Stories of Change

Artwork made by Cassandra

Cassandra’s Journey Forward

On a typical day of the week, you will likely find Cassandra crocheting away, painting or translating her favorite books from Spanish to English for her peers in her book club. She is about to enter her senior year and as an eager learner, she is excited to finish high school soon and attend university. Although Cassandra currently lives a peaceful life in California, things haven’t always been easy for her.

Cassandra is originally from Guatemala and right before the pandemic, her family decided to take a trip to the U.S. to celebrate Cassandra’s 15th birthday. Unfortunately, shortly after arriving in California, the entire world, including Guatemala, shut down. The family’s flights were canceled and they had no way to return to their home country. “Imagine a family of 6, stuck in a country they don’t know. With nothing and with no plans to live there. That’s incredibly hard,” Cassandra said.

After many long months, the family was able to settle down in California but unfortunately for Cassandra, her misfortune had only just begun. While headed out of town with her significant other, Jose, the two accepted a ride from a seemingly friendly couple. A few hours later, they awoke to a terrifying realization: they had been kidnapped. With fear and adrenaline coursing through their veins, Cassandra and Jose made the courageous decision to make a run for it and jumped out of the moving car. When they looked around, they were shocked to find themselves in Tijuana, Mexico, a city notorious for crime and danger.

For the next month, the teens had no one to rely on but each other. Both Cassandra and Jose were underage and were afraid that trusting another stranger could lead to more danger. They found a safe spot in a park where they would sleep and attempt to stay hidden from the public eye. Eventually, they found jobs selling food and waiting tables and saved enough money to move into a small apartment.

For four months the two teens had no contact with their distressed families back home in California. They had been unable to contact them because didn’t have access to a phone or the internet. It wasn’t until a kind neighbor lent them a smart TV, that they were able to log into social media accounts and message their families. All the fears and anxieties their families felt were alleviated. It was time to bring their children home. 

Through the help of an immigration lawyer hired by the families, Cassandra and Jose were informed that they could get help at the border. They were nervous but they bravely approached the border where they explained their situation. Finally, they were approved and sent home where their parents anxiously awaited them. The nightmare was finally over. Cassandra told us, “I sometimes think this was all a dream. It’s bittersweet to think about because, during those four months, I lived through an endless amount of experiences. Even though they were hard, they made me grow as a person. After that experience, I see life very differently,”

Since returning to the United States, CWS has supported Cassandra while she rediscovers a sense of normalcy. She has found peace through her art and stated, “My art represents inspiration from various parts of my life. It’s a way in which I express myself.” Her main focus and motivator is her education and is even on her way to becoming a polyglot as she learns French, Russian and German (on top of the English and Spanish she already knows). Most recently, Cassandra was able to enroll in AP classes thanks to the help of her CWS case manager. She told us, “I want to move forward. I want to have a good future. I want my siblings to have me as an example and I want my family to feel proud of me.”

Cassandra’s journey is similar to her art- a series of twists and turns culminating into something unique and beautiful. After all the different paths she has been on, Cassandra is now forging her own and is well on her way to success.

To support youth like Cassandra and learn more about our Children Services Program, click here.

*Note: pseudonyms have been used to protect the identity of the individuals in this story