StoryCorps: From Factory To Classroom: A Worker, A Student — And A Mother Noramay Cadena left the factories where her parents worked to travel cross-country for school. Now with degrees from MIT, the engineer recalls her journey, with the daughter she raised along the way.
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From Factory To Classroom: A Worker, A Student — And A Mother

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From Factory To Classroom: A Worker, A Student — And A Mother

From Factory To Classroom: A Worker, A Student — And A Mother

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Time again for StoryCorps. Today, a conversation between Noramay Cadena and her teenage daughter Chassitty Saldana. Noramay is a mechanical engineer with two degrees from MIT. Her parents, in Los Angeles, are factory workers. One summer, when Noramay was a teenager, they took her to work at a factory that makes bungee cords.

NORAMAY CADENA: A bell would ring in the morning and that meant it was time to start. And I spent eight hours a day putting hooks into bungee cords. I remember thinking, I don't like this place and I don't want to work here. I don't even like it that my parents work here. But it was my mom's way of showing me what my life would be like if I didn't do anything different. You were born my senior year. So the day I made the decision that I was going to move 3,000 miles away from home with you to go to college, no other time in my life have I been as brave as that day.

CHASSITTY SALDANA: So while you were at MIT, did it ever bother you that you were different from other students because you had me?

CADENA: Yeah, it wasn't easy. My rule was to spend the evening with you. Soon as you went to sleep, I'd go work on my homework. And sometimes I slept and sometimes I didn't, but it was really important for me that you felt your day was as normal as all your other friends at the daycare center.

SALDANA: I remember this one time I was playing in the playground and I saw you come home, but you didn't come pick me up.

CADENA: Yeah, I remember that. There were times that I really needed a nap in between classes and so I would come home, and I would actually hide. I would get off the shuttle bus, and I'd run upstairs. It was just about my only quiet time.

SALDANA: Since I was little, we would have these projects that say, who's your role model? I would always put my mom because a lot of people said that you wouldn't graduate, but you did. You graduated MIT twice.

CADENA: (Laughter) We did. You were there, too. I know the last 17 years haven't been easy, but I wanted to set a great example for you. I remember during graduation, seeing how happy my parents were and feeling like I was Superwoman. It felt like the beginning of a new life for all of us and gave me this huge sense of hope for what you would do. You're going to do well, too.

SALDANA: I hope so. I've definitely learned it all from you.

MONTAGNE: That's Chassitty Saldana speaking to her mother, Noramay Cadena at StoryCorps in Los Angeles. During her career, Noramay has worked to improve conditions at factories like the ones where her parents still work. This interview will be archived at the American Folklife Center in the Library of Congress. You can hear more on the StoryCorps podcast. Get it on iTunes and at npr.org.

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