Best & Brightest: From Homelessness to Sharing the Stage With President Bush

Two years ago, Edith Espinoza would have never imagined that she would one day share the stage with the president of the United States or be the sole provider of her family.

Espinoza, a native of Mexico and a continuing education student at a San Diego community college, has come a long way since she moved to the United States in 1995. “Two years ago, I was a very different woman. I was a different Edith,” says the 30-year-old mother of two daughters.

Last month, Espinoza introduced President George W. Bush at a national conference for the federal Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. A victim of domestic abuse, allegedly at the hands of her husband, Espinoza got her life back on track thanks to a faith-based shelter for domestic violence victims in San Diego.

Coming from a very traditional Mexican background, Espinoza married at 15 and took on the role of wife and caregiver. The domestic abuse continued as she and her family moved from Mexico to California, then to Las Vegas. She says her time in Las Vegas symbolizes the most difficult period of her life, and she eventually decided to leave that dangerous environment. She asked a family member to send her money, and in December 2006, she went to El Nido, a faith-based shelter for domestic violence victims in San Diego.

 

The resources and individuals at El Nido gave Espinoza the opportunity to reinvent her life, obtain an education and become self-sufficient. Espinoza was assisted with transportation, funds for her education at San Diego Community College District’s Mid-City campus, counseling, an apartment and her first job as administrative assistant at the Chicano Federation of San Diego County.

At Mid-City, Espinoza has taken computer keyboarding, a business course and several English as a second language classes. Currently, Espinoza is at level six in ESL and will soon be at level seven, the most advanced level.

Espinoza wants to become a child development professional and case manager. “I want to work with other people like me,” she says, adding that her own case manager, El Nido spokesperson Francisca Jinesta, inspires her to have a great career.

It is also Jinesta who nominated Espinoza to go to Washington, D.C., where she introduced President Bush at a national conference for the federal Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

At first, the invitation seemed impossible, Espinoza says. “I said ‘no.’ I thought it was a joke. For me it seemed impossible. I thought, ‘Why me and not another lady?’”

It wasn’t until Edith received a faxed invitation at work that she realized Jinesta was serious.

Of her experience, Edith says she was not nervous, but rather comfortable and energized by the audience. “I felt good, like a celebrity,” she says.

Cindy Thompson, a CalWORKs job developer for continuing education students, says that it’s Espinoza’s work ethic and amazing spirit that has allowed her to succeed.

“She works so hard and wants to be a role model for her children so that they don’t have to go through what she has gone through,” Thompson says.

Espinoza says domestic abuse is a problem in Hispanic immigrants and those who don’t emigrate and stay in Latin America. But things are changing in her native Mexico. In February 2007, Mexico passed a historic new law that obligates its government to prevent, punish and eradicate violence against women. It became the first federal measure to stop domestic violence against women, according to The Associated Press. For many, the law demonstrated recognition of an issue that has been often ignored by the nation’s government and by a patriarchal society in which machismo pervades.

In 2006, a Mexican government-sponsored study estimated that about 43 percent of women over 15 years had been victims of some form of family violence over the course of their last relationship.

Mujeres Latinas en Acción, a bilingual and Chicago-based agency that works with Hispanic women and youth to become self-reliant and improve the quality of their lives, outlines the reality that many women like Espinoza often have to confront: there’s a strong sense of family that often keep Hispanics from “betraying” long-standing values. Those who step outside of these norms are sometimes shamed by their more traditional family members.

The organization also points to other challenges that often cripple Hispanic women — language barriers, lack of resources, the threat of deportation and the fear of authorities.

Because Espinoza worked hard to overcome these barriers, she says she wants to help others do the same.

“I want to say to other women that it’s not good to stay in an abusive relationship. The first effect is on the children,” she says.

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