“Tell me about your childhood in Mexico.”
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.