This story was produced for The Oaklandside by El Tímpano, a Spanish-language reporting lab serving Oakland’s Latino and Mayan immigrant communities.
I was 26 years old when my daughter Rosa Sánchez was born in Tomatlán, Jalisco. Five years later, in 2008, I came to California searching for a better life for myself and her. I wanted something different from what I had known, for her. Being able to learn new languages, studying, and becoming a professional. But since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve been living a nightmare.
The first time that we heard a shooting in June, 2020, we were exercising, following a Zumba video. My niece was here in the house with her kids. My boyfriend was outside. I thought there were fireworks. When my boyfriend came in, he said, “Francisca! Those are gunshots, hide away.” We all ran to the bathroom and hid. We locked ourselves in. I had only heard gunshots in my hometown in Mexico. I never imagined that this would ever happen in the United States.
When we lived in San Leandro for four years, we didn’t hear any shootings. Here in Oakland, there’s no safety. The second shooting happened while I was cooking. I saw it through the kitchen window. They were behind a truck. I don’t know if I can say who they are, but I can recognize them. There were a lot of gunshots. We found about 70 casings on the ground. Both of these shootings happened in front of my house.
I was afraid of going outside. I was afraid that my boyfriend would die. I was afraid of people. I worked at an office-supply factory, but I couldn’t be there. I was sitting and looking everywhere, as if someone was going to attack me. The anxiety was greater. The fear. The depression.
My friends used to message me, asking when I would see them. But I didn’t want to talk to anybody. The only people I talked to were my neighbors across the street. I asked them what the solution was. They said that the only solution was to move.
My daughter was also anxious. She should have studied at University of California, Davis. She was interested in medicine. My boyfriend and I took her to the college campus. We helped her move in, brought the food up to her room, and set up her bed. But she was afraid something bad would happen when we separated. We brought her home. She didn’t return to Davis.
That was the moment when we decided we needed to talk to a psychologist.
I searched for a psychologist in the Bay Area, someone who spoke Spanish. I found three or four. I sent one an email with an urgent subject line. I told him that we were anxious and had panic attacks and that I constantly thought something bad was going to happen to us.
I think everything piled up. When the pandemic started, I was unemployed. A year later, in July 2021, we were sick with COVID-19. My boyfriend was hospitalized for five days and almost died. I went to Highland [Hospital] because I couldn’t breathe. During that pandemic, there were more shootings. It was like people didn’t know how to decompress the frustration of being in quarantine.
Our first therapy session was in September 2021. I paid $140 for my daughter and me. That was the only money I had left in the bank. After the session, I called La Clínica and talked to a doctor. We explained our situation. They referred us to a specialist.
The doctor said that there is a time when the body or the brain can no longer take it. It is like a glass of water that begins to overflow. I have lived many things. I have seen death up close several times: at the border when I crossed the mountains, and then I experienced it with COVID-19 and the shootings.
The program, Health PAC, which I am covered by since I moved to Alameda County, helped me economically with the following sessions. That program is a great support. I feel privileged. I thank God that we have a program for undocumented immigrants. I know from other people that thanks to this program they have had access to medical assistance. There are other cities in California where we had to pay a lot of money. If I didn’t have it, who knows what it would be like?
During the sessions, every three weeks, I talk about everything. But it’s not like they give you life advice. They help you recognize what is hurting you and what you can do to stop feeling that way. They taught us a few exercises – to breathe, contain the air, and look up. Doing it five times when I feel my heart racing.
I see my daughter doing better now, calmer, smiling more. She is at Chabot College and recently got a 95 on her exams. She wants to go back to UC Davis.
I also want to get my life back. I feel better. But earlier this year, after the most recent shooting, we saw a bullet in our chimney. I would like to return to San Leandro, but rents are really expensive. My boyfriend says that when we win the lottery, we will live wherever we want.
As told to Justo Robles. Edited by Monica Campbell for length and clarity.