Aura Leticia Martinez: Four-Years-Old In Guatemala, She Said, 'I'm Going to California'
Each week, Jeremy Rosenberg (@LosJeremy) asks: "How did you - or your family before you - wind up living in Los Angeles.
Today we hear from Hollywood resident Aura Leticia Martinez:
"My name is Aura Leticia Martinez. The people closest to me call me Letty.
"I'm proud to be a United States citizen and I love my country dearly. I'm very proud also to be from Guatemala, my beautiful country where I was born.
"I left there when I was eighteen-years-old. I was in a boarding school with nuns in Guatemala City. I had been there since I was ten, when my mother died at a very tender age.
"My sister, she was very tiny. My brother was six. My father was left with the three of us, not knowing what to do.
"I went to the boarding school and my brother went to another boarding school for boys. My little sister, she went to una sala cuna -- a nursery -- in the outskirts of Guatemala City.
"An American couple were playing golf near there. They were just married and they saw my sister and other toddlers playing. They inquired about my sister and they were told she has a family, she has a father, but her mother has died.
"The couple started inquiring more and more about my sister to the point that they went and met my father. My father consulted with me. He said: 'There is a possibility for your sister to get adopted. What do you think?'
"I said, 'I don't know.' It's funny, he wanted my opinion, he would consult with me on a lot of this stuff, as if I was a grown-up. It was very hard for me.
"My father started consulting with more people and everybody gave him the same advice. And the advice was that she would have a better future with the mother and father adopting her. Coming to the United States was a better opportunity than being in Guatemala.
"So finally, with a broken heart, my father let her go. It was very hard. It was just my father, brother and me until the point of separation of me coming here.
"It was time for me to leave the boarding school, because I reached the age limitation.
"My brother came to see me. I was helping in the school's kitchen, doing some work for the nun who used to run it. Her eyesight was not very good, so I would receive all the merchandise.
"People would come from different places in the school and take certain merchandise for teaching the girls how to cook. They would come to the kitchen with the list of what they needed and I would give the okay and write it down in a book.
"My brother found me and said there was an opportunity for me to go to the United States. He had a piece of paper and I read it. It was from my father. The note ended with my father saying, 'Think about it, and think very good.'
"Without writing back, I told my brother, 'Tell dad that's okay, that I'm leaving.'
"My brother said, 'But he said to think about it!'
"I said, 'There is nothing to think about. I'm going.'
"The offer was to come to California. I was to live with a family and take care of their six-year-old son. The mother of the boy was the daughter-in-law of a lady my family knew in Guatemala.
"This lady had married an American man and lived in Torrance. Her daughter-in-law lived in Wrightwood, in San Bernardino, in the mountains. That is where I would go.
"I went to the consulate for my passport. Everything went fine for me. What they were trying to do was have me come with a tourist visa. But the consulate told me, 'You want to go the United States? You want to go to California and stay there and live over there?'
"I said, 'I would like to, yeah. I would like it very much.'
"He said, 'You're going.' He said that if I applied as a tourist: 'You are going to have to come back and it's going to be a hassle. So I advice you to go permanent resident of the United States.'
"So, that was very easy. But at that point, I didn't understand much. When I got out from the embassy, I found a friend who had been in Miami. When she saw my envelope, she was really surprised. She said, 'Oh my goodness, you are going to be a resident!'
"I wasn't sure. To assure me, she said go back and ask. I said I would, but I'd have to wait for lunch -- the consulate closed from 12-2 p.m. So I waited and waited until it was time. I went and I asked, 'Am I going as a resident?'
"She said yes and to just go and fix my way of going from here to there and that's it.
"All this happened very fast. I said goodbye to my relatives. The ticket was already there.
"When they picked me up from the airport here in Los Angeles, the lady I knew asked me, 'Leticia, what happened? You took so long. We were afraid that you went back to Guatemala!' I had been at immigration.
"We left the airport and all of a sudden, I was in the mountains over there in San Bernardino. And this is the way I really pictured the United States -- very beautiful, with pines. And when the snow started coming, I could not believe it.
"The family I worked for had two boys and one girl. She was close to my age, she was seventeen and I was eighteen. The family was Catholic and we would go to mass every single Sunday. We would dress up with gloves and do our hair.
"I had a problem with confession. I wanted to go to confess and the priest didn't speak Spanish and I didn't speak English. He was German. So, he started with a dictionary!
"Can you believe it? I'm saying my sins and he is looking for what I'm saying. I said, 'Never again. I will never confess again.' I did confess, after so many years, but not in Wrightwood.
"Soon, a friend from my school was going to leave her job in Sherman Oaks. She said, 'Come over here. It's nicer, it's more independent, you can come and go.'
"In Wrightwood, there was not much to do, it was very small and people only spoke English. My friend said, 'You are going to feel much better. I can visit you, you can visit me.' I said, 'Okay, let's do it.'
"From Sherman Oaks, I went to Hollywood. I was taking care of two young daughters. The family was wonderful to me. It was December when I started. The family was Jewish but for the first time they put up a Christmas tree.
"They said they did it for me -- and the girls liked the presents. One of the girls said, 'When I grow up, I am going to be a Catholic just like Kennedy.' Kennedy had just been assassinated.
"My husband Mario's family is from Honduras. Mario and I have two wonderful and hard working sons, Billy and Jason.
"I met Mario at his family's house, which is in Hollywood. I first met his friends at the bus stop. They were from Honduras.
"Before, there were not too many Latinos over here in Los Angles. Probably in Downtown there were a lot of people from Mexico. But then, if you met some people you thought spoke Spanish and you would speak to them in Spanish, they would say, 'I'm sorry. I just speak English.'
"I learned. So finally when I meet somebody I would say, 'Where are you from?' If they said they are from Guatemala, I would say, 'What area? What zona - what zip?'
"But these two girls were from Honduras and it happened they were taking the same bus I was taking, same direction. We became friends. We would meet every Sunday and we would just walk around, take pictures, go to a restaurant and have fun.
"They told me that there was a family from Honduras that lived very close by, in back of El Capitan Theater. So they said, 'Let's go, we want you to meet them.' That was Mario's family -- his uncle, his aunt and his cousins. Mario was in the Air Force and would come every weekend. That's how we connected. Maybe for me it was love at first sight.
"I want to tell you something else: Years ago, a lady who knew me since I was a little baby told me: 'Oh Letty, your dream came true.' I said, 'What do you mean?' She said coming to California. I asked what she meant?
"She said, 'One day I found you on the steps of my house and you were talking in this language that I didn't understand. Syllables came from your mouth like this and that. I said, Letty, what are you doing? What are you talking?'
"And I said, 'English -- because I'm going to California.'
"I was probably four-years-old, something like that. I was babbling I don't know what. I don't know how I knew about California.
"I love it here in Los Angeles where I have lived for fifty years."
-- Aura Leticia Martinez
(as told to Jeremy Rosenberg)
Do you or someone you know have a great Los Angeles Arrival Story to share? If so, then contact Jeremy Rosenberg via: arrivalstory AT gmail DOT com. Also contact or follow Rosenberg on Twitter @LosJeremy
Top photo: Aura Leticia Martinez. Photo courtesy Aura Letitca Martinez