This is part of Mateo's story about growing up in Nicaragua in his own words:
My father was a heavy alcoholic and was never around me and my mother during the day. Sometimes, he didn't come home for days at a time. When he was around, he was always very abusive to my mother and me, so it felt good when he would leave and not come around. It all started when I was about five or six years old. I cannot tell you why he started being the way he was because I really don't know. He started drinking a lot and bringing people over to the house to get drunk with him.
He started getting more aggressive with me and my mother, and he would come home yelling for no reason. If he had a bad day at work, he always took it out on us. The first time he beat me up, that I can remember, was because he was hitting my mom and I tried to stop him. I was almost six years old, and I was no match for my father. He beat me up so badly that I remember not being able to walk for a few days.
The first time I remember my mom went to the hospital was because of him. We were eating, and he came home. He was yelling and was drunk, so my mom grabbed my hand and took me to my room. She put me in bed and went back to where he was yelling for her. All I could hear was my mother scream. He was beating her, and I could do nothing about it. I felt powerless and angry, really angry. Afterwards, my mother came in and lay on the bed with me. She was crying silently, and I hugged her. She said we should pray. We prayed, and I fell asleep.
The next morning, my mother did not wake me up with her kisses like she always did. She was lying next to me with her eyes open and tears rolling down her cheeks. I asked what was wrong, and she didn't answer me. I tried to get her to talk, but she wouldn't. She couldn't talk or move. I was scared, so I ran next door. They took my mother to the hospital where she remained for about two months.
Those were probably the worst two months of my life to that point. While my mother was away, I was abused mentally, emotionally, physically, and sexually. Throughout this time, my father would tell me that my mom was dead, and I had to forget about her. Everything he told me is still very clear in my mind, and I don't think I'll ever be able to forget it. They are things that a father should never tell his son.
When my mother finally got back from the hospital, she was in a wheelchair. The left side of her whole body was paralyzed. She could hardly speak, and no one really understood what she was saying. This was when I started taking care of my mother, and I promised I would not let anyone else hurt her. I learned everything I could about wheelchairs and spent hours talking to my mother so that I could learn how to understand what she said. I got to the point where I was the only one who knew what she was saying. I took her everywhere in her wheelchair and would not let anyone get too close to her. My father came home less and less. When he was home and tried to beat my mom, I would get in the way and take the beating.
One day, I was in my room, and my mom was in the living room watching T.V. I heard her scream, and I ran to her. My father was choking her and calling her names. I ran over to him and hit him in the face. He turned around and hit me hard in the jaw. I fell to the floor, and he continued to choke my mom. My mouth was all bloody, and I was in a lot of pain, but I got up and looked for anything to hit him with. I found a rock, so I grabbed it and hit him in the head with it. He started yelling and was bleeding. My mom was pale, but she was ok.
She started crying, and I hugged her. My father started yelling at me, and he told me that I was not his son and that I could go to hell. He told me that he hated me and that I was worth nothing. Just like that, he walked out of the house. A couple of days later, I was washing my mom's and my clothes on a washing board while my mom was sitting next to me in her wheelchair. My father walked in, grabbed his clothes, and left. I never saw him again.
I continued to take care of my mother. I washed and ironed our clothes. I cooked, cleaned the house, helped her keep herself clean, and took her everywhere she needed to go in her wheelchair. She called me her guardian angel. To me, it was an honor to do everything for my mother. Her condition started getting worse. I hoped and prayed every day that she would get better. But, the damage had already been done. I never got tired of what I did every day. I never gave up on my mother. I was always there for her.
Three months after my ninth birthday, my mother passed away. I couldn't understand why God had taken her from me. I felt alone and powerless.
After the death of his mom, Mateo was adopted by a relative and brought to the U.S. legally on his relative’s work visa. Life in the U.S was still difficult, and Mateo was abused by his relative. After years of abuse, Mateo found the courage to flee to a domestic violence shelter. After the abuse was reported to the police, his relative fled the United States. Because Mateo was a derivative on his relative's work visa, his permission to be in the U.S. was revoked when his relative left the country.
Another attorney helped Mateo apply to become a U.S. permanent resident, but Mateo’s application was denied. Immigrant Legal Services (ILS) took up Mateo’s case pro bono and filed an appeal. As part of the appeal, over 50 people in Mateo’s local community including his school teachers, coaches, caseworkers, and law enforcement officials signed letters of recommendation on Mateo’s behalf. Many said he was one of the finest young men they had ever met. After a long appeals process, Mateo was finally granted permanent legal status to remain in the United States.
ILS was honored to help Mateo through the entire appeal at no cost to him. Our services are made possible through the generous grants and donations we receive to help people like Mateo have a shot at the American dream.