Fostering the American dream

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By Luis De La Cruz

Like many children who grow up in foster care, I’ve encountered many adversities that I don’t believe were because of any deficiencies on my part, but rather, because of the circumstances into which I was born.

I migrated with my parents and two siblings from Mexico in search of the American dream at the age of seven. Shortly thereafter, my mother abandoned her three boys, leaving my father to raise my brothers and me. During this time my father was often unemployed. Shelter was always temporary, and going to bed hungry was common. A big part of my life was spent going from one living room to the next of people who graciously offered temporary housing to a man with his three teenagers. Adding to the existing hardships, at the end of my sophomore year in high school, my father was deported and would never come back. Subsequently, my older brother dropped out of high school and left. My 12-year-old brother and I remained together.

It was difficult when my father was with us; it was even tougher when he was gone. I worked part time after high school to pay rent so that we could live in my uncle’s garage. At the age of 16, I was not only responsible for myself, but also had a 12 year-old brother who would look up to me for stability, support and an opportunity for a better future. While I tried my hardest, it was only enough to be able to live from hand to mouth. A year and a half passed, and Child Protective Services discovered we were without proper adult care. I was told that we would most likely end up in separate group homes because my uncle was unwilling to become our foster parent. The circumstances at the time framed an uncertain future. I didn’t want to lose the last member of my family; my dreams seemed to fade away. To make a very long story short, the Nelson family, the people who were my employers for two years, made the commitment that my uncle was unwilling to make and much more.

Today, my little brother remains in the same loving and caring home and will be a junior at McClintock High School. He thoroughly enjoys being a part of his high school tennis and swimming team, and is putting to good use the tennis racquet he purchased with a grant from the Arizona Friends of Foster Children Foundation.

As for me, I will be a junior attending Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State University majoring in business law. I have studied abroad in China, visited Europe and this summer I am living in Washington, D.C., and interning, for the second time, as a member of Congressman Ed Pastor’s staff. Most importantly, even though I aged out of the system at 18, I remain a part of the Nelson family.

The truth is that I was fortunate to have found care and support during the most difficult times of my life because amazing people were placed in my path. Unfortunately, this is not true for most of the children in foster care. On average, they go through three different placements. Frequent moves in and out of the homes of strangers can be profoundly scary and unsettling. I know it was for me, even though I had my father and two brothers by my side. So I can only imagine what it feels like for those who don’t have family. While the stories, backgrounds and dreams of children in foster care may diverge, we all have something in common:  We yearn for stability, love and support. The unyielding love from our foster parents, the steadfast support of individuals who mentor and care for us, and organizations like Arizona Friends of Foster Children Foundation will help guide and support us as we embark on journeys toward achieving our goals and making our dreams a reality.

Luis De La Cruz is a scholarship recipient of the Arizona Friends of Foster Children Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting self-esteem and enriching the lives of children in foster care by funding activities, education and scholarships to provide them with quality experiences while they live through very difficult circumstances. He is also being profiled in “Green Card Stories” by Saundra Amrhein, a book that will attempt to humanize the immigration issue by telling the stories of 50 immigrants from different parts of the globe. The book is scheduled to come out in November.

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