The Girl Who Broke Free: Building A New Life In America #15Girls : Goats and Soda Rosi loves shopping at H&M and teasing her dad. It took years of therapy and tears to put her nightmare behind her. At age 13, she was forced to marry a man twice her age.
NPR logo

The Girl Who Broke Free: Building A New Life In America #15Girls

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/450276762/451403471" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
The Girl Who Broke Free: Building A New Life In America #15Girls

The Girl Who Broke Free: Building A New Life In America #15Girls

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/450276762/451403471" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

All this month, we've been hearing about the lives of teenage girls from around the world. Some of them say they dream of coming to the United States, where they believe their lives would be better. Our next story is about a girl who was forced to come here, and, like a lot of migrants, her journey didn't end when she crossed the border. NPR's Jasmine Garsd reports.

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: The week she turned 15, Rosi got an amazing birthday present. She was in a government shelter in New York and then her dad walked in. It was the first time she'd seen him in almost four years.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Through interpreter) Oh my God, to be honest, we were crying. She was wearing jeans, tennis shoes, this little collared blouse.

ROSI: (Through interpreter) And I felt so happy. I didn't even want a party. I didn't want anything. To just see him there - and he brought me a big cake as a present. It was vanilla.

GARSD: Until her dad showed up, she'd been thinking she should just go home to Guatemala and face the nightmare she'd run away from. Rosi still has trouble talking about it. She calls it lo que paso, or the thing that happened. Lo que paso was that when her dad first got to the U.S., he had several roommates. One of them saw pictures of Rosi and became obsessed. He's her nightmare and the reason we aren't using Rosi's full name or the names of anyone in her family. They're still worried about this man who, once upon a time, went back to Guatemala and started tracking Rosi down. She was 13. He was 31. He wanted to marry her. When Rosi's dad found out, he was furious.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Through interpreter) If you don't want to have a problem, stay away from my home, I told him. Well, you know what, he told me. You are there, and I am here - just like that. The thing is, in our country, everything gets fixed with money.

GARSD: And this guy had American money. The dad thinks Rosi's mom was seduced by this. She forced Rosi to marry the guy.

ROSI: (Through interpreter) I wanted to be dead rather than live through that. I tried killing myself with a knife. But an aunt found me and told me, don't do it. It's going to be OK.

GARSD: It wasn't. Now that he had his child bride, Rosi's husband decided to head back to the U.S. with her. They got caught at the U.S.-Mexico border. This is what most migrants fear. But for Rosi, it meant getting away from her husband. He made a run for it. She never saw him again. Rosi's ordeal was over but far from finished. She ended up in a government shelter for unaccompanied children in California, then Texas, then New York, where her dad was finally able to come get her. When she was released, he took her home to Pennsylvania.

Rosi and her dad share a small apartment with another migrant. It's a crisp autumn day, and outside, the trees are shivering. Inside, it's turned into a sauna from all the cooking. Rosi makes a mean pollo sudado - chicken stew with rice, salad and steamed plantains with sugar. She tells me, in the months after being released to her father, she barely ate.

ROSI: (Through interpreter) All I did was cry. I felt really depressed. I didn't want to speak to men. I hated them. I asked myself, why is this happening to me?

GARSD: Like so many kids who come to the U.S. as migrants, Rosi felt lost. Her lawyer referred her to a woman named Cathi Tillman.

CATHI TILLMAN: You know, five years ago, we maybe had 10 percent of our referrals were specifically of youth. And now it's probably 60 percent.

GARSD: Tillman is the executive director of La Puerta Abierta, an organization that works to give migrants improved access to mental health care. Rosi was able to get a green card and the marriage annulled. Her father doesn't have papers. Tillman says when she first met Rosi, she was lucky to get a few words out of her. Rosi started attending a youth group.

TILLMAN: She was pretty shut down - very, very quiet. But one of the things that helped her connect was that she loves bachata.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing in Spanish).

TILLMAN: And she decided, one day after group, to turn on some music. And she started dancing and showing - there were a couple of other girls that she had become somewhat friendly with - and they started doing it. And we were all laughing.

GARSD: Maybe it was the melancholy Caribbean guitar pluck or being around people who cared about her, but something gave. Rosi was ready to talk about the thing that happened in Guatemala.

ROSI: (Through interpreter) The first time, I couldn't talk. It was hard. I just cried and cried with my therapist. And she told me to get it all out, what I had inside of me.

GARSD: The next day we go check out clothing at H&M. She loves this store and swings by whenever she has some extra cash. She picks out a lot of lacy, girly blouses and wrinkles her nose at the skull print sweatshirt I grabbed.

It's been almost four years since Rosi started going to therapy. She tells me about her boyfriend and how she doesn't want kids until she has a nursing career. I ask her if she's forgiven her mother for selling her out. Rosi pauses and says, well, you only get one mother. They aren't on speaking terms. But she and her dad adore each other.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Through interpreter) Imagine, when she was in Texas, I could only speak to her for 15 minutes every eight days - 15 minutes. I'd tell her - how are you, my daughter? How are you, my beautiful girl? And she would say, don't be sad, Papa, I'm going to be OK. And I'd say, OK, I'm here waiting for you. I'm fighting for you.

GARSD: Cathi Tillman says it's not your run-of-the-mill happy ending, but it's close.

TILLMAN: There isn't necessarily closure. There's peace. There's reconciliation. There's acceptance. But closure - how do you close a wound that is, you know, 100 miles wide? Sometimes, the wound stays open, and it scabs over. And you just have to take care of it and then go on with your life.

GARSD: Outside the store, Rosi and I part ways. She told her dad she'd be home a while ago, and he gets worried. Jasmine Garsd, NPR News.

SIMON: We'd like to hear your stories about life at 15. You can share them on Twitter at #15girls.

Copyright © 2015 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.