A Question of Hope

One family's struggle to escape the devastation of gang culture

As her husband sat in the gallery, Valenzuela said she did not make love with "Bulldog" willingly but was raped.

Jurors paying attention might wonder then why the baby sitter testified that Valenzuela spent a large part of her time fixing her hair in the rest room, like a woman going out on a date, as Rivera and the others were kidnaping Megan Ramirez from her own apartment.


Adela dotes on Boy.
Adela dotes on Boy.
Top: Yvonne Montiel and son Ray-Ray

Middle: Sara Ayala

Bottom: Adela McCormick
photos by Paolo Vescia
Top: Yvonne Montiel and son Ray-Ray
Middle: Sara Ayala
Bottom: Adela McCormick

As the year draws to a close, Adela is busy with her children. She awaits new CAT scan results on Boy and prepares for the holiday visit of her daughters by planning the big dinner.

Christmas can be a stressful time for families, and Adela's is facing change. As though Boy's health was not enough pressure, Sara has a newborn. And Yvonne has just moved to Tucson and is struggling with the separation from lifelong friends in LCM.

While Adela is understandably focused on her son, Yvonne feels, with some justification, that if she is going to protect Ray-Ray, she will have to find the strength on her own.

"Mom has never been one to sit down and talk with me," says Yvonne. "When I reached the age of being a woman, she didn't tell me about the time of month. I learned about that from my dad. She doesn't talk about sex, or personal things. She never sat me down and said, 'I want something better for you in your life,' or, 'There's more to life than LCM.'"

She says that too often when she hears from her mother there is no space to talk about Yvonne's concerns; too often Adela's conversation is dizzy with booze. Without much sympathy for why Adela might need a drink, her daughter notes: "She calls me up when she's been drinking and just repeats herself. I've told her she's an alcoholic. She'll be on the phone and making no sense."

Yvonne is further distressed by the focus of Adela's ramblings.

"It's always about Boy."

From Yvonne's perspective, this isn't anything new. Her frustration is painfully sincere when she says, "Boy was always the favorite. He didn't get hit twice in his entire life growing up."

The aftermath of the shooting has exacerbated the normal tension within any family where an only son was the focus of doting women. Not only has Yvonne lost her mother to an eternity of nursing, but Adela's own lifeline through this catastrophe is now God and religion, which Yvonne can't buy into.

It is difficult for Yvonne to look at what happened to her brother and believe in God. Furthermore, it is not possible for her to consider her own life as a gangster and believe that church is an appropriate refuge for her.

She does not want to discuss what she did with LCM .

"I did a lot of bad things," is all she will say. "I did everything you read about. I would feel like a hypocrite in church."

For Yvonne, it is impossible to turn her back on her buddies in LCM. Just before she left for Tucson, she accompanied her best friend, Myra Rosales, to Steve's on South Central. While she was in one of the bathroom stalls, she overheard another woman getting into it with Myra. Yvonne stepped in.

"This fool was too loud about what neighborhood she was from and all this Hayden Park crap. I mopped the floor up with her."

This level of hair-trigger violence is a dramatic counterpoint for Yvonne when she thinks about her dad and her brother and the new life she hopes to build for Ray-Ray.

"A part of me still wants to be there with LCM, but I'm already too old. And it's not fair to Boy after what happened. I really don't know. . . ."

And so Adela's path through this difficult life -- devotion, dedication, God and occasionally alcohol -- leaves Yvonne stranded, even estranged. Her words can sometimes sound like blunt instruments, as if she is cornered and fighting for her life.

"I tell her she puts too much emphasis on Boy," says Yvonne. "If God wants him to walk, Boy will walk whether or not she prays."

There are moments when Adela dismisses Yvonne's concerns by saying that her daughter has always been jealous of her brother. At other times, Adela is more pensive, even agreeing with Yvonne about religion.

"Praying brings comfort to me," says Adela. "Sometimes. Other times, I wonder why I spend hours praying. What good is it doing? But without prayer, I'd have flipped out. Prayer allows me to get up in the morning. But it's very hard and I'm very tired."

Certainly, Adela is too tired to sort through Yvonne's many stresses.

Not surprisingly, Adela feels isolated, overwhelmed.

"I love my family, but I think more people in my church here in Flagstaff truly care about me," laments Adela.

She reads aloud a lengthy note from a woman in her church's congregation.

"In all my life, I have never met such a precious mother who, in spite of the tragedy that came upon her son's life, she still continued to be the pillar in his life," wrote Sister Maria Hernandez.

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