When you first meet Juliana, the first thing you will notice about her is her bright and friendly smile. Behind this smile, however, lies a story of abandonment and tragedy that began before Juliana was even born in Guatemala. Just three months before her birth, Juliana’s father passed away. Shortly after, her mother, who was battling with grief and depression, began struggling with alcohol. Before Juliana was even two years old, her mother abandoned her and Juliana was left under the care of her grandmother who she grew up to call “mamá.”
For about 16 years, Juliana lived in her aunt’s home while her grandmother worked. For the first ten years, all was well and Juliana’s aunt treated her as her own daughter. This ended when Juliana’s aunt went through a divorce and started projecting her unhappiness onto Juliana. During dinner time, Juliana wasn’t allowed to eat with the family and on Christmas, when the family went to the city, she was never allowed to join. Juliana remembered that whenever her aunt needed milk for her coffee, she’d give her enough money for a one-way taxi and say, “You decide if you’ll walk there or back.” Wanting to save money, Juliana walked both ways, only to be falsely accused of stealing by her aunt.
As she got older, the situation only worsened and tensions continued to rise until one day, Juliana was kicked out of her aunt’s home. Juliana’s attempts to reconcile with her aunt were quickly shut down, and she was mocked by her own cousins who did not want her there. Just like she did when Juliana was just a baby, Juliana’s grandmother came as fast as she could and brought Juliana to live with her.
During the months she was living with her grandmother, Juliana met her current partner and became pregnant. She was excited to have a baby but was also nervous about the situation she would have to raise him in. “I realized that if my grandmother passed, I wouldn’t really have anyone to stay with other than my baby’s father,” she reflected. Through this realization, and her determination to find a better life for herself and her baby, Juliana decided to leave for the United States.
At just 16 years old, and already six months pregnant, Juliana bravely made the journey to the U.S. border on her own. She remembers that, although the journey was exhausting and at times, frightening, she met a lot of kind people along the way. When she arrived at the border, she held onto her belly tightly and crossed the Rio Grande where immigration officials took her to the detention center to process her into the U.S.
In the United States, Juliana went to live with her uncle where she hoped she would find love and support. Unfortunately, she experienced the opposite and felt even more abandoned and mistreated. She stayed focused, however, and enrolled in high school while pregnant. A couple months later she gave birth to her baby boy alone in the hospital.
The lack of support Juliana had become accustomed to would thankfully come to an end soon. Juliana moved to a different state with her baby and began living with her mother-in-law who welcomed them with warmth and kindness. A few months later, Juliana also received exciting news: her partner was coming to live with them! She remembers the excitement she felt when they were reunited and excitedly shared that shortly after, her baby said his first word, “papá.”
In those same months, Juliana was also connected to CWS and began receiving support from her case manager, Jose. When asked what it’s been like having Jose as her case manager, Juliana smiled and said, “We laugh a lot together!”
Through this newfound support, Juliana is starting to live the life she always deserved. She has gone back to school where her teachers have pointed out that she is always smiling and call her “la niña mil amigos,” which means “the girl with a thousand friends.” She is also dedicated to her son who napped in her arms during our entire conversation with her. Her biggest dream is to go to college and become a nurse so that she can support other young mothers like her. She also hopes that her son will one day meet her grandmother who Juliana talks to almost every day.
Although Juliana’s life may have begun as a lonely one, it will no longer be that way. And neither will her son’s. She is now surrounded by a family who loves her, “thousands” of friends and CWS who is backing her up as she pursues her greatest goals and dreams.
To support youth like Juliana and learn more about our Children Services Program, click here.
*Note: pseudonyms have been used to protect the identity of the client in this story