

KS: Right.

ET: College wasn’t even the reason; I just loved what I was doing. Yeah. I am grateful for her, because she really helped me believe in my potential. Getting into college was like another… You make it. You get through that door, and then you have to thrive. For me, I was not ready in many ways. I remember them asking me in orientation “So your AP credits?” I was like “What’s AP?” “Advanced placement.” I was like “What’s advanced placement?”

KS: Mhmm.

ET: I remember being in there with two other kids who were being advised and I just felt so embarrassed. “This is part of why I didn’t want to go here because I knew I wasn’t going to be able to compete.” I knew I wasn’t going to be good enough o have these conversations. I haven’t read a lot of the books they’ve read and I haven’t done a lot of the things they’ve done.

KS: Mhmm.

ET: How am I going to be successful here, coming from that background? I was very cognoscente of that.

KS: Yeah.

ET: First year at college was really hard.

KS: For a first-generation student…

ET: Absolutely! It was real, and not knowing who to turn to for help. My family was there for me, but they didn’t know how to help me. Just having to figure out how to figure it all out for myself, and getting hungry for advice. Getting advice like “Oh, you should take Astronomy 101 for your science credit…. at 8:00a.m.” Being like “Okay! Sounds good!” I was thinking, “You are wise! You have been through this! Never taking physics and not realizing that it was a prerequisite, I signed up for astronomy 101, which is really astrophysics. It think they should just rename the whole course!

KS: Yeah!

ET: I was there in my Pajamas with my roommate who was taking the same class. She was from my high school; we were the only two girls to get into UNC form our high school.

KS: Oh, good. So you still kind of kept your roots?

ET: I don’t know her as well, but It was nice to have a familiar face. We grew really close; we actually roomed together for three years. We just had a lot of growth, coming from where we come from. She was also a missionary kid, so that was really helpful because she got it. She knew what we had been through. Even with the same, through Wycliffe, my family’s organization, too.

KS: oh, wow!

ET: She very much knew what we were going through. She was very smart and very well read. Her sister was already at that school and that’s who we were listening to for advice. She is the one that told us to take astrophysics and we both bombed. It was the first time I had, not only not made an A, but made such a devastating D that I thought “Oh my God, I am going to become a statistic. I am going to drop out and this is going to suck and I have this scholarship.” It was really taking a toll on me. I had gone to Fall Fest my first semester, or year, whatever. I got an application to work at the Union, and applied. I don’t know why I did it, I was just so overwhelmed bus p many opportunities and just applied for a job. So I applied, got the interview, and got the job. I am a first-year, barely stepped into college and I have a job. It was working for house staff and I loved it. Scholl was sucking and I was struggling, oh it was so bad!

KS: Yeah?

ET: In work, I was doing well, and I was thriving and was doing great! I started getting promoted. I was like “How am I doing so well at work, and doing so poorly at school?”

KS: Yeah.

ET: Just having this really contrasting experience where it was outside of school I am fine, inside of school I am drowning and taking the wrong courses.

KS: It was the reverse though, before.

ET: It was just wack! It’s just such a humbling experience. I was terrified of my GPA and I was terrified of not succeeding and becoming a statistic. So fighting all that, it was largely because I dint know what to study and being pushed into this business wave, partly by my mom. I slapped on the international, for me, I wanted to travel for me. Just realizing that business wasn’t for me, ECON was horrible—

KS: Why do you think she wanted you to do business?

ET: She felt it was very versatile? If I was in business, I could join any field I wanted. There is a business aspect to everything. She was like, “If you’re undecided, this is what you should go for.” We had a lot of arguments about that, too. Eventually I was like “Okay. I will make you happy.” I dint know what I was going to study, so I should have a game plan. Eventually, I started switching around majors. I was a double major in Spanish, I had a minor in Korean, but then I realized that I had to create the minor. Then, I found out that I had English, Spanish, and Korean all in one day. I was like, “That’s probably not going to happen. That might not work out for me, I am going to get really confused.” For the first two years, it was me moving things around. I was an African Studies major at one point, a Woman Studies major. I started taking these course, and I was like “(Gasp). I love this! I want devote my life to this!” It’s that sponge mentality, where I was--back when I was younger, when I was a sponge and absorbing all this religious context. Going in to college, it was just this sponge but I was just “Tell me everything! Teach me everything!” I just started thinking more critically about the world. Carolina United, which is kind of funny; it is one of the programs that come out of the CLD, changed my life. It was the end of my sophomore year, I took a middle grade literature school and I fell in love. I was like, “ I am reading middle school books that I have never read, but everyone else has read.”

KS: Because you missed it.

ET: Exactly. I just missed reading for a while. Or I just dint read that type of stuff, if you know what I mean. I was loving it. I was reading middle school books and getting grade--- (RECORDER STOPS RECORDING).