“I thought you were a rat”


Santos Leonides (husband)

Maria having fun on a swing.


Maria Villalba was seventeen  when she immigrated to the United States with her husband. Four months later she had her first premature son, who had ADHD. She fled Mexico for a better life, leaving her parents who were always working in another state.  Her native language is Nahuatl, and she also has learned Spanish and English. She is an ordinary woman with an incredible life and stories that are not well known.



Justin Leonides: Hi my name is Justin what is yours?

Maria Villalba: My name is Maria Villalba.

JL: Can you tell me the story when you saw me for the first time?

MV: The story when I saw you for the first time, we were at the hospital you were born a month before [premature], I got really sick I got something called preeclampsia that does to mothers pregnant lady’s it gives them a fever, high pressure and they had to take you out my stomach for a necessary.

JL: And do you know how you got it or was it a random thing?

MV: Is a random thing.

JL: How was I when I was a baby?

MV: You were very beautiful, chubby, fat cheeks, very crybaby too much you didn’t like to sleep you woke up at six in the morning and you slept at two in the morning you made my life impossible when you were a baby.

JL: I remember a story that you told me it was like one in the morning and I was outside playing in the dark and you told me that there was a rat and I tried to kill it.

MV: I thought you were a rat-

JL: Me?

MV: Because you were playing at the legs of the bed, and you were tiny tiny you barely were learning how to crawl and I was going to kick you.

JL: (chuckles)

MV: Because you learned how to get out your crib at five months.

JL: Five?

MV: Yes.

JL: And can you tell me why [stuttered] you guys call me dwarf?

MV: We call you dwarf because you learned to walk when you were nine months and you look liked a small dwarf.

JL: Can you tell me what’s a dwarf?

MV: A dwarf in Mexico are told to people that can’t [stuttered] grow [height] for a medical reason but are adults and they do and uhm they have a body of a kid but-

JL: Adults?

MV: But there adults they walk they do everything of a normal adult so you had nine months and you were very small small small and you knew how to walk and you looked like a small dwarf.

JL: So a dwarf?

MV: Yes.

JL: What were the hardest moments when I was growing up for you?

MV: When [the regional center] told me that you had early autism and that you had depression, that you had anxiety and that you hit the wall, those were the hardest times for me because there was nothing I could do, there was no medicine. there was no place to drink and just leaving was a very long process those were the hardest moments for me when you went to second grade and you cried about everything you didn’t like going to school uhm at that time a lot of the behaviors you had I did not understand it because I was not prepared for a child with an attention deficit disorder starts of autism for me it was something new and i didn’t knew how to help you.

JL: [intelligible and doesn’t make sense what I said]

MV: Right now you have ha [ADHD].


MV: Yes?

JL: Uh-

MV: But you know how to control it you have medicine we already went to therapy together we know what to do you enter in crises and you have so much help around and you know how to ask for help.

JL: Yes, if you could grow me up in another form how would you do it?

MV: Can you repeat the question again?

JL: (Deep breath) If you could grew in another form how would you do it?

MV: I wouldn’t eh uhm change anything my love, the form of which I am creating you maybe not the right way but its the best way I could have created you the best form to educate you and I have learned in the therapies that me like a mom have to feel proud of my work and I am proud of the work you and I have done together although it has been difficult we are much more better than  three four years behind when you still had anxiety attacks now were better you like son you don’t defraud in nothing i’m proud of all the advances you made I am very proud of my job as a mom.

JL: Uhm didn’t you when you were growing up in Mexico you didn’t have parents that didn’t take care of you all the time for you sure?

MV: No my parents were absent parents they had there job was being craftsman and they had to leave to the place I was born [she was born in Jaltemba Nayarit La Penita] travel to another state at 21 hours of distance and I stayed with my older brothers for basically 6-7 months my older sister created me.

JL: Can you tell me who?

MV: She’s called Ruffina Villalba.

JL: Ok.

MV: When she started to create me she was fourteen and I was one year.

JL: And uhm what did my aunt teach you?

MV: She taught me discipline, she showed me that i needed to comb, shower, brush my teeth before I go to school, uh value the food she gave me at the table, because if I didn’t ate that food there was no food in the afternoon, I couldn’t complain of the food they gave I couldn’t get dirty I needed to get home perfect because if i didn’t I had to wash my own cloth and my sister she didn’t do the best form [taking care of my mom] but she did the best she could with 14 years and thanks to her I’m responsible, I’m educated, I’m-I know what discipline means.

JL: And uhm can you tell me why you came to Los Angeles?

MV: Because we wanted a better life, for my sons, for me.

JL:  And when they told you I had autism what so not how old was I?

MV: You were four years old.

JL: Four right?

MV: Yes.

JL: So I was in kindergarten?

MV: You were in Pre-kinder.

JL: And uhm I remembered a lady who was called Ms. Corona fourth grade remember or not?

MV: Yes.

JL: She’s was what passive aggressive.

MV: Yes.

JL: Can you tell me something she told me before?

MV: When I knew I had to change classes was when I heard how she told you “it’s not my fault that your not as smart as the other kids and you can’t finish your works on time, you can’t come to my class and delay the plus kids you have to do your work and if you don’t finish it  that’s how your going to turn it in and your going your get the grade that you deserve.”

JL: Are you proud of me of the person I am now?

MV: Yes I am proud of you.

JL: Mom.

JL: How did you met my dad?

MV: I met him at a party patronal that organizes at the place I was born.

JL: Ahuehuepan right?

MV: Yes.

JL: Isn’t Ahuehuepan in Guerrero right?

MV: Ahuehuepan, Gerrero yes.

JL: And you were born at Nayrait La Penita right?

MV: I was born in La penita Jeltemba Nayarit but my parents were born in Ahuehuepan and each year when they did a party patronal we would come back to Ahuehuepan.

JL:  And uhm is it right when you came here you didn’t care about school at the time? like you left all the time you skip class?

MV: Yes because I didn’t have a mom a dad who told me to not leave class because I was a good student and well I had good ratings and it was easy for me to say “I’m going to miss one two days I’m leave the class because I have good ratings.”

JL: Now look at me [stutters and makes a weird sound] I have good grades and you’re very strict with me.

MV: Am strict with you because I know what I did and I don’t want you to do the same errors I did.

JL: Do you regret the decision when you skipped class?

MV: Yes I do regret it because I understand as a mom and adult that what I did was very wrong, it was very dangerous, I put risk at my person, that something bad could have happened to me and none would know because my parents I was in school and at the same time my parents didn’t went to go ask for my ratings how many times I went to school I saw that like a benefit because I thought none will know but now i understand that was very bad that I lost a opportunity to be professional and I was I had a lot of possibilities to finish with a career and i didn’t do it because I didn’t knew overcome the opportunities that they gave me that’s why I’m strict with you.

JL: And uhm you dropped out at high school right?

MV: Yes.

JL: Why?

MV: Because I married your dad.

JL: How old were you?

MV: Fifteen years.

JL: And my dad?

MV: Nineteen years.

JL: And uhm do you regret that you married too young?

MV:  Yes I regret because I wasn’t prepared for a family I wasn’t prepared to have a son that young but uhm I wouldn’t change anything, I might would of change in finishing school then marry your dad then have you and I think I would have done better as a mom but always I gave the best of me.

JL: and uhm its it a very hard question to ask you uhm so what were you learning in high school what did you wanted to do?

MV: I was learning medicine I wanted to be a nurse.

JL: Of what there’s lots of options [branches] can you tell me more specifically?

MV: Uhm of my possibilities I couldn’t choose what type of nurse I wanted to be I would of been a doctor but with my economic possibilities I only had the option of being a nurse and I was thinking of being a general nurse and after I’m done being a medicine learning I would study to be doctor.

JL: Did you have college in mind in Mexico to go or no?

MV: Yes I was in a preparatory that was you could say a private preparatory I won a scholarship half of the money the scholarship payed and the other half I had to pay and so I had a part time job in a taqueria.

JL: And uhm how much did it cost?

MV: seventeen years ago my tuition every two months 700 pesos in money at this time it would be 35 dollars but were talking about 15 years ago but the tuition’s have gone up uh I paid for half witch was 350 pesos  and the other half my tuition paid after since I had good grades i automatically would go to university Estatal De Nayarit.

JL: Do you regret that you didn’t went to that college?

MV: Yes because I jump over many stages that all young people have to live
I jump over a stage from a teenager to an adult.

JL: And how old were you when you had me?

MV: I had you at 17 years.

JL: So a minor still?

MV: Yes.

JL: If you can when I was born would you change it a couple years later?

MV: Perhaps yes because when I had you I was to young and when you cried I cried to I didn’t knew what to do I didn’t have a mom to tell me what to do and in that time yes there’s was the internet but it was more difficult videos of YouTube wasn’t as easy like now that if you have a phone and you can see a video how to take care how to change a diaper now it’s easy because there’s a lot of information that you have at hand seventeen years it wasn’t the same.

JL: And uhm if I had kids what advice would you give me?

MV: I would say to be patient with your kids because the taking time is everything you cant pressure a kid to a form that you want them to be because each one makes their own decision you can tell your kids what is the correct way to go but your kid decides if they want to follow it or not yes there is rules because if you tell me mom I want to leave school is not a option but if you say I want to change from this school  because I don’t like this school and want to go to another school where they materials or things I would like things that would work for me I would support you because Im would show you the path but you will decide your own proper place.