A Question of Hope

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

Although parts of the message carry the stilted, almost stentorian notes of a Christian tract -- unavoidable when quoting Scripture -- the letter also expresses genuine appreciation for the burden that Adela has shouldered.

"No one has ever acknowledged me in that way," says Adela. "I'm somebody. I'm somebody. Maybe Yvonne doesn't think so, but I'm somebody."

The pain between this mother and daughter is like a boil waiting to be lanced.

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

Yet Yvonne's frustration does not blind her to Adela's fine qualities. Despite her deep-seated anguish, she is the first to tell you that her mother has gone through remarkable changes since the shooting.

"She's a different person than the one that raised me," says Yvonne. "She has changed. Yes, I wish she would not drink so much. But the truth is she is a great grandparent."

Yvonne knows that during that period of her own life when she was wrapped up in drugs, it was Adela who agreed to take on the responsibility of bringing up Yvonne's oldest boy, then 5.

"She is raising my son Ricky and doing a great job. He's not violent at all. He loves to study."

The young boy's personality blossomed away from the threat of gang violence.

And the youngest daughter, while acknowledging that her mother is not the most communicative woman, has a vastly different relationship with Adela than Yvonne.

Sara was too young to remember when her parents divorced. All she knew as a child was the home her mother provided .

"She was very strict," says Sara. "But I don't think that was a bad thing. I might have started running around sooner if I hadn't been scared of her. I'm grateful to her. I just wish we could spend more time together. It's a long way from Tucson to Flagstaff and when we talk on the phone, mom always wants to get off as quickly as possible."

Adela can be so terse on the phone that Sara requested an update when the Rivera verdict came in so that she might get a more fully flavored picture of the courtroom scene. Even as she asked for more detail about the fate of the man that killed her father and crippled her brother, she shuddered at the memory of what happened.

"I'm glad to be away from that gang [WSC]. I feel safe here. When I go to Phoenix, I feel the badness."

Sara worked full-time at Macy's and attended college right up until her baby was born, the day before Thanksgiving. She has no idea what she will do with her education or even if it will lead to a better job. But because she has been in Tucson for more than two years, she has settled in more than Yvonne.

Sara's lack of clear direction is less unsettling to her because she has an infant in her arms. And she is eager to visit Flagstaff.

As the holidays approach and Adela's family members make their plans, the daughters and mother are at various stages of repairing the damage done so often between parents and children.

In that regard, perhaps they are not so much different from other families.

Sara is eager to see her brother again.

"I was very depressed after the shooting for a long time," she says. "He's getting better. I hold on to that. Him just being there makes me that much more hopeful."

Boy's future is unclear. He lost his life, as we comprehend the full measure of being alive, trying to bring his father to Jesus Christ. In an unforeseen manner, however, he deepened his own mother's relationship with God. And in ways that are important to Adela, her "preacher man" continues to embolden the Christians he touched.

Sister Maria has told Adela that for the first time she has found the courage to participate in her church's prison ministry. When he was locked up, Boy had continually urged Sister Maria to share the word of God with Chicano inmates.

"Listen to what she said," urges Adela as she reads from the letter. "Tell brother Ayala that this happened through his constant prayer. I told those inmates, 'Do not pity yourself because I know a man who inspired me all the way from prison.'"

As for the daughters, the question of hope has an evolving answer, because they lived long enough to build a future.

Both women have survived the gang environment of their childhood, in no small part because they moved away. Not everyone has that luxury, nor would everyone choose such a course.

But the odds for people like Boy that stay are not good.

Phoenix police took the first steps last month in an attempt to impose a controversial injunction against 14 members of Yvonne's gang, Las Cuatro Milpas. If any of these individuals are even seen together, they can be arrested on the spot. Yvonne's best friend and fellow gangbanger, Myra, was not named; but her cousin across the street, as well as Myra's boyfriend, were.

Adela and her children are gone from the Milpas, not a moment too soon.

It is Christmas 1999.

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