Mom moves from Central America to plant roots & build community in Oakland

Nearly a decade ago, Santos and her young son traveled 3,000 miles away from their homeland of Guatemala to make Oakland their hometown. At the time, she spoke few words in English, and her Spanish was limited, too. Her native tongue is a Mayan language called Mam, indigenous to Guatemala. As you can imagine, the language barrier presented a big challenge for her and her pre-teen son adjusting to life in a new country. 

“At that time I didn't have the support of [my son’s] father nor of my family. I just came here with my son with nothing,” Santos explained to us speaking in Spanish through an interpreter. “I borrowed the money for everything, for food, for the travels here, everything.”

When she made that sacrifice back in 2017, her social network was non-existent. Gradually she built connections with parents at her son’s school, colleagues she met at work and through chance encounters with people she met around the city. Before long, she found a growing Guatemalan community in Oakland that made those lonely feelings a distant memory for her and her son. Santos now finds her happy place being around her community, speaking freely and interacting with her new neighbors in ways that still connect her to her Guatemalan roots. 

Currently, Santos is engaged and a mother of two with a now 16-year-old son and a new one-year-old daughter. She makes sure the Guatemalan culture is alive in her children—sharing expertise with them like how to preserve herbs. To her, it’s more than a passion, it’s a practical way to prioritize her family’s health. She says she cooks her own meals to reduce their risk of “suffering from diseases” in the future. 

Santos enjoys spending quality time at the park with her fiance and kids. Though she admitted that she worries about the amount of crime and violence in Oakland and sometimes dreams of moving to Washington state for a safer place to live, she says her family is pretty settled in. 

As a participant in the Oakland Resilient Families Guaranteed Income Pilot, Santos received $500 monthly for 18 months and was able to use the cash investment however she wished—no strings attached. It’s an UpTogether approach that invests directly in an individual’s strengths and trusts them to be the expert in their own life. To Santos, the impact was empowering.

“People can buy what they need or pay down a debt or get what they really want or what they truly need,” she stated.

Reflecting on when she received the UpTogether payouts in her account, Santos shared that it couldn’t have come at a better time.

“There was a day where I was down to only $20 and that day is the day that the money arrived and I was so happy. [The Oakland Resilient Families Guaranteed Income Pilot] helped me buy a car, pay the rent, buy food, and I was also able to pay down my debt,” she shared. 

Similar to when she first moved to California, Santos began to connect with and build community with fellow UpTogether members who also participated in the Oakland Resilient Families Guaranteed Income Pilot.

“It was really difficult sometimes finding things on my phone and being able to get into things that I needed on my phone and they helped me. They would also tell me about stuff in the news, and so that's how we kind of supported each other,” she remembered. 

Santos says her next major goal is to purchase another vehicle—the old one was totaled in a car accident. To get around the city, she currently relies on navigating Oakland’s bus system or she’ll wait for her fiance to finish work and they can run errands together. But Santos admits having her own car again would make things easier—especially as she hunts for a new job.

Her work experience is in the restaurant industry, although Santos says she only plans to stay in it long enough to save money and open her own clothing business. She dreams of one day being able to sell her unique designs for women and children. 

Santos' journey reminds us that all people in the United States should be seen and invested in for their unique insights into their own lives and should be afforded the chance to thrive.

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