All posts by Maria Corpuz

Started from the Bottom, Now We’re Here

I knew from the start that my passion for social justice was about to grow indefinitely. I was completely right. I have learned so much on this backpack journalism trip. 

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I’ve learned how to be a better photographer. I’ve become an amateur film maker. I’ve learned how to conduct interviews, set up cameras, make sure all of the chords are plugged into the right places, always have backup sound in case you forget a chord, converse with the interviewee, and edit the final product. I have learned how to capture a variety of shots in one setting so that I can edit them into one scene later. 

I’ve learned about the Avery Dulles’ Models of the Church. I was introduced to the many varieties of these models and how they can differ depending on the location of the Church. While I grew up in the Catholic Church, I never thought of the concept of the church being based on models. I also had this idea in my head that the Church was the same everywhere. I personally thought that everyone had the same old way of doing things. I became bored with the monotone masses I was attending and found myself not being able to relate to anything concerned with the church. In my time at Marian and Creighton, I have had my views altered and had them evolve. Avery Dulles, SJ, brought up a whole new dimension to the church in his book, Models of the Church. Before  I read this book, I saw the Church as more of an institution of old men and chanting people.

I believe that Dulles brought to mind some good points and recognized the disadvantages as well. It went hand and hand with our trip to Nogales. I assume that the knowledge will help me in the future as well. I wa able to learn more about the Church as well as myself and my position within the Church.

I read and watched a lot about Jon Sobrino, S.J. who is a liberation theologist. He discussed this idea of the Crucified People. 

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We are called to stand in solidarity with migrants who can easily be seen as a Crucified People. These are our neighbors that we are talking about here. Since we as Americans are the more privileged of the two, we are called to advocate for those who cannot. Both countries have a shared “faith that calls for a living and just world, not one that is ruined by violence and discrimination.” We followers of Christ, we must work and pray for the universal good.

My confidence in the subject of migration has evolved and although I am not a master, I am more educated. I know that I will be able to live differently by how I handle myself when encountering strangers. Everyone has their own cross to bear, their own hardships. It is not my place to turn a blind eye or judge them. Instead I will meet them where they are and walk with them as my brothers and sisters. 

Look at these Photographs

I am sorry that I quoted Nickelback. However, here are some of my favorite photographs that myself and others took along our journey along the Southern border.

A couple of my cool classmates wandering around an old mission.
A couple of my cool classmates wandering around an old mission.
The Sunrise from Nogales, AZ
The Sunrise from Nogales, AZ
These candles were spray painted onto the polls of the wall. Each one represents a person who has passed while trying to cross the border.
These candles were spray painted onto the polls of the wall. Each one represents a person who has passed while trying to cross the border.
Maria Fargie taking cute pics and  looking fashionable.
Maria Fargie taking cute pics and looking fashionable.
While we had downtime at the Comedor, we helped cool tortillas, clean dishes, and do other chores.
While we had downtime at the Comedor, we helped cool tortillas, clean dishes, and do other chores.
A man sits and watches as a UP train goes right through the middle of downtown Nogales, Sonora.
A man sits and watches as a UP train goes right through the middle of downtown Nogales, Sonora.

Crosses to Bear

 

My mother is 5’10, caucasian, with eyes bluer than the sky. My father is barely 5’6, which is tall for a Filipino, with eyes the color of coffee. I am 5’5, half Filipino, half mutt, with eyes the color of poop. When I was growing up, I lived in a mostly white, suburban neighborhood and attended a mostly white, upper-middle class Catholic middle school. My childhood ran pretty smoothly: playing at the park with my neighborhood friends, doing my homework and practicing my piano, beating up my little brothers, babying my little sister, and occasionally getting into trouble. 

One of the things that I did struggle with while growing up was how to identify myself. I got made fun of for my mom being taller than my dad. I was half white, but the white kids didn’t see me as white. I got made fun of for being brown so I started hanging out with the three other Asian girls in my class, all of whom were adopted and 100% Asian. But I was only half Asian. I remember asking my mom if she was sure that I wasn’t adopted to which she responded by pulling out my baby photos with pointing to the ones where she held my newborn-self in the hospital. However, I remained skeptical. 

For some of you readers, this may seem like a pretty big hardship, for others, this may not seem in the slightest bit a trivial matter. I remember someone telling me a while ago, that God gives you what he knows you can handle. For me as a child, my heritage and the color of my skin was something to be ashamed of. This was my cross to bear. 

My grandmother Lola and I back in the good ole days.
My grandmother Lola and I back in the good ole days.

Suffering is not something to be identified with. We each have our own crosses to bear. However, there is something about the suffering of Jesus that is good news and a sign of liberation for the oppressed.

Rev. Jon Sobrino S.J. gave a commencement speech to a graduating class at Regis University. During it, he said that in order to be successful in life, one must be human. In order to be human, we must transform the reality of ours to one of life rather than death. He asks the graduating class if they bring justice to society. 

In his book, The Crucified People, he asks the reader thought provoking questions:

What have you done to put someone on their cross? Have you looked away? Did you not care? Did you put the nails in yourself?

He demands that temporary care is not enough, but that you are called to liberate them from whatever is making them suffer. 

When we see the problems that our brothers and sisters around the world face Sobrino reminds us to think: What have we done? What are we doing? What are we going to do? 

Hope is on the dreamers and the ones who live. 

Why?

My Beautiful Mother & I A lot of people say that I look and act like my mom. We have the same cheeks, on our face and rear end. We both like to talk way too much and think we are funnier than we really are. I always have to be careful when I am in public because the odds are that someone knows who my mom is. I used to annoy her by constantly asking “Why?” to things that she said. I was never satisfied with simple answers.

St. John's June 20, 1992My mom used to tell me about her college days at Creighton. These were some of the best years of the first part of her life before I was born (the dull years). After I was born, the next 21 years would be her favorite because, duh, I am a delight.

There are two specific events that my mom recalls the most. 

The first being when she met her best friend, my dad, in a car on the way to the store to get party supplies. Intrigued by hi

s silence, she asked her friends about him. Eventually, she befriended the quiet, brown boy. In an attempt to flirt, they would play tag and run up and down the stairs, chasing each other in circles. She sprained her ankle one too many times. Whether or not this was an effort to trap my dad into feeling bad for her or if she was really hurt, I do not know. After dating for seven years, they got married in Saint John’s on June 20th (Happy Anniversary).

My Parents on June 20, 1992
My Parents on June 20, 1992

They waited two more years before they had the most incredible child they could ever dream of. Afterwards came three more hooligan children with whom I have had to teach how to be civilized.

The second noteworthy experience that my mother had at Creighton was her immersion to the Dominican Republic with the ILAC program. She was one of the first females to lead a group as well as one of the only non-medical students. This experience helped her become more fluent in Spanish. I would flip through her albums and see her grinning with her braided hair talking to the Dominicans. This was one of the few moments that I thought my mom was cool. There was one picture that I distinctly remember. It was of a little girl, maybe 3 or 4, and a bowl full of dirty water where she was cleaning her sandals. I took interest in the photograph because the girl looked to be around my age at the time.

A girl from the DR washing her shoes in a small tub.
A girl from the DR washing her shoes in a small tub.

Why?

That was my first exposure to the third world and to those less fortunate than me. 

My mom planted a seed within me. Ever since then, she has taken me along with her to serve those less fortunate in our community. My mom made sure that I would become a women for others. She has taught me that it is important to pray, but even more important to act. She has taught me that it is important to act, but even more important to do thoughtfully and intentionally. She has taught me to do things with purpose and with love. She has taught me to not be satisfied with the initial image that I am presented with while serving others. But to rather ask why things are the way they are? 

During my journey to the border, I tried to keep her lessons in mind. I saw a wall that literally divided a city into two, that sliced streets right through the middle. What happened that the US felt a need to build something so ugly and disrupt a city? I saw women and children who had been exposed to the desert, left to fend for themselves. Why were they left so vulnerable? I experienced the border patrol and the stone cold faces that they wore. Why the cold vibes? I saw the unjust Operation Streamline and how many people a day, in just one court setting, were prosecuted as criminals for illegal entry and re-entry. Why do they need to be prosecuted as criminals and face time in private jails? Why are people okay with putting millions of their own tax dollars into private people’s pockets by putting migrants into jail? I saw people face dehumanization, corruption, violence. Why have we become so immune to these injustices. Why do we find it okay to devalue someone else’s life? 

Why am I just now discovering all of the injustices that are going on at our Southern border? What other injustices have I not yet learned about? How can I continue to act and serve when I am just one, broke, college student?

White Noise

Before I came on this trip, I knew that my goals were to be present and to soak up any information I could. I didn’t know much about immigration, besides the headlines I hear in the news.

These days it seems as if the news has just become the white noise to our daily lives.

The Drump

Trump
Mass Shooting in Orlando
A wall to stop illegal migration
Hilary Clinton
ISIS
Obama’s Final Year
Trump
Syria’s Civil War
Hilary Clinton
Police Brutality
ISIS

I had become numb to these daily reminders of the state of our world. Everything has become repetitive. Shootings here. Bombings there. Dehumanization. Grown ups bullying each other. I thought that was supposed to end when you become
an adult.

During our interviews we asked everyone where they found hope amongst all of the sadness. We heard a variety of answers, all were thought provoking. A new goal emerged for me: how to find something that sparked hope within me in order to inspire others.

I’m still working out the big goals, and I probably will be for awhile. But in the mean time, I’m setting smaller goals for myself. I’m trying to be more present with everyone I encounter. I’m trying to stand up to the bullies. I’m trying to show that all life has value.

I know I can’t change the whole world. But maybe I can change people’s worlds.

My First Encounter with a Courtroom

On Tuesday, May 31st, we went to the Tucson courthouse. Carol and John told us that this would be for our personal learning experience rather than something that would be in our film. Our field trip took us to Operation Streamline. 

I won’t bore you with the facts that you can lookup online, but I want to tell you about my experience.

This was my first time being inside a courthouse. Of course I have seen some courts while binge watching Law and Order. But this was my first time physically being in a courthouse.  I read through a Most Wanted list while I waited outside the courtroom. Freaky. 

A sketch of Operation Streamline by Lawrence Gipe. http://lawrencegipe.com/resume
A sketch of Operation Streamline by Lawrence Gipe.
http://lawrencegipe.com/resume

When I walked into the courtroom, I could smell the stench of sweat and filth. I could hear the sound of chains in a never ending chorus. As I looked around, I saw rows on rows of people chained by their feet, waist, and ankles. 

I sat down next to my partner in crime, A.J., and we made eye contact and shared a brief smile, not knowing what we we were about to witness. I don’t know what came over me, but before anything had even started, tears were streaming down my face. I looked over to A.J again and he whispered, “Already?!” We both laughed a little and he offered to go get me Kleenex but the trial was about to start. 

All of the migrants had headphones in so that they could hear the translator who repeated the judges words in Spanish. 

As I listened to the judge, I understood most of what he was saying, but was left confused for various parts. I thought back to being told that many Mexicans do not even have an eighth grade education. If I could barely understand with my advanced education, I couldn’t imagine trying to understand the court system of a foreign country. The judge asked them if they didn’t understand to stand up. I wanted to stand up. But like them, I was paralyzed with the fear of looking stupid, out of place, like I didn’t belong. 

The judge asked them to raise their hand if their ear pieces weren’t working, but their hands were chained. 

One lawyer asked the judge if her clients could go first as she had places to be. 

Migrants went up, five by five, to answer questions. 

A woman went up, head down. When the Judge asked her if she was a US citizen, she let out a regretful sigh and answered no.

My heart sank as more tears ran down my cheeks. 

I heard the judge list cities of where these people had crossed. I heard Nogales. I heard Sassabe. I heard Tuscon. All places that we had been and had become familiar with. All places where I couldn’t imagine being out in the desert for more than a morning. 

After each set of migrants had individually answered the judges questions, they were sent out of the courtroom. I saw their faces and thought of all the people I had interacted with at the Comedor. People I had danced with, laughed with, played games with, talked to, the stories I had heard. It all came back. 

I felt as if I was in a some sort of nightmare.

When I came back to the realization that this was real life, I noticed I hadn’t stopped crying. I also realized that it had been over an hour since the trial had started. I looked around and saw that I was the only one crying in the entire room. I felt like a fool.

We left about halfway through the list of migrants. A lawyer came out and asked us if we had questions. Yes, I had questions but I didn’t know where to begin. 

The question that I was able to formulate was why they couldn’t say that they were seeking asylum from the drug wars going on or that their families were starving back home.  There had to be another way, right? Instead of having criminal charges put on your record and being sent to jail? 

His answer kind of confused me. It was something along the lines of it would be a different process, in a different court and there wouldn’t be enough evidence. 

Someone else in the group asked how often he sees the same people getting charged again. This time his answer was crystal clear. “It depends on how hungry their families are or the condition that they are in, whether or not it’s safe.”

I cried much of the way home and during the reflection that we did once we were home. After what seemed like eternity, I took a nap, hoping that my dreams would be more peaceful than what I had just experienced. 

I wish I could just take a nap and when I wake up, my troubles and the troubles of my brothers and sisters would have perished. But sadly, that’s not the way things work and I’m still trying to figure out why things are the way they are.

Storytellers

Now that we’re back in Omaha, it’s back to Hitchcock 205 to get down to business. Half of the class has been working on the story line and the other half has been sifting through the copious amounts of videos that were taken.

The past few days I have been very busy. I’ve been filing through all of the B-roll that we filmed in order to piece different scenes together (B-roll is alternative footage that is weaved along with the main shot.) It’s like going on a scavenger hunt to find the perfect pieces and then creating your own puzzle or getting to write your own story. I’ve really loved being able to create different scenes and watching the stories come to life. I feel like a storyteller, and I love it.

Editing that B-roll, listening to Views by Drake.
Editing that B-roll, jamming to Views by Drake, sipping’ on that basic liquid and loving life.

When I was younger, I was interested in directing and editing film. However at the time, I had an amateur digital camera that I got from Santa (I planned on proving that Santa wasn’t real the next year by placing my camera strategically on the fireplace and letting it film the whole night) and the old Windows Movie Maker. I apologize to my friends who i drafted for my horrendous, amateur movies.

As I grew older, I didn’t have as much time for videos and lost touch with one of my favorite things as a child. I’ve felt nostalgic over the past few days. I’ve been asking Nico to review the scenes I’ve been editing. I’m determined to pick his brain and ask constantly for constructive criticism. My goal is to become a master of Final Cut Pro, just as Nico is. Who knows, maybe I’ll want to do this for awhile.

Standing in Solidarity

I took this photo at the beginning of our journey along the migrant trail.
I took this photo at the beginning of our journey along the migrant trail. Our journey was only two miles long, 1/1000 of Josseline’s trip from El Salvador.

On Saturday, our group ventured out early in the morning to set out on a desert hike to experience what the migrant goes through. The only thing I was sure of was that it was earlier than I was used to and the road to get there was barely even a road.
Our tour guide’s name was John, a crunchy granola looking fellow with long, white hair. His quirky character and love for all humanity is probably what stuck out to me the most. He took us across grasslands, up and down hills, through ravines, along both beaten and unbeaten paths. I fell within the first 15 minutes and tried to catch myself.  My hands landed on some rugged rocks and got pretty scratched up.

As we were walking, I tried to listen to what John was telling us. We were crossing over from a cattle trail to a migrant trail when he told us that we were part of the story now, that this wasn’t just a migrant story. That struck a chord with me. Up until then, I always saw it as their story, their struggles, their lives. But it’s the story of the human race, including all of our struggles and our dreams.


A photograph of my grandmother at age 19. This was taken outside of her university where she learned how to be a teacher.
A photograph of my grandmother at age 19. This was taken outside of her university where she learned how to be a teacher.

Above is a photo of Isabel Navasca Corpuz, also known as my Lola (Grandma in Tagalog). She was born on July 7, 1927 in Manilla, Philippines.

During WWII, she lived in a house with five other families on a farm in a rural area. She had just become a teenager but she was prohibited from going anywhere public by herself. Whenever she did go out, she had to disguise herself in old woman clothes so that the Japanese would not capture her and rape her.

When the war was over, my Lola finished her college education. She met and fell in love with Raymundo Corpuz and together they bore two sons. However, they saw that the Philippines was not the best place for them to raise their sons. Like many immigrants, they faced oppression in the country that they happened to be born in. With prayers tucked into their pockets, they left whatever material things they had behind in hope for a brighter future. They found refuge in this country that I call my own, America, the land of the free.

Almost a half of a century later, Lola has five grandchildren. Both of her sons have pursued higher education and have been able to provide for their own families.


This is a picture that was on Josseline's memorial card.
This is a picture that was on Josseline’s memorial card.

Above is a picture of Josseline Jamileth Hernandez Quiteros. She was born on September 15, 1993 in El Salvador. When she was young, her parents left of the United States in order to make more money to support their family. Both came into the country illegally and had been working in the shadows. Meanwhile, Josseline was in charge of taking care of her younger brother. Eventually, her mother, Sonia, had made enough money to hire a guide to take both of her children all the way from El Salvador to Los Angeles.

Josseline, 14,  and her brother, 10, went with other trusted adults to travel over 2,000 miles; jumping walls, hiking up and down the mountains, and trekking through the desert. They only brought with them the clothes on their backs. Josseline chose a pair of jeans and some sweatpants that had “Hollywood” bedazzled on the bottom. She planned to wear them when she arrived to the land of the famous.

They hid from Mexico’s national police as well as the United States Border Patrol. Just after they had crossed the US/Mexican border, Josseline started to get sick. The rest of the group were on a time crunch. They needed to be at a certain location where they would be picked up and time was running out. Josseline could barely walk. She encouraged the group to go on without her. Her brother cried and refused to leave his main caretaker. She encouraged him and told him to tell their mother where she was and to send help the second that he was able to.

Her first nights alone in the desert were spent in the freezing cold. She had on two jackets and two pairs of pants, but that still wasn’t enough to beat the 29 degree weather.

Three weeks later, members of No More Deaths were hiking the migrant trails to leave out jugs of water and canned goods for migrants. They stumbled upon the small body of a girl whose dreams were cut short. A memorial was held at the site where Josseline’s body was found. However, her family was not able to make it in fear of being arrested and deported back to Mexico.


I will be a part of my grandchildren’s history, like Lola was a part of mine. I grew up asking her stories of her hardships, of her hopes for her family, of her American Dream. When my grandchildren ask me questions, I want them to be as proud of my accomplishments as I am of Lola’s. I want them to learn from my courage and my determination for social justice. I want them to know how much I would sacrifice for our family and for our brothers and sisters around the world. I’m lucky that my Lola’s experience was not as difficult at Josseline’s and I have my life to show for it. I can only hope to do my 4 foot 6 inch grandmother justice.

Migration isn’t an us versus them issue, this is a we issue. When we see them as people with families and friends, with fears and dreams, then we will be able to stand in solidarity with them and fight for change.

 

Weavings of Beauty

I looked over my notes and questions I would be asking Danny throughout the interview.
I looked over my notes and questions before my first interview.

I had the chance to conduct my first interview with a gentleman named Danny who is a citizen from Nogales, Mexico who volunteers at El Comedor.

I was able to interview Danny, who had been born and raised in Nogales, Mexico. He has been volunteering at the Commodor for seven years.
I was able to interview Danny, who had been born and raised in Nogales, Mexico. He has been volunteering at El Comedor for seven years.

One of the questions that I asked was, “Where do you see God in all of this?”

After a few meditative moments, Danny’s response was, “God is in us.” He explained that even though he prays for things to get better, he sees God in the actions of people helping other people. He emphasized the ability to see migrants as people and not as a statistic. When we treat people with human dignity and interact with them as an equal, our hearts are impacted and transformed. What an incredible response that really embodies the very essence of what it means to be made in God’s likeness.

I’ve always wanted to change the world, to make a positive impact for those who needed it the most. As I’ve grown older, I’ve realized that it’s a lot harder than it sounds. But I refuse to be derailed from my goal to change the world. My goals have just have just become more focused. I’ve realized that every person has their own world that weaves through other worlds. When my world collides with another, it is the perfect opportunity for me to take the gifts I have been given to share with another. Our human stories become one, if even for an instant, and we both can benefit. The weaving of all stories under the human race is truly an awe-inspiring mystery.

Even for those of you who don’t believe in God, I hope you believe in the beauty that surrounds us everyday, especially in the face of hardships. Since I have been on this trip, I have seen this over and over again.

Natalia performing at the Commodor for migrants who were recently deported. She invited them to sing along with her and their spirits were immediately lifted.
Natalia performing at the Commodore for migrants who were recently deported. She invited them to sing along with her and their spirits were immediately lifted.

Natalia is a singer/songwriter who used to volunteer at El Comedor. She was born in the US but spent most of her time growing up in Columbia, where she became fluent in Spanish. When she started to hear these stories that the migrants would tell her, she became moved to write songs about their terrifying experiences and turn them into hauntingly beautiful songs.

Maren and I were able to film Natalia interact and play for the immigrants. One of her songs lyrics talked about the fire that burned in their souls to achieve the dream of a better life.

Natalia performed a concert at El Comedor that I was able to help film. A group of men who had just been deported moments before, had been dropped off just as everyone had sat down. The only table left was between my camera and Natalia. While I was filming, I made eye contact with a man and immediately smiled at him. He just sort of stared back at me. A few minutes later, our eyes met again and again I smiled. Shyly, a grin started to emerge from his face. The next time that our eyes met, he was beaming and his eyes twinkled. After dinner, I was conversing with a few other men in my broken Spanish and I could see him standing back and waiting. I went over and introduced myself to him and held out my hand to meet his. I learned that he was from a town in Central Mexico, 20 years old, and traveling by himself. His warm smile is what kept my tears from pouring out. We spoke very few words between us as I had to start packing up our gear, but the smiling seemed to be enough for the both of us.

The bottom image is flipped to make the image look more aesthetically pleasing. However, the bottom image is what the wall looks like that splits the United States and Mexico. The wall in the top photo was painted blue in order to “erase” the wall.

This wall that everyone keeps talking about is ugly both physically and symbolically. It’s brown and metal and not aesthetically pleasing whatsoever. A Mexican-American artist, Ana Teresa Fernández, has painted murals on the wall in different cities at the border. Her project is called, “Borrando la Frontera,” or “Erasing the Border.” Her mural in Nogales is sky blue, meant to look as if the sky had been brought down and the border erased.

We need to believe in the power of our individual talents and abilities to interact with others in a way that can make a lasting impact, even if only for an instant.

“What sunshine is to flowers, smiles are to humanity,” Joseph Addison
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanksgiving in May

Today is Tuesday, the 24th of May. Joanna took us to the Kino Border Initiative’s humanitarian shelter for women migrants, Casa Nazaret. We met women and children who had been staying in an apartment room on the top floor of a rickety old building. As we reached the top, we were greeted with grins and giggles by the families seeking shelter.

We listened to a presentation about the people who the Casa Nazaret served. I learned that the Border Patrol has a program that is aimed to interrupt migration routes by separating families traveling together. This makes families more vulnerable in an infinite amount of ways.

A fact that left me bewildered was that 75% of these women have had less than a middle school education.

How could this be when I have had the privilege of attending an all-girls private, college preparatory school. I had a flashback of all the things I had learned there and how much I had developed into a confident, independent, thinking leader.

I asked Joanna why this was. She said that even though education was free, families still had to provide money for books and uniforms and transportation. Most families can barely even afford their children taking time off of work to attend school. Since the education for women is so low, it becomes harder as they grow older to find work. Weavings of Hope is a program that provides women with the opportunity to have some sort of income by making bracelets.

Women are able to weave bracelets and sell them as a way to make money. The process of making these bracelets is meditative and can also have a huge impact psychologically.
Women are able to weave bracelets and sell them as a way to make money. The process of making these bracelets is meditative and can also have a huge impact psychologically.

After the presentation, I read testimonial after testimonial of women who had passed through Casa Nazaret. I found the main thing that tied a lot of the stories together was family.

I remember one story about a woman who had grown up in a family where she had been neglected simply because she had been born with the wrong set of chromosomes. She was abused both physically and mentally in the most crucial stages of her life. As she started to have children of her own, she made a promise to herself to never expose her children to the hardships she had known growing up. She crossed the border illegally and had four children in America, a place where she could receive aid and her children could receive an adequate education.

One day, she had been driving her daughter to an appointment. She was pulled over, handcuffed, and taken to be detained right in front of her daughter. She had no time to gather her things or say goodbye to her husband or her children. This women was deported back to Mexico, miles away from the loves of her life. But how could she call her children and explain why she had to leave?

At the end of today, I am thankful. I am thankful for the opportunity of not only an education, but one that celebrates what being a women means. I am thankful to have been able to focus on my studies rather than having to work all of the time at a young age. I am thankful for having job opportunities that provide me with more than $4 at the end of my shift. I’m thankful for the nurturing family that continues to care about my whole well being and supports me.