Francisco Ortega grew up in Tijuana in the 1970s. At just 6 years old, his parents left him with an aunt and headed to Los Angeles to build a better life for their family. According to StoryCorps, Francisco’s father worked as a busboy while his mother was a factory seamstress. Francisco admits to being a bit of a terror to his aunt as he tried to make sense of not having his mother around. After three years without seeing his parents, 9-year-old Francisco was dressed up in a “white crisp shirt” and a clip on black tie and his aunt put him in a car set for the United States. As the car started to leave she blew him a kiss and told him, “Go change the world.”
StoryCorps is a podcast that collects interviews from different people — often with one relative interviewing another — to help “build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.”In an interview for StoryCorps, Ortega’s daughter, Kaya, asked him what was his proudest moment since arriving at the U.S. Francisco relays that when he arrived in this country, he was a child immigrant who knew little English. Yet, in college, he had a professor pull him aside and ask him to help tutor some students who were struggling. One student was so grateful for the help that he offered to buy Francisco a beer as a thank you.
“So I go down [to the bar] and this guy grabs my arm and he says to me, ‘I want to thank you for helping me. I couldn’t have done it without you,'” Francisco recalls to his daughter. “And as I’m walking my way back to campus, I am flooded with this emotion and I’m like, ‘Why am I feeling this way?’ I realize, I came into this country as a poor, non-English-speaking immigrant kid and I was teaching how to write. For the first time in my life, I felt like I belonged here.”
As for changing the world, Francisco is the City of Los Angeles’ Community Engagement Specialist. His main goal in that position is to bridge the gap between L.A. residents and law enforcement.
There’s nothing better in life than friends who have your back. Both Vanessa Mendoza and Norma Bates recently realized they had a one-in-a-million kind of friend in Heidi Paat after she gave them the most heart-warming birthday gifts ever: two talking bears from the Build-A-Bear workshop. In the video Paat posted to Twitter, both Mendoza and Bates are seen breaking down into tears as they find out the secret message each bear holds. When Twitter saw the reaction these friends had, the internet had to take a moment to collect itself.
Why are these bears so special for Vanessa Mendoza and Norma Bates?
As Heidi explained over Twitter, “Both of my best friends lost their parents over the past two years so I got them a bear with their parents’ voice recordings on it.” When asked how she got the parent’s voices in the bears, Paat tweeted, “I asked my other friend’s sister for a recording of her mom :)”
The recording on Mendoza’s bear was her dad’s voice saying “Estás chula amor… Estás chula madre…”
We’d all lose it. Paat said she pulled the audio from “one had videos of her dad on her Facebook.”
Paat told mitú she had the idea for this birthday gift since Christmas.
I saw it around Christmas time in a video and it made me happy so I thought of when I could do it for my friends who had gone through a similar situation of losing a loved one.
Mendoza’s bear featured the voice of her father telling her he thought she was beautiful, and the voice of Bates’ mother was of her singing “Happy Birthday.”
Paat said she was getting emotional as she was putting the plush bear together at Build-A-Bear.
I was getting emotional when I made them so I explained the purpose of the bears and who they were for. The person who helped me was so nice and she made the process of making them so special. She told me to go back and show her the video so if I find myself around there again I’ll definitely show her their reaction.
Paat also said that she told the staff at Build-A-Bear why she was there because she “was probably the only person in there without a kid.”
Paat told mitú why she knew this gift would be so important to her best friends Mendoza and Bates.
They never really tell me what they want but I pay attention to what they like and what I think would make them happy. I love to get creative and put a lot of thought into gifts for people. It’s not always about the materialistic things but more about the personalization and thought and creativity that goes into it. I’m sure I’ll think of something nice and cute for them. They deserve sooo much!