Leo is a 46-year-old Baltimore resident. She emigrated from Mexico in 1988, and lived in California for 11 years before settling in Baltimore.
She came to Baltimore with her brother, but said once she arrived, she was not sure she wanted to call Charm City her home.
”I was scared in this town, because I feel too lonely walking around. The streets were empty. You can see like 10 Hispanics walking in this area,” Leo said.
Leo is now surrounded by her siblings, and her two daughters in Baltimore. Although she is a supervisor at a commercial laundry, she says she sometimes takes on odd jobs to ensure that her daughters can afford college.
“I need money for my family, I can sweep the floors if you pay me. I don’t mind, I need to get the money for my family,” Leo said.
Leo said she prides herself on being strong and independent now, but she came from a mindset and a marriage in which her role as a woman was relegated to being a subservient wife.
“When we came from poor countries or the little towns, the mom and father say 'you have to respect your husband, your husband say sit, you have to sit, your husband comes, you have to warm the food and keep the plate ready, and pick up the plate and wash the clothes by hand,” Leo said. “I say no more, I’m sorry, but no more.”
Leo has since remarried and says she looks forward to the possibility of attending college.
When she began taking English classes at the Esperanza Center in 1995, she devoted 9 months (7 days a week) to learning the language, which now disqualifies her from taking ESL classes. Leo laughs at the fact that although she says her English is not good, she has tested out of the introductory college-level ESL classes.
“No more ESL for me.”
The Esperanza Center, where Leo took classes, is celebrating its 50 year anniversary this year.