For an assignment in her high school literature class, Victoria Gonzalez and her classmates wrote essays about their struggles at home because of the economic downturn in 2008.
The class turned the essays into a YouTube video that received thousands of views and national recognition. In the video they asked viewers: “Is Anybody Listening?”
In his first speech on education after his election, President Barack Obama responded that he was.
“I am listening. We are listening. America is listening,” he said in the speech. “We will not rest until your parents can keep their jobs and your families can keep their homes and you can focus on what you should be focusing – your own education.”
Now a fourth-year, Gonzalez is preparing to graduate from UCLA with a degree in political science. But, at least for Gonzalez, not much seems to have changed, she said.
Because of a Southern California Edison internship extended to her through the video’s fame, she has paid her family’s bills and rent with her income as the main financial provider while also attending UCLA.
Both of her parents lost their jobs after the economic crisis and have been unable to find work ever since, because of their statuses as undocumented workers, Gonzalez said.
At times, Gonzalez has worked 40 hours a week while balancing her home and school life, sacrificing her extra time from school for the sake of her family and future.
She went back to work at her internship even after witnessing her co-worker kill two people and himself in 2011.
She survived the shooting, escaping unharmed physically, but not mentally. Gonzalez said she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after the ordeal and went through multiple therapy sessions.
She said she knew that she needed to support her family financially and to overcome her fear of the building where she still works to this day.
“I choose to be resilient, I choose to move forward. I choose to let every event, both good and bad, shape me and make me become a better person,” Gonzalez said.
But times were not always so tough for Gonzalez and her family. Before 2008, the Gonzalez family always had food on the table and a roof over their heads, she said.
After the economic crisis, however, both of her parents lost their jobs and their mobile home and were evicted four times over the next few years. The family even had to pawn all of their jewelry to pay their rent, leaving Gonzalez with a single pair of earrings.
“We knew how brave our parents were. They wanted to fall apart,” Gonzalez said. “When you’re stuck you want to fall apart so you can put yourself together again, but you can’t do that when you are a parent.”
In 2009, as a senior in high school, things seemed to start improving for Gonzalez after the “Is Anybody Listening?” video gained widespread popularity.
In March of the same year, the students who created the video met President Obama. He promised them he would work for a better future for the students and their families.
“We were blessed for this video, we received a lot of donations and support to pursue our aspirations,” Gonzalez said. “This video stopped us from giving up. We realized the strength of our voice.”
After high school, Gonzalez chose to attend UCLA instead of working a minimum wage job, a decision she said she carefully contemplated.
“I realized going to school would help my family in the long run. I owed it to my parents and my community for all of their support,” Gonzalez said. “In the long run I will help the community and my family with my career.”
Laura Gonzalez, Victoria Gonzalez’s mother, said she is grateful for her daughter because she is acting as both mother and father of the house, since she is the only one with a steady job.
Currently, Gonzalez’s parents earn money selling clothes at swap meets and working various jobs, but still rely heavily on their daughter’s income.
While sitting in an old comfortable chair in the family’s living room, Laura Gonzalez said in Spanish that she is very proud of her daughter’s accomplishments.
“I give thanks to God that she is graduating, and that she is going to be able to part herself from all the responsibilities (from around the house),” she said in Spanish.
Rodnisha Ford, a fourth-year gender studies student who has known Gonzalez for the past four years at UCLA, said Gonzalez makes an effort to put others before herself.
“She has had to sacrifice her money, personal time and social life. (Gonzalez) is a family-oriented person who I personally look up to,” Ford said.
Some days Gonzalez would be in the library checking textbooks she couldn’t afford to buy because she had to pay her family’s rent, and other days her and her dad would scour the Hill for recyclables just to make ends meet, Gonzalez said.
“I don’t know how I made it through,” Gonzalez said. “I made it one day at a time.”
Her work schedule meant she had no additional time to join clubs on campus, but Gonzalez still feels UCLA has been a big part of her life.
“UCLA opened the window to everything,” she said.
After graduation, Gonzalez plans to move to Seattle for a job as an assistant director at Grassroots Campaigns, a company that fundraises and consults for political organizations and humanitarian and progressive movements. She said her goal is to become a civil rights lawyer to serve her community.
Through all of the highs and the lows, Gonzalez said she has learned to be optimistic.
“(My experiences) changed my life perspective and changed me for the better,” Gonzalez said. “(They are) a blessing in disguise.”
Contributing reports by Gloria Chong, Bruin contributor.