Posted by StreetWise in Magazine ArticlesJoshua, 22, is from a family of eight, the second oldest boy and third oldest overall. Both his parents came to Chicago from Puerto Rico as children. They both later dropped out of high school, his mother just before graduation and his father a couple of years earlier to help support his family. Joshua’s dad is what he calls a “street mechanic” although he never received formal education in fixing cars.
When Joshua was 7 years old, his family was homeless for 18 months, after his mom gave birth to her seventh child. She brought the family to live at her mother’s house, at her sister’s and at the homes of her drug-using friends.
Finally, during the last six months, Joshua’s mom checked into rehab and got a job. She has remained clean but Joshua said he began to be rebellious because “I got a bigger understanding a little before my time. I was kind of resentful because we could have avoided all of this if she stayed on track.”
His anger and rebelliousness led to being kicked out of his home and out of school. “I thought I knew everything about how the world works, that it would be easy to find a job, get my life together. It’s not that easy. I kind of gave up and said ‘this is where I am at.’ ”
He started drug dealing and hanging out with gang members because “it helps me support other people around me as well. I just wanted to make sure that my brothers and sisters did not get into that lifestyle. I teach them, ‘look what happened to me.’ It’s working out pretty well, they are not involved in any bad activities.”
Five years ago he came to La Casa Norte’s Solid Ground housing after hearing about it from a friend in Humboldt Park itself. “I didn’t know nothing about the world. I had only rode on the CTA train four times before. I had never been to the theater. I was in my square of Humboldt Park. I used to dress like a clown. When I came here, La Casa Norte actually taught me about professionality: how to dress properly when you went to interview, resume skills. I landed plenty of jobs: Jimmy’s restaurant, deconstruction, I used to work in a bakery, a wood tool program, the Loyola University coffee shop.”
Rafael at Solid Ground was a very good teacher, Joshua said. “He taught me everything I know –science, reading, math– and then we got into philosophy.” Joshua did not stay at Solid Ground until he was 21 because after he finished his GED and wrote an essay on his life, he won a $10,000 scholarship to Harold Washington College that paid for an apartment, clothing and utility bills. He completed one year of general education while working two jobs.
“I think I want structure because as a kid I didn’t have a structured life. My only structure was school. When I realized you could put structure in life, I realized if you don’t have a mapped out plan, something could backfire and you overwhelm yourself, stressing you out. When you have structure, if something backfires, you have Plan B.”
What did he need as a kid and what did he get from LaCasa Norte?
“The main key is a positive support system. With any type of hardship you need some type of support, someone to say ‘it’s going to be hard but don’t give up, you’re doing good.’ You can be unstoppable if you have the right support. If you don’t have that good support, then you’re really on your own….There’s no one there to give you a little pat on the shoulder, tell you ‘everything’s going to be fine. It’s temporarily bad.’ Because you’re thinking to yourself, ‘man this is bad.’ You ain’t got nobody to say, ‘No, it’s bad for right now but it’s going to get better.’”
Talking about his life reminds him how much he’s matured, how much more responsible he is now. He wants other people to know that “just because you come from not the best situation in life does not mean you cannot become something better or bigger.
“Honestly, these are the most supportive people I have had in my life. I can honestly say some of these people have been more of a parent to me than my own parents have. At the same time, just like you would with your parents, you are gonna have to leave someday from the bird nest. This is my bird nest. When it is my time to leave I will leave and come back some day to show them what a man they made of me. It was them that helped me develop myself. I went through my young adult years in that shelter.”