In OnCentral's "South L.A. Snapshot" series, OnCentral provides you with a glimpse into the lives of everyday women and men in South Los Angeles. This time, we talked to single mother Lindy De Jesus, 27. De Jesus is a Mexican immigrant who works at a Santa Monica coffee shop to pay the bills. Her daughter Jasmine, 10, attends a downtown charter school and lives with De Jesus and De Jesus' parents in South L.A., near the intersection of San Pedro and 43rd streets. We talked to De Jesus about the challenges of being a single parent, and how living on the southside affects those challenges.
When did you become a mother?
I was 17 years old and I was in my senior year, so not only am I a single mother I was a teen mother. [laughs] Due to all the hormones, I didn't want to stay in school, so I took off and I went to a different school out of state, in Minnesota.
I just wanted to avoid all the pressure from everybody and focus on my pregnancy. In Minnesota I saw the difference between schools, because as soon as they found out I was pregnant, they offered all this help to help me finish high school. There was this class that helped people that couldn't attend school; they would bring my homework home, pick it up, speak to my teachers on my behalf. It helped a lot. I don't think there are any programs here in South L.A. that do that for you. So I'm thankful I made that decision and took off, because I did graduate on time.
I came back shortly after, when Jasmine was about 11 months old.
Were you trying to get pregnant?
It was accidental. I knew in the back of my head it could happen. I just didn't take the precautions.
Is the father is still in the picture?
The father is still in the picture. We get in a lot of drama but he's still there. He sends money. He calls once in a while. Now that she's growing up, I think it's kind of become less. He's involved, but he stayed out of state, so it's a little different. Jasmine only sees him in summers now for about a month. Basically, I am all alone. She's with me 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
How did your family react when they learned you were pregnant?
You know how Mexican families are. They want you to marry, then have kids – they don't really take jumping around on those steps well. Of course my mom was devastated and my dad didn't get really involved. He'd always just go with the flow. When I left for Minnesota, they were OK with it. And they've always tried to show me to be responsible, so I pay my share of the rent and bills. They're helping me but I'm helping them too. And they're immigrants, so they don't have a steady job or 401K, so they do depend on whatever help they get from me. But I moved back in with them because I know they needed me in the same way I needed them. They help me take care of my daughter; they take her to school in the mornings; they basically do for her everything that they did for me.
What's your family life like now?
We're happy, but the economics in South Central are always bad. You always need more money. Thankfully, we're OK – we're surviving, just living from paycheck to paycheck.
Which brings me to my next question – what are the challenges that come with being a single mother?
Well, it's definitely pushed me back on a lot of things I wanted to accomplish. I really never saw myself at this point. I always saw myself way ahead of where I am right now. I always think to myself – oh, I disappointed myself because this isn't something I wanted to do or where I wanted to be. But you know, I'm not too old and I know I can still do those things. I started college in the fall, so that's a thing that I'm really trying to focus on. I tried to go back to school when my daughter was three years old but it was really just hard. There were the classes and then the money – I was like, s***, I've got to buy diapers and I've got to buy books, and which one is more important right now?
With the money, Jasmine's dad has always been very unstable, so there are years where he's very good at it, and there are years that he's not, so I really don't depend on him. All that money from him just goes to the bank, and if i need it, I get it.
What's your schedule like?
Being a single parent is really time-consuming. Right now, what I usually do is get home from work, try to cook something, go pick her up, come back – and then when she's back, I assume she's done with homework. But then she's not done with homework [laughs] so I help her and shower her and try to clean up – so it's a lot of time, whereas I could be doing stuff that single people do. But I think I'm ready for the next step, and my daughter is old enough to understand a little more absence of my attention.
When Jasmine was growing up, did you get to enjoy a lot of the time you spent with her, or were those moments rare occurrences in the midst of a difficult, overwhelming schedule?
I actually did. The program in Minnesota really helped me a lot, especially because I had just started parenthood. At that age, you're scared, and they told me that my kid needed me, this is what I could do for her – they would tell me I could read to her, I could sing to her. And that as she grew, this is what she would need. And that really helped me a lot because I knew when she was having those terrible tantrums that, oh, this is what they were talking about. It helped me a lot.
I think it was a very big blessing for me to leave South Central when I was pregnant.
And what's it like being back now?
Right now I have my little shell – I get out of it to go work, take my daughter to school, and then I go back in it. That's how I see it. I don't take Jasmine for walks in the park because I don't want her to see gangs or for her to get involved in this type of life. It's sad but I would rather just drive to Santa Monica and go walk around the beach over there than walk around this neighborhood because I know how dangerous it is. So it's hard. It's really hard to find something to do around here and feel safe.
Do you think South Central is a place for a kid?
No. No it's not. It's not and I have it in my head that I need to get out. The economics – I compare the rents in South Central to the rents in other places and I can't afford to pay even half of the rent in other places. It's sad but it's really not a place for a kid to grow. And I grew up fine here, but my parents were very strict when I was little, and they really trusted me once I got to an age, and that's when they messed up, because they didn't see all the things that were going on. I've never gotten involved with drugs or gangs or anything like that, but it just takes a couple people to offer you before you get curious and I wouldn't want my daughter to go through that.
I think the education is really bad here. I went to school my whole life here, and I witnessed so many things – people getting jumped into a gang, people dropping out of high school, seeing kids getting high in the P.E. field, a kid shooting himself in elementary school. And there are very few teachers I can remember who actually dedicated to making a change in a child's life. The rest of them were just there for the paycheck. They give up, after seeing so many failure. I think a lot of teachers have given up on our kids.
Having grown up here, and knowing what you know about the area, you must worry about Jasmine.
Oh, yes, all the time. I'm worrying right now, trying to figure out how I'm going to come up with private school tuition so she doesn't have to go to middle school here. I tell Jasmine's dad I need him to get on track so I can send her to private school.
Yeah, I worry about her. She doesn't walk to any store. And when I found out she did that with one of our cousins, I freaked out – little girls get kidnapped and killed. That's a fear I shouldn't have or be feeling.
Is there something that keeps you attached to South L.A.?
My parents. They've spoken to me about their going back to Mexico and at first, I was upset – they're going to leave South L.A. for Guerrero, where people are killed by mafiosos? But it's their decision. The only thing I can do is think about what I'm going to do. And if they leave, yeah, I'm definitely moving out – out of the state. It's just gotten so bad in California and I don't know any other city around here. I wouldn't stay here. My parents are the only thing that keeps me here.
Where did you see yourself before you got pregnant? What did you see yourself doing?
Definitely in college or done with college. I've always wanted to go; I've always been encouraged to get educated, and I never saw myself not going to school or putting it on hold.
When you think about that – where you thought you would be versus where you are now – what emotions are associated with that?
It's hard. It's hard because I think, I wish I would have never gotten pregnant. But at the same time, I don't regret it.
Because you have your daughter.
Yes. She means the world. [Voice breaks] And I wouldn't trade anything for her. I know I can still achieve my goals, so that doesn't really bother me. It's something that I always think to myself, like, f***, I could have been done with something already. But it's not too late. And I can still finish it, and I can still help my daughter financially with her education. Where I wanted to be right now is where I want her to be. So it's a challenge now because I'm going to put myself in the position where I wanted to be, and I want to put my daughter there as well.
Another factor is I'm an immigrant, and it's really hard to find a well-paying job with benefits. I can't go to a job where I can make more money because they'll check my papers. That's stopped me from doing a lot of things. Because maybe if I had a better job, I could be doing two things at the same time. It's really hard to find a job like that.
We live in a time where people don't have to go through with pregnancies. Was abortion something that ever crossed your mind?
I don't think so. I've always thought that I made the decision of doing this so I had to confront it. I just think [abortion is] killing. Maybe if it'd been a different situation, like rape, I would have probably considered it, but no – I'm a person that actually takes responsibility for her actions so I didn't want to do it.
At the time, too, I was with Jasmine's dad, so I felt I didn't need to. I had him with me. At the time I didn't think the choice was to have an abortion or be a single parent; the choice, to me, was to have an abortion or have a family. So it never crossed my mind because I thought I had the support of another person.
What keeps you going through all the worry, all the challenge?
I never really thought about it. I just know I can't give up. There's a life that needs me and depends on me. So I have no option but to keep going.