Margarita knows the fear of desperation. She cries when she thinks of it, though silently and elegantly so, and she speaks in soft, measured tones. Through a translator, Margarita is recalling the night she considered ending both her own life and her son’s out of fear of starvation, wondering if death by her own hand would be more merciful.
Months before, Margarita’s husband had left her for another woman. He took all their money and all their food, and tried to take her son from her too but she fought back. She wanted to get a job, but all her applications required a phone number, and she couldn’t afford a phone. She wanted to get help, but was told by other immigrants that if she did, the police would take her son. She wanted to ask someone if the court documents her husband sent really did say that he’d won full custody, but she was illiterate and ashamed. She wanted her son to stop feeling sad, to stop crying for food; she wanted salvation.
The next day she found it. Upon being stopped by a woman in their building who had noticed their increasingly ill health, Margarita told her neighbor that they were without money, food, and very soon, a home. The woman took her to Para Los Niños, where she and her son were fed and given food vouchers, and where the truth about public assistance was explained. Soon, Margarita enrolled in Para Los Niños’ financial management classes for women and received legal assistance, becoming educated enough to realize her husband had been sending fake legal documents concerning their custody battle. She installed a phone and got a job, eventually earning enough to decline welfare. Soon after, Margarita joined with other tenants in her apartment to sue their landlord for failing to maintain conditions in the building, which was overrun by bedbugs, rats, and cockroaches. They won, and though she remained fearful of returning to poverty, Margarita donated a generous amount of her settlement to Para Los Niños for the express purpose of helping single mothers struggling for survival.
Today, Margarita says she no longer worries about returning to those darker times.
She explains that while the memory is still very painful, it helps to talk about it because it affirms how far she’s come and how much she’s achieved. Now, she says, she helps others who need it; accompanying them to court, dispelling myths, and pointing single mothers to important resources.
When asked about becoming an example of courage for others she laughs off the compliment.
“People call me a leader, but I don’t know if that’s true,” she says.