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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
And it's Friday when we hear from StoryCorps. And today, a daughter talks with her father about his childhood in Mexico. Kaya Ortega is a 16-year-old from Orange County, Calif. Her father, Francisco, lived, as a boy, in Tijuana, Mexico, about 100 miles south of where they live now. They sat down at StoryCorps.
KAYA ORTEGA: Tell me about your childhood in Mexico.
FRANCISCO ORTEGA: We were so poor, but I used to say my mother kept the best dirt floors ever.
K ORTEGA: (Laughter).
F ORTEGA: They were the cleanest dirt floors in the planet.
My parents came here first, working at horrible jobs just to send money to us. And they left us with an aunt. I didn't see my parents for about three and a half years. And I was just such a, like, a wild little crazy kid. You know, literally, they would have to chase me around to bathe me. And a lot of that is because I would sit at night crying for my mother.
K ORTEGA: When she left you, did you know that she did that because she loved you more than she loved herself?
F ORTEGA: I didn't know that then, Kaya. I was just a kid who missed his mother.
K ORTEGA: Yeah.
So when you came to United States, what age were you?
F ORTEGA: I was 9. I remember the night a car came for me. My auntie - I didn't even fight her, but she gave me a beautiful, warm bath. She had a white, crisp shirt she ironed for me with a little clip-on tie, a black one. And when she said goodbye to me, she touched the window of the car, blew me a kiss and she said, go change the world.
K ORTEGA: So what was your proudest moment?
F ORTEGA: One day at college, a professor of mine says - hey, I have these guys that are struggling. So they gave me kids to tutor. And this kid calls me to have a beer. He says, hey, I want to meet you down at this bar. So I go down. 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.
And as I'm walking away back to campus, I am flooded with this emotion. And I'm like - why am I feeling this way? And I realized I came to this country as a poor, non-English speaking immigrant kid. And I was teaching how to write. And for the first time in my life, I felt like I belonged here.
K ORTEGA: You know, I can't relate a whole lot to you. I grew up having all these opportunities. And I don't want to be closed off in a bubble my whole life, and you've opened that bubble up for me. I want to thank you for that. And I act like I'm too cool for you or whatever, but I'm so proud.
INSKEEP: That's Kaya Ortega with her father, Francisco, at StoryCorps in Los Angeles. Their interview will be archived with all the others at the Library of Congress and featured on the StoryCorps podcast.
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