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Nina’s World


When You Are Too Young to Choose (But Have to Anyway)

July 9th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon



We first met Nina Montoya when she was a senior at Venice High School where,
in English teacher Dennis Danziger’s class, she began to discover her talent for writing.

During the year, Nina began a series of essays about her experiences in foster care, two of which WLA posted here.

The first of the essays described the day when Nina and her then nine-year-old sister were taken away from their home and plunged into the foster care world. (Nina was seven-years old at the time.)

Her next essay was about her struggle to make sense out of her feelings of love for her abusive dad and her abandoning mother:

….In the past I have been physically and mentally abused by my father. He has told me many times that I am stupid, that I should just give up, quit. When I would speak of college he told me that I shouldn’t bother, that they don’t care if you are smart or stupid, the only reason why they want you is to take your money. He has threatened me, put me in many unnecessary dangers, even threatened my friends as well. Inexplicably, I still love him. I always will love him, for he is my father and though he makes not the best decisions, I know in the end he loves me too. That he is proud of me, I have heard him brag to his friends. I just wish that I could hear the compliments myself, that he would tell me to my face that he is proud.

Even my mother who abandoned me I love her. She left me when I was merely a toddler. She even attempted to do drugs while she was pregnant with me, but I still love her. Though I wish not to speak to her, when she does contact me I tolerate it. This is because as much as I hate her, my love is stronger….

In each case, Nina explored the internal landscape of her experience—an experience that is, by the way, shared by 20,000 LA County kids in any given month—with courage, clarity and grace.

Today, we have a third essay. This one continues her foster care narrative and talks about the kind of a choice a kid should not have to make.

The Decision

One of the most intense, passionate and heartbreaking moments in my life happened when I was seven. The court asked my sister and me to decide who we wanted to live with and raise us for the rest of our lives. An extreme question for any child.

We had three choices, my dad, my mom or Jennifer Cooper. Jennifer was one of the sweetest people I knew. I loved Jennifer, who was a mother figure to me. I considered Jennifer, who was the mother of my dad’s previous girl friend, Jackie, to be family.

My dad remained good friends with Jackie after their break up and was still good friends with her family as well. Jennifer owned a large house and my dad paid rent to her to live there. There were six rooms, if I can remember correctly, maybe even more. Two of the three bed rooms upstairs belonged to my dad and my sister and I shared the third bedroom.

During the time we lived in Jennifer’s house, along with Jessica, another of Jennifer’s daughters, we all grew close. Jennifer loved my sister and me deeply and wanted the best for us. In my mind when the judge asked us to pick I knew my decision. I wanted Jennifer even though it meant choosing her over my own blood.

My sister, who was few years older than me, was close to my father. Not that I wasn’t and not that I didn’t love him. I did. But deep down I knew that my father wasn’t comfortable playing the dad role and life would be easier, simpler and more relaxed with Jennifer as my guardian.

So when I asked my sister her decision and she named dad, I was shocked, because I knew she could see the unhappiness that would lay ahead. I told her I decided to live with Jennifer which upset her. My sister, in tears, rushed to my father to tell him the news. As he listened I could tell from the expression on his face and his body language the moment he understood my decision. I had broken his heart .

My heart dropped as I watched the two people that have always been apart of me, my life, sitting on the floor and crying. I couldn’t take the pain and joined in sobbing alongside them.

I begged my father for forgiveness and promised I wouldn’t tear apart our small family and when the court asked who I wanted to live with I said only one word, “dad”.


Nina Montoya graduated from Venice High School in June 2010 and will attend Cal State Northridge this fall.

Posted in American voices, Nina's World | 4 Comments »

The Inexplicable Love of Writing

February 4th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

Nina-Montoya

I was reading Lit, Mary Karr’s alcohol-soaked but sequin-bright third memoir,
when I received this second essay from Venice High School senior Nina Montoya. Nina, if you’ll remember, is one of English teacher Dennis Danziger’s students and part of a PEN-in-the Classroom workshop run by author Amy Friedman., who is also Danziger’s wife.

Due to her age, Nina is pretty new to this matter of writing. But as you can see from the earlier essay posted here (which you should read along with this one, if you haven’t), she has a knack for the work, however nascent. I bring up Mary Karr because, although when The Liars club, the memoir that forever put Karr on the literary map, was published in 1995, Karr was 40 and had behind her one marriage, the birth of her son, an MFA with a famous writer as mentor, and a whole lot of therapeutic hours logged talking about her spirit-gouging and deeply abusive childhood, there is thread of similarity linking Karr’s books and Nina’s newly-minted efforts.

By contrast, Nina has not yet graduated high school. Yet she has a budding writer’s voice and the willingness to wrestle with the hard stuff—both of which merit nurturing.

Scattered across Los Angeles, there are other talented kids like Nina who also have important stories to tell, and voices that merit nurture. With any luck, some of those LA stories—along with more of Nina’s—will find their way to WitnessLA.

Here’s Nina:

Inexplicable Love

by Nina Montoya


I believe that the love you have for your family is incredibly strong.
Your family member can do something so horrible that it makes you want to hate them and never speak to them again, but in the end you will still love them, still end up contacting them in some way. Even if you claim to not love that person or state that you disown them. Deep down you know in your heart as much as you want to deny it, it’s there, that unexplainable love.

In the past I have been physically and mentally abused by my father. He has told me many times that I am stupid, that I should just give up, quit. When I would speak of college he told me that I shouldn’t bother, that they don’t care if you are smart or stupid, the only reason why they want you is to take your money. He has threatened me, put me in many unnecessary dangers, even threatened my friends as well. Inexplicably, I still love him. I always will love him, for he is my father and though he makes not the best decisions, I know in the end he loves me too. That he is proud of me, I have heard him brag to his friends. I just wish that I could hear the compliments myself, that he would tell me to my face that he is proud.
Even my mother who abandoned me I love her. She left me when I was merely a toddler. She even attempted to do drugs while she was pregnant with me, but I still love her. Though I wish not to speak to her, when she does contact me I tolerate it. This is because as much as I hate her, my love is stronger. Of all the times I have yelled and screamed that I never want anything to do with her, it is false. I do wish to be around her, I do wish to show my love towards her, but she has lost the opportunity. As much as I wish for this communication it cannot happen, she has chosen the needle over her own children, so for that she will not be able to experience that love.
As much as there is something wrong with each of my parents I still love them, no matter how much pain each of them has put me through, I do. That’s the thing, a love like the one you have for your family is not like any other love. I believe that this familial love is almost indestructible, can never disintegrate. There have been so many times I have felt that deep fiery anger of hate toward both of my parents but, the love that I have for each of them is stronger, especially for my father. He raised my sister and me and that is something I will always be thankful for. I have seen him break down, cry even and he has seen the same from me. In those times of need we are always there for each other, in the end we will always have one another.


NOTE: More news stories a bit later this morning, so check back.

Posted in American voices, Nina's World, writers and writing | 5 Comments »

“While we were being driven away, I was trying to recognize something…”

January 27th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

Girl-Running-away-2

Nina Montoya is a student in writer/teacher Dennis Danziger’s English class at Venice High School.

She is also part of PEN in the Classroom, a program that sends professional writers into their classrooms for creative writing residencies. In Danziger’s class the kids worked on personal essays, and the professional writer also happened to be Danzinger’s wife, Amy Friedman.

Ten of those students will be performing the essays that resulted in a spoken word setting on Monday, March 8, at the Powerhouse Theater in Santa Monica. (I’ll remind you again when the date is closer.)

But in meantime, I thought you would enjoy reading the biographical essay that the talented Nina has written.

It is a called: Never to be Seen Again.

Keep in mind as you read it that Nina, a senior, is an honor student, a cheerleader, on staff of the yearbook and has been accepted by Cal State, Northridge for Fall 2010.

Ten years ago I was sitting in my third grade classroom at Noise Elementary School picking up my school things, shoveling them into my Lion King backpack. Before I whisked out the classroom door my teacher caught my eye. I can hardly remember what she looked like, all I can remember was thinking she looked pretty and her hair was a dark brunette. She had just received a phone call and ordered me to accompany her to the office.

I cannot recall when I first remember seeing my older sister Kirin. Kirin, age nine, was either already in the police car or we stepped into the cruiser together. We were not allowed to go home and pack our things; it was straight off to foster care again, except this time I was seven, old enough to remember. I had been there once before, but did not remember anything about that place. My only knowledge of having been there before was from what my sister had told me.

My memory is foggy as to what exactly happened. I do not remember my sister’s reaction to any of this. We knew we would not go home anytime soon and that upset us. Home was in Pasadena, California and to me always seemed prefect. With warm weekends and seemingly endless sunny days. Most of those sunny days we spent on the perfectly manicured, bright green lawn, running crazy and wild through the sprinklers in the front yard.

While we were being driven away, I was trying to recognize something, anything, grasping for some kind of hint, but I never did figure out where we were headed. The vehicle slowly pulled up in front of a small one-story house with an attached garage on the left side of our unwanted new home.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in American voices, Education, Nina's World, writers and writing | 11 Comments »