Imagine being born into a world full of love and joy. The family cradling you and telling you how beautiful you are. Telling you how happy they are that you are here. That was not the scenario Adelaida “Ady” Rios was born into. Though she was as precious as any other newborn, her arrival ushered in decades of abuse because of the circumstances into which she was born. She would endure a childhood filled with insults and negativity. Her only bright lights were an aunt who showed her love and comfort, and a father who continued to show he cared for her even through difficult times.
Ady was born in Redwood City and from birth spent time traveling back and forth to Mexico with her mother. At age seventeen and living in California she and her husband gave birth to their first daughter. Returning to Mexico with their one month old infant, Ady and her husband would live with her abusive mother for a year before being forced to return to California to make a life for themselves. Although Ady and her husband wanted their daughter with them, Ady was afraid to defy her mother. They did what they were told. Her mother would care for their child for the next four years before they returned to bring her home. It would be decades later, after years of therapy, that Ady would return to visit her mother in Mexico. It was her first born who encouraged her to drop the baggage she was forced to carry as an innocent child as she booked her mom’s flight.
Intergenerational trauma may pass wounds from parent to child. The healing that is necessary too often seems out of reach as life consumes energy for daily survival. Ady’s story started as a sad song, but she has changed its tune to one of gratitude. Although she struggled with substance abuse, self medicating early in her life, the love for her children would be the wake-up call to face the nightmare of her childhood and take her healing into her own hands. Willingness to face her past with courage and humility opened the door to healing.
Ady has lived in the Bay Area for thirty-five years and has given birth to three more children (a daughter and two sons). Octavio Mendoza-Rios is the youngest, born fifteen years ago. Seven years ago his brother Gino passed away at age twenty-one, four years after the car accident that left him a quadriplegic.
After Gino’s accident he needed around the clock care, with his mother as his primary caregiver. She practically moved into his room to provide him care and comfort. As time went by his depression became consuming. Ady soon spent the majority of her time with him, which meant spending less and less time with Octavio. Octavio, understandably, began to show signs of anxiety and would rarely leave the house.
Years later, Ady would watch videos her husband made of Octavio and cry. She had no idea how much she missed during his formative years, which quietly slipped away while her focus was on Gino. She missed Octavio learning to read, write and complete homework. The pride on his face when he read to his dad was on video as he grew through that painful period. The effect on his spirit was nevertheless evident. When Gino passed away his family would grieve for years. Octavio began hair pulling and was terrified to ride in a car. On the rare occasions when convinced to leave the house, he spent the entire ride wrapped in a blanket with his head covered.
Trauma shows up in many different ways. Children often have not developed the language to express what they are feeling verbally so they express themselves behaviorally through non-verbal expressions. Deep wounds take time to surface — and care to heal. It was his second grade teacher at Azevada Elementary School in Fremont who first noticed the severity of Octavio’s symptoms. She suggested support services that could help him express what he was feeling. Speaking to Ady in private Octavio’s teacher explained what she saw and the services available not only for Octavio, but for her also. In the pain of dealing with the aftermath of Gino’s tragic accident, Ady and her husband were unable to see Octavio’s pain. Ady credits his teacher to this day for recognizing the signs and sounding the alert. His teacher’s sensitivity and advocacy made all the difference in Octavio’s healing process, as it was the spark that lit the way to much needed support services for the family.
Octavio liked to draw like his brother Gino who was his hero. After Gino’s car accident Octavio’s drawings slowly became gloomy and filled with anger. The short counseling sessions provided at school soon proved to be inadequate. Octavio needed sessions that were more substantial in length and treatment. When Fremont Family Counseling Services were recommended, Octavio began receiving treatment there. He began new therapy and soon would answer the question from his psychologist that would set into motion the next level of his healing. The timing of this question changed the course of his life. “What do you like to do, Octavio?” he was asked. “I like music,” he replied.
Before ROOTS International Academy Middle School was closed in 2019, Ady worked in the clinic on site and Octavio attended school there. One day a coworker came to her saying she had a gift for her Octavio. It was a guitar. Shortly after receiving the guitar the Oakland Public Conservatory of Music (OPC) offered free music classes to interested students. Octavio was excited. He wanted to learn to play better, but he also wanted to keep his distance from the other students. He was still healing from his loss.
After two years at ROOTS, OPC’s after school program was moved two blocks away to Oakland Sol School. Ady felt blessed that her son could continue with his lessons. The beauty of these small music classes was they afforded students like Octavio the space to learn and grow at their own pace in a supportive environment. His instructor, Jeff Worrall, volunteered to provide Octavio with private lessons. It was Mr. Worrall’s way of giving back.
Octavio emerged from his shell as his musicianship and confidence grew. In a matter of months they were performing duets at school events. The joy on his face was easy to read. Octavio was in his element, excelling in music and proud of his talent.
Octavio continues to thrive in an environment full of love and support for his best mental health.
Adelaida Rios is the School Base Health Center Dental Supervisor (SBHC) at Fuente Wellness Center located in the Reach Ashland Youth Center in San Leandro.