High school is a unique time in people’s lives where they can enjoy the last few years of their childhood before going out in the real world. This time is meant to be for new experiences, relationships, and opportunities. However, it is sometimes tainted by personal obstacles. There are students here at South Gate High School who are overcoming hardships every day and are walking proof of the fight against a challenging life that has only discouraged them. One such student is senior Gloria Meza, whose story serves as an inspiration for others to not give up. Despite only being 17 years old, she views her difficulties as motivation to continue striving to accomplish her goals and wants to help others continue doing so as well.

Gloria is the youngest of 5 children, with an older half-brother Sergio (27) and half-sisters Brenda (26), Thalia (21), and Stella (19). Born in 2001, Gloria has never had an easy life to begin with; her father walked out on her mom before she was even born. Gloria’s mother had previously lost her husband (father to her four eldest children) to cancer and was now forced into being a single mother again. Growing up, Gloria remembers always having a good relationship with her sisters; it was her brother who she often clashed with. While they were financially stable at the time, her home life became conflicted, mostly because of her half-brother Sergio’s aggressiveness, which frequently got him into gang-related trouble. On one occasion in the fifth grade, she remembers Sergio forcefully dragging her out of bed, causing her to injure her head. Gloria remembers this as one of the earliest acts of violence that marked the beginning of regular physical abuse from her brother.

Back in 2015, during Gloria’s first year of high school, Sergio was arrested for failure to pay child support and her mom was torn between paying his bail or paying rent. Feeling as though it was her job to protect him, she decided to take out a loan and pay his bail. Because of this, Gloria and her family fell into an economic slump and were eventually forced to move out and stay with her aunt. At the time, her older sister Thalia was living in Las Vegas, where she was going to dental school and starting a life with her boyfriend. Stella was studying business at Cal State Fullerton and working three jobs. Meanwhile, Gloria, her mom, sister Brenda, and nephew Andres were all staying with her aunt, who looked down upon Sergio for his recklessness. Gloria admits having to go to different motels, cars, or shelters to spend the night because they were just so crowded at her aunt’s place. Realizing the desperate situation of their family, Thalia and Stella sacrificed their futures to help them financially. They became involved in drug trafficking and successfully smuggled drugs across the U.S.-Mexico border a couple times before getting caught.

The money that they made doing this was enough to help Gloria’s mom buy a trailer, where she could live with her mom, sisters, nephew, and brother. However, when they were caught, Thalia was sentenced for 5 years (because she was the driver) and Stella was sentenced to 1 year in jail; however, their good behavior allowed for their sentence to be shortened, meaning that Stella will get out this March. When her sisters were first taken away, Gloria remembers feeling alone at home, where the physical abuse from Sergio, a meth addict, became increasingly severe. Although Gloria repeatedly told her mom about Sergio’s aggression, she refused to take any action against him and protected him at all costs. At this point, she had to take it upon herself to prioritize her physical and emotional safety over anything else, which caused her to fall behind her junior year of high school. The abuse became so unbearable that Stella had to convince Gloria to confront her mom and once more ask that she kick Sergio out of their house. After much arguing, her mom finally agreed to kick him out. However, it was only a few days before he came back and the violence worsened. Fearing for her safety, Gloria built up the courage to report Sergio to a teacher at school after which social services and a therapist got involved. They threatened the mom with taking away custody of Gloria and Andres, Brenda’s son. Hostilities and resentment grew in her house, as her sister Brenda sided with her mom in defending Sergio.

Feeling completely isolated at home, Gloria recurred to therapy to help her cope with the trauma. Recurring nightmares and the constant fear for her safety became clear manifestations of PTSD caused by the physical abuse that Sergio inflicted and the emotional abuse that her mother unintentionally imposed. Gloria admits feeling insufficient, as her mom always chose to defend her brother even though he was disrespectful and always got into trouble while she was going to school and doing her best to succeed; she felt that the support she was giving her mom was not being reciprocated. With time Gloria began healing, seeing real progress, and doing better in school. She began getting more involved in ELAC classes and Teen Court as a way of picking herself up and working towards a more successful future. School has become a safe place for her because she does not have to question her safety but simply focus on the task at hand. All of Gloria’s experiences have helped her gain a new understanding as to why many women are afraid to speak out about their abuse and has made her want to give back to the community by volunteering at local homeless shelters.  

Unfortunately, this time of peace did not last long, as her brother once again returned to their home on February 14th, pushing her PTSD to what she describes as its “all time high”. Gloria is currently facing a difficult decision between going back to live with her family or going into foster care. Despite this, she confesses that she would rather be away from her family in exchange for her safety, than be with them but live in fear. Faced with so many life-altering experiences, Gloria is wise beyond her years and demonstrates this through her courage and resilience. It is hard working people like Gloria whose determination serves as an inspiration to everyone, regardless of the obstacles they may be facing.

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