Name Janice Palacios
Graduating From: Paso Robles High School Degree: HS Diploma
Future Plans: Attend Cuesta and study political science
Background about me: I was born in Michoacán Mexico and raised in Mexico City for the first 5 years of my life. My dad was a chemical engineer and my mom was a housewife. I have 2 older brothers and we were all very close, and when I was 3 my dad got laid off from the textile company he worked for. He decided to try finding work in the U.S. so he and his brother moved to Paso Robles, where we had family and he went to work for a fabric company in Atascadero. They worked there for 2 years living with relatives, bought cars and then two years later when I was five, my mom and I moved here to be with my father. I remember when we landed at the airport I knew dad was going to pick us up and I knew who dad was but I didn’t recognize him! This strange man came up to us and my mom said “that’s your dad!” That was really interesting!
We lived in Jardine for a while and then eventually moved into town, in Paso. My brothers stayed in Mexico to continue school there. My parents both worked a lot - all the time - and I was home alone a lot and learned how to take care of myself, how to use tools, how to fix things. I learned a lot.
At school, it was different. In Mexico my brothers and I went to private christian school and here I went to public school and I didn’t know any English. I remember the first words I knew were refrigerator and chicken! It was a drastic change. Having my mom work all the time was new for me and it was a tough time for me. I struggled. I was a bright student but I didn’t want to do anything. From Kindergarten through 5th grade I was bullied a lot and I didn’t want to tell my parents, but in 5th grade I told my parents I didn’t want to go to school anymore and my mom said “Why? What’s wrong?” And she got so angry and went to the school. She was an angry mama bear.
In middle school things got worse and then at one point I got involved with drugs and alcohol. I knew it was bad but I still ended up there. I got a rude awakening with that and fortunately I had some friends who pulled me out of it. It also helped that I had some teachers who recognized my potential. I’m a good writer and I use writing to express my emotions. So in 8th grade I was faced with the decision to stick with easy classes or move into a more challenging curriculum in high school. At the same time, my older brother was involved in drugs and alcohol and we almost lost him. In Mexico we don’t really talk about these things, so there’s no avenue to talk about it. I was feeling really lonely, but I did finish middle school with honors.
Freshman year was fun and I had a lot of friends. It was also fun finding my voice. I found a teacher who encouraged my writing and my dad told me “you have to watch the news and stay informed”. I was really getting that princesses are cool but heroes are better and real life heroes are superb. So in class I always had something to say about what was going on (current events) and my teacher said I’d have a bright future in politics. I said no I’m going to be a doctor. I wanted to be a fetal surgeon because one of my cousins passed away in a high risk pregnancy. Additionally around the same time my dad’s brother disappeared and this was all a lot to handle and I didn’t know when or how to ask for help. I finished freshman year and got the help I needed.
I’ve been feeling lost. I know I want to help people but I’m not sure how to apply that desire. I’ve been an activist the last few years. I’ve attended rallies, met mayors, been in the newspaper. I’ve gotten myself really out there and a lot of people know me. I started strong but now what do I do to follow that up? My parents are working so hard to pay for my brothers’ schooling and expenses and they can’t afford to pay for me to go to a top school so I have to figure out what I can do on my own. So my thinking was I’m going to get a job and save money and be as independent as I can be and hope to get a better chance at loans and grants. So I guess I’m starting with studying political science and we’ll see where it goes.
My values: Growing up as a Latino in this community it was so heartbreaking to see so many people work really hard and then be discriminated against. I observed this for the minorities and felt the harsh reality of it all. On top of that, learning what this country was founded on and then learning it’s not just this country, it’s all around the world, so that woke me up. If no one stands up for these people and they can’t or won’t stand up for themselves it’s really hard for me to witness something I see as wrong and to not say anything.
If I can make a difference in something that is unfair or unjust, that would be ideal. I was raised to be aware and treat everyone the same. Of course we see that others look different but that doesn’t mean we can treat them differently than someone who looks more like myself. It doesn’t mean it’s ok to be biased, racist, gynophobic, etc. Just because someone looks different from you is not a reason to fear them. It doesn’t automatically mean they pose a danger to you.
In the Mexican culture we don’t realize we’re exclusive simply by embracing our culture, so we all have things to change over time to improve inclusion. I’m glad my parents pushed me to go out and explore the world. My parents had to grow up early. They both had alcoholic dads and a terrible upbringing. They were the oldest in their families and wanted a better life for their family. So we just try to make things better!
How I was affected by COVID: Let’s start when we first heard about the outbreak in China. We were all really not thinking. My parents work for the hotel industries. Why on Earth we didn’t realize the virus could leave China and travel I don’t know, but we didn’t think about it. In the last week of December my mom got “some kind of respiratory illness”. She never has been one to get ill, but she got REALLY bad. She was bed-ridden for days, lost a lot of weight, had a high fever, couldn’t breathe. We finally took her to the emergency at the hospital and they sent her home with ibuprofen and told us if her fever gets any higher come back in. We NEVER put 2 and 2 together, and she works for the hotels directly with people! I took care of her and the restaurant was busy so it was a really hard time. It took her two weeks to recover. We were around her so we were obviously exposed, but we must have been asymptomatic. We never got ill. This last new year’s was the saddest New Year’s ever.
Other than that hindsight, we were like everyone else and just kept thinking “it won’t happen here”. So school was closed in March and we thought we’d be back in school within a couple of weeks and then it was a month, and then the whole remainder of the year. We were angry about all the plans we’d made and things we had paid for. We were frustrated about not having prom or graduation - we will never have those memories. Forever. I’m losing the best 3 months of the longest 13 years of my life!
Then after we got into the online school I started thinking about the kids that don’t have internet at home or technology to support that. What do we do?
Then there was the panic and everyone was buying toilet paper and I was so confused! I told my parents “we are NOT going to be one of those people who buy toilet paper!” We started being really careful, like taking our shoes off outside before coming into the house - knowing I was working at the restaurant and around a lot of people.
Then my boss started talking about having to cut hours and he might have to close the restaurant and I thought NOOOO, this is the one thing keeping me sane! Otherwise I’m stuck in the house all the time!
It was hard for the teachers to get everything together in two weeks to do online school! And this was an interesting change for me. I’m very social and bright. I can glance at the notes and I’ve got it, but learning from a computer? With hard classes and homework and working - was very overwhelming. I told my teachers I have a job - I’m not home all day like most people! My grades suffered a bit. I know I’m smart but I don’t feel smart right now. I don’t understand why I could learn so effortlessly in a classroom but not in the comfort of my own home. This perplexes me. It felt a lot harder.
My parents got laid off. They needed money for rent, car payments and for my brothers and I was able to help out with that. I had to learn how to write checks, cards, letters, and grow up quickly. I couldn’t show any fear. I just said Yeah I’ve got this - no worries.
My brother’s health is compromised and he’s in Mexico and I worried about him.
I kept telling myself you’re healthy, you’re working, you’re earning money. Work with what you’ve got.
Some of the emotions I experienced when this all started: it’s been so surreal. Also lonely because I’m the only one out of my friends group who’s working. We can’t see each other. So very lonely and frustrating. I’m trying to find the positivity.
One positive thing was: Working and talking to the customers.
One difficult thing was: It’s a weird reality and there’s no handbook.
Something that Surprised me: Watching my parents cope with all this. They are workaholics and my dad was grumpy at the beginning. I bought him some books about robotics which he has always wanted to learn about. And I bought my mom some coloring books and sent them to their corners with their assignments. And we had dinners together, which we never did. And we had breakfast together and lunches - a real blessing in disguise to have that time together and create those memories. We went on hikes and walks and I recorded priceless videos from those times together. We got to know each other again. And my dad built a robot and my mom colored some great pages in her coloring books.
How do you destress: When I can, I like to run. Early morning or at night - if I’m feeling a lot or had a long day being Janice which is very exhausting, my therapy is being outside in nature. Or sleeping. Those are my two things.
I’m really contemplating: My brother’s mental health, and how his getting involved in drugs and alcohol forced our family to talk about things we never talked about, and we had to face questions like what is a psychologist or a therapist and what does it mean to accept help from those professionals. We had shame about that and had to work through that and I see how this has affected my personal work on changing that stigma and asking for help and accepting help. I grew up with models of strength and hard work - the value of being a contributing citizen, a hard worker. One who asks for nothing and gives everything. So feelings - we have a lot of ground to cover in that area.*
Final Thoughts: Life changes in the blink of an eye. Whatever it is you want to do, just do it. Whatever it is you want to say, say it. Screw something up - it’s ok. Have the guts to be the best person you can be. Take the opportunities.
Lori’s Summary: I’ve liked Janice from the beginning when we met her at Orale Taqueria, which we frequent, and after interviewing her and hearing her story, I truly admire this young woman and have so much hope for the future. She has fire in her belly for making change in the way people are treated and seen and she understands that it is through helping the majority understand how they are seeing the world, how they are thinking and behaving, and how it is hurting others. She may be in a bit of a life wobble right now, but I know she’ll find her way and make a big difference.
*Janice shared a deeply personal story with me that I will not detail here because it’s not my story to tell, but I will say that she’s in the middle of processing a very traumatic event that occurred at the end of February. So what I DO want to say is remember that people have things they carry and things they are working through. Be kind and remind yourself that the whole story is never on the surface. Take the time to get to know people and listen - really listen. Being there for someone can help them heal.
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