Editor’s Note: This story was reported by El Tímpano, a civic media organization serving and covering the Bay Area’s Latino and Mayan immigrants. The story is published in partnership with The Oaklandside and Oakland Voices as part of a first-person series examining public safety and related issues in Oakland.

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Until I was 13, I was very happy. I think I’m still there, still in my childhood; a psychologist in Guatemala told me that I was [emotionally stuck] in that happy time. Because, after I turned 13 years old, I went numb, I no longer felt my life. I feel like I haven’t lived after what happened to me. 

This story is part of Amplify Oakland, our series of first-person stories shared by Oaklanders in their own words. Read more.

I was born in Puerto Valdés, in the department of Izabal in Guatemala. We were four siblings. My grandparents raised us, and we didn’t need anything, thank God. At that moment, I didn’t think about having children, I thought about working for my grandparents and my brothers. But my life changed a lot, too much.

My stepfather tried to abuse me. That man took me when I was two and a half months shy of turning 14. I had three daughters with him. I suffered a lot of domestic violence. For seven and a half years I put up with him and felt like committing suicide. Until one day I found the courage and left. I grabbed one daughter in my arms and the other one walking, and with my big belly [pregnant with a third daughter], I crossed a hammock bridge that was there at that time, on a farm where I was. I was left alone with my daughters. I started working—with two, three jobs—because when you have children there is more pressure from the family. 

At that moment, in 1986, my doctor sent me to a psychologist who said my condition was really bad. There are people who do not believe in the damage we carry from childhood. We have been carrying many things. They say that every human being has a little dark place where we hold on to what has hurt us.

Nuria Dardón rests in her coworker’s RV between shifts at a party bus rental depot in the Coliseum neighborhood in Oakland on Friday, Oct. 20, 2023. Credit: Hiram Alejandro Durán for El Tímpano/CatchLight Local/ Report for America corps member

I left Guatemala to come to the United States in 2005. I came alone. I left on a Tuesday at six in the morning for Mexico and arrived here the next Tuesday, around nine in the morning. And I felt very good, because in my country I was a very fearful person, I barely knew my country in depth. I didn’t like going out because I was afraid of the traffic and all that. But what happened to me also helped me gain courage. I said I’d better get away.

There are people who do not believe in the damage we carry from childhood.

Nuria Dardón, 60, Oakland

I never liked studying. I only got to fifth grade, because since I was a little girl, from the age of three, my grandmother says, I really liked to cook. My older brother was two years older than me, he also liked to cook. As children he would tell me, “Come, let’s make Christmas food” and that’s how we learned. We made baked turkeys, tamales, a lot of things. That’s how we both started to grow. Those were times when we put sadness aside. My dream was to be a chef. When I grew up and left Guatemala to come to the United States in 2005, I achieved that.

Dardón’s daily routine has been marred by two surgeries on her right hand. On top of impacting her work, the surgeries have prevented her from doing the things she enjoys most – cooking and expressing her creativity. Credit: Hiram Alejandro Durán for El Tímpano/CatchLight Local/ Report for America corps member

When my brother passed away, in 2014, I couldn’t take it anymore. I cried for no reason and people told me that I was crazy, that I was strange. I looked for help then. I also had to seek help in 2020. On the phone, the psychologist told me: “You are very sick, I am going to refer you to the hospital.”

I hit the brakes when they called me the next day, they told me: “If you have suicidal thoughts, my duty is to call the police, we are going to have to hospitalize you for at least six weeks.” It scared me, and I asked myself: “What am I going to do?” “They are going to call the police and deport me.” I thought, “What am I going to do in my country?” But they called me from the Casa del Sol [at La Clínica de la Raza] and invited me to the closed groups at the cultural center. I started going in February 2021.

I don’t know how to explain how much those groups have helped me to value and love myself, to understand that we are all equal, that God loves us all. The thoughts that I had in 2020, little by little, I pushed them away from my mind. The groups are on Mondays and on Fridays in the garden. There we talk, we each bring a little something to share, we celebrate birthdays of the month. Every week I want Friday to arrive and I like to go grocery shopping in the morning to make food for my group. 

I try not to miss it. I promised my brother I’d find my personality, but I haven’t kept that promise. It is a process in which one has to learn and adapt, not thinking about what people say, and focus on being happy. Be brave, as we say in my country, and be happy, as I was before.

If you or someone around you is at risk, call or text the Suicide Prevention Lifeline number 988 for free support, 24 hours a day, seven days a week; Press 2 to be attended to in Spanish. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or visit www.thehotline.org to speak with a specialist.