Jasmine Saldivar sat in the Loker Student Union eating and talking with a fellow Toro, until she was interrupted by a classmate who asked, “Is this your sister?”
“Um, no, this is my mom,” said Jasmine, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in accounting from California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) on May 20. She was a bit surprised by the question.
Her mother, Manuela Aguilar, a current CSUDH political science major, was not surprised by the question. She was also used to being introduced to her daughter’s friends on campus, in fact both her daughters’ friends. Aguilar’s other daughter, Tereelisa Saldivar, was also a student at CSUDH. She too earned her bachelor’s degree from CSUDH this spring, but in English, and walked on May 21 during the College of Arts and Humanities commencement ceremony.
It was amazing going to college with my two daughters–very rewarding,” said Aguilar, who went through significant personal challenges before launching her college career. “I’m very proud of their hard work. Sometimes, when I would see them on campus, I would flash back to the days when I walked them to pre-kindergarten or 1st grade. – Manuela Aguilar
To get to campus, the trio typically carpooled together, since they all live together in Santa Ana, and because “it saves gas.” They would also wait for one another after class, and could often be found on the 4th floor of the University Library studying together, or eating lunches they brought from home.
“At first, I thought about the amount of personal space I was going to lose with my mother going to college with me, and seeing her at home. I was a little hesitant at first,” admitted Terelisa, who plans to obtain her teaching credential at CSUDH before pursuing a position teaching English at a middle school. “In the end, it has been more fun going to college with my mom than it would have been without her. We hang out in the library, we have even grabbed some beers together on campus.”
“I’ve seen my daughters work diligently, and very hard,” said Aguilar. “It has been so wonderful to be here at the same university with them. I am very grateful.”
That gratitude extends beyond the companionship Aguilar has shared with her daughters at CSUDH to those who have helped her in the past; during a time, not too long ago, when her family’s future was uncertain, even dire.
Aguilar, an immigrant from Mexico who grew up in a poor neighborhood in Ontario, Calif., with her single mother, ended a 27-year marriage in 2006. After moving into an apartment, she found herself working 12-hour shifts, six days a week to support her family, which in addition to daughters Tereelisa and Jasmine includes her son, Ricardo.
She enjoyed her job “very much,” working as a certified nurse’s assistant at Saddleback Memorial Hospital where she was employed for 12 years. But the stress of long hours and her turbulent personal life forced her to take an extended leave of absence. Living on state disability for a fraction of what she earned at work, Aguilar was unable to pay her rent and was forced to move out with “no one [family] to turn to.”
However, she did turn to the Department of Social Services for help and was referred to the Thomas House Family Shelter in Garden Grove, which provides a place to stay and assistance for homeless families with children. After nine months of counseling in the shelter, Aguilar was “transformed from being a victim of physical and mental abuse into a strong and resilient woman.”
“The shelter not only puts a roof over your head, it fixes the broken pieces that are the result of your situation. It heals you internally. It provides hope that things will get better,” said Aguilar, who began attending Santa Ana Community College while still in the shelter.
After leaving the shelter, Aguilar lived independently with her family, and was employed for two years until she was laid off due to downsizing. She promptly went back to community college until transferring to CSUDH in fall 2015, and is on track to graduate in spring 2017 with her bachelor’s degree in political science.
Throughout her struggles, Aguilar always put her children’s welfare ahead of her own. She has reconnected with her ex-husband for their benefit, and he attended both her daughters’ commencement ceremonies.
Jasmine believes that although her mother had to endure some formidable challenges in the past to protect and nurture the family, the innate strength that helped get through that time is now enabling her mother to reach peak potential.
“My mom is very attentive–she knows what’s best for us. She works hard at being a role model. She’s very influential–just a go-getter who never settles for less,” said Jasmine, who aspires to work for the IRS or FBI someday. “When she was having problems in the past, the things that were happening to her were very circumstantial. But the way she is now is her true nature. Making her own decisions and being independent, that is really her.”