Sitting down with Brenda Navas and having her walk me through her life was an emotional experience for us both. Brenda and I met six years ago when I started my teaching journey in Las Vegas. When my principal introduced me to Brenda, she said, “This is one of the very amazing parents we have the pleasure of working with.” That was an understatement. Over the years, I have grown to love Brenda as more than the mother of two of my students, as more than the mother of one of my dear friends, but as the incredible women who has built her empire and has never settled. Brenda is a true inspiration for all families, mothers, women and Latinos. She embodies the American dream that she made her reality.
What a Journey
Brenda was born in Izabal, Guatemala, to humble beginnings. She learned she was pregnant at 19 years old. It was then that she realized she wanted more for her life. She wanted her daughter to have access to more, to have more opportunities and to live a life with less hardship than she had endured. Her sister, who at the time, lived in the United States tried convincing her parents to let her flee to America, the land of opportunity. Brenda, hungry for more and yearning to fulfill her dreams, decided to head to the foreign land. She remembers wanting a car more than anything. She remembers preparing for her voyage and dreaming of having a car and home with a garage for her to put her car in. In her humble heart, she remembers thinking that was too far-fetched of a dream, but pregnant and 19, it was all she wanted. Brenda’s journey to America began with a hike to the Mexican border where she remembers reaching a hotel. She recalls spending the night in a hotel meant for four with dozens of people. The stench from the body odor of long days walking reeked in the hotel as she tried to put herself to sleep, and she remembers the image of her family living in a nice home with a garage for her car was her motivation. That image continued to be her motivation. Part of her treacherous journey included lying in a truck, still pregnant, on top of and under people where the coyotes piled the bodies in the back of the truck like they were bodies in a mortuary. She remembers lying in the back of truck and people elbowing in discomfort consequently leading her to vomit. She was humiliated but continued to convince herself that it would all be worth it
Upon arriving to Los Angeles, she started work cleaning offices, unaware of what to do she was quickly fired for her inability to keep up. After her daughter was born, she started working at a taco shop earning $7.50 an hour barely making ends meet. When she learned she was pregnant with her second child, she convinced her husband to move to Las Vegas where she heard you could earn $14 an hour working in the casinos. Once in Las Vegas, she learned the pay was not as glamorous as she had been told. She was let go after September 11 due to a lack of tourism. She returned to the food business, making $15 an hour working in a restaurant, living paycheck to paycheck with two children. They were sharing a small apartment with her husband’s family.
She recalls not being able to afford a bed and that her family slept on the floor. Emotions ran a little higher when she remembered that she and her husband would buy chicken in bulk at 99 cents a pound and would get creative with the meals making tacos one night, tostadas the next and boiled chicken the following because it was the only thing they could afford.
Brenda learned about the opportunity of working at a new hotel with better days off and so she jumped on the possibility of having a better schedule and earning more money. After saving enough money, her family was able to purchase their very own home. With more experience, she began to enjoy cleaning and turned her work obligations into an art. She started to focus more on her craft and took pride when she was complimented on her work. Still dreaming, Brenda decided to take out a $7,000 loan because although she did not have a lot of money, she always maintained amazing credit. The loan would help her buy a cleaning business franchise that cleaned offices and would help her establish a more comfortable income. For the first time in a long while, Brenda felt at ease earning a comfortable living for her family with the start of the new business. Her earnings took a downfall after business started to drop, and she went from earning $4,000 a month to only several hundred dollars a month. Her husband was earning a good living at the time so she decided to dedicate herself to her children. Her oldest was in middle school, and the other two were in key years in elementary school so she saw it as a good moment to help them in their educational journey. She began getting more involved in field trips and volunteering at school whenever the teachers needed extra hands. Brenda built strong relationships with the teachers. These years gave Brenda a strong perspective of what it meant to be a successful student and she began to push her children to be the best students so that college could become a possibility. She remembers not knowing how she would get them to college, but she saw the value in formal education. And she was going to start helping her children meet these goals. The extended-day program that she volunteered with decided it was going to expand to a school, so Brenda asked the teachers if she could run the custodial program at their new school. This was an easy sell since Brenda had become an essential piece of their story and family. The first year the school was open Brenda had two employees that helped her maintain the school and her offices. Two years later, Brenda has seven employees, has locked a deal to clean a second school and has expanded her business to cleaning homes.
It Felt Like Another Far-Fetched Dream
As we sit in the common space of the school we both helped open with me as the dean of students and her as the lead custodian, tears begin to fall down her face as she shares that before this extended day program, she would doubt that her children would go to college. She knew she wanted them to go, but she never could imagine they would actually go because she did not know how to help them get there. She looked me in my eyes and said back then it felt like just another far-fetched dream. Her involvement in the schools kept Brenda informed and educated on how to help her children be successful students. She taught them to trust their teachers, instilled strong values in her students and helped them build good habits. She is currently watching her oldest transfer from a community college to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), the four-year university in the community. Her middle son is waiting to hear from amazing schools like the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) and her youngest, a junior in high school has her sights set on the University of California, Berkeley. When chatting with her she says that SWOT, the extended-day program that her children were in before it became Equipo Academy, was her saving grace. She was moved to tears when she explained how proud she was that her oldest was working a great job at the same school her siblings were attending, her middle son was just weeks away from receiving letters from amazing schools, and her youngest was completing internships to boost her college application. She looked at me and said, “God is good, Raymond. I dreamed of a life where my children did not have to work at 4 a.m. like I did, turning hot tortillas for hours at a time. And now that dream is the life I live.” By the way, Brenda and her husband currently own six cars, and they have a home with a two-car garage. Her perseverance and ability to push forward when life got hard has resulted in her making dreams come true. She is a true role model for women, mothers and Latinos everywhere who are hoping for more.
Raymond Gonzalez is the proud son of Mexican parents who worked hard to provide him and his five siblings with a supportive, loving and culturally resourceful upbringing. With his mother’s tough love and father’s hard work and tenacity, Raymond proudly attended University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), receiving his bachelor’s degree in Chicana/o studies and political science.