*This story is published on page 17 of the East Palo Alto Today newspaper! Check it out by clicking here.
My mom didn’t learn to drive when she was 16 years old, like most people in the United States. She learned to drive well after she had had three children. Even if she had known how to drive, however, our budget was too tight to afford a second car. So, for the most part, I remember walking everywhere with her because my dad was busy working during the day. A young woman walking with her three children and no husband was not an ideal scenario. Everyone living in East Palo Alto knew that it was dangerous. Of course, most of us didn’t have a choice. We still had to get to doctor’s appointments, the grocery store, church, and school. So, we walked–cautiously.
I was constantly reminded that I had to hold my mom’s hand while we walked. My arrogant-know-it-all-five-year-old mind, however, convinced me that I was old enough to walk on my own and that my mom’s paranoia was completely unnecessary. One time, I actually said no and rejected her extended hand. I was immediately punished by the universe: I fell and scraped both elbows and both knees. She said I told you so and I grabbed her hand and cried the whole way home. Up until then, this incident was enough to scare me into being by my mother’s side at all times.
Of course, it wasn’t long before I strayed again during one of our walks. This time, though, I didn’t get punished–my mom did.
I don’t remember walking on any sidewalks that day. It was just the side of the street that led to houses. As we walked, I spotted a small vacant lot (possibly someone’s driveway). Most of it was broken concrete with some plants around it, but what appealed to me was the almost perfect square-shaped part that was raised off the ground. It had a stage-like element to it and I wanted to get on it to pretend that I was a famous singer or dancer. There was no one around and my mom allowed it. I was skipping around pretending to be someone else on this “stage” when I heard a scream. I twirled around and prepared to run back to my mom, but I stopped. The scream had come from my own mother. A man was trying to steal the necklace off of her neck. I didn’t know what to do. I had two choices: run up to my mom to try to get this man to go away while possibly making things worse and risking my own safety or stay put and watch my mom get robbed.
I panicked. I was scared and even though I wanted to help my mom, I couldn’t. My body froze and I just stood there. After the man had accomplished his goal, he ran off. At that point, I shamefully walked back to my mom and held her hand. We didn’t have cell phones, so we couldn’t call anyone for help. So, we continued walking.
My mom didn’t say much to me about what had just happened and I didn’t ask any questions. I heard her sniffling, but I didn’t dare look up at her. So there we were: a mom and her kids, just trying to get to the next appointment without getting robbed along the way. Sometimes, it worked. Sometimes, it didn’t.
I later found out that my dad had just given her that golden necklace as a gift. It was her first time wearing it.