“I don’t see myself as in poverty,” Margarita says. “My parents would come back from the dead if I was in poverty! You have to know who you are. I can say that my mother and grandmother always said that people determine who you are by how you look. So, it was necessary for me to look like I wanted to do something, to look like I was out to learn something, to have my mind and my dress and my attitude to look like I was going to move forward, never thinking about moving backward, always moving forward.”
Margarita has been experiencing homelessness for 18 months, which officially makes her chronically homeless. She used to live in a duplex out by Denver International Airport, but her landlord, unable to afford payments on the apartment complex was forced to sell, resulting in Margarita having no place to go.
“Some days I go through things that make me want to pull my hair out and just get dropped off by the river somewhere by myself. But I know that’s not the answer. For me, the answer is to help someone. Jordan, I never let a day pass that I don’t help somebody. I think that if you help someone move forward—you move forward.”
“Just being with people and talking is important—something will always come up that you can talk about. And as you talk, people begin to tell you their issues, and you can try to help them.”
She’s speaking to me as if I am her student, and in a strange way, I get it. To her I’m young and somewhat naïve—my passion does not match her wisdom, her experience or even her education. For the rest of the conversation I hardly speak, I don’t ask another question. I just sit back and listen to Margarita impart her wisdom and tell her story.
“I’m from Barcelona. I came to the U.S. to go to college. I went to Radcliffe, then to the University of Minnesota. I almost froze to death in Minnesota, not literally to death, but it was so cold! And I had the nerve to be a cheerleader. Can you believe that? I was so cold during the football season that I thought I was going to die!”
“After my experience in Minnesota, I hurried to California. I studied at the University there—at Berkley. I studied psychology and ended up working that field, helping parents and children.”
“I have a talent to sing. I sing opera—I like to do that. I’ve done that since I was a kid, and that excites me. I haven’t done any real work since I’ve been in Denver because this is not an opera city. In San Francisco, I did a lot of work. I worked for the city and then I would go across the street to one of the city organizations and be on stage. I’ve always liked to act.”
Jennifer Fitzgerald, our Emergency Services Coordinator downtown who was also a part of this interview, chimes in…“You’re so joyful, Margarita. What makes you that way?”
“Anticipation for life,” Margarita says. “I always ask myself, what can I do to help others today? What can I do to get out of this situation? And creating, just trying to create an interest in something, and holding an interest in something, because that’s the only way you can live out here. If you have no interest and you don’t do anything to help people—you don’t do anything to build, then what are you doing? You know? You have to do something to help others. That’s what I was taught.”
Faces of The Mission is a blog series written by Jordan Smith, Denver Rescue Mission’s Writer/Photographer and former Next Step Coordinator at the Lawrence Street Community Center, offering insights and real life stories from people experiencing homelessness and hardships.