During her seven-minute talk at WomenSpeak 2017 on May 10, Angie Flores was only able to give a sketchy outline of her sojourn — from abused child in South Los Angeles to college student in Iowa to art teacher in West Hollywood.
The annual luncheon at the Ebell Club off Wilshire Boulevard supports the work of Alexandria House, a group of transitional homes for homeless women and their children as well as being a neighborhood center in Koreatown. Former member of the California State Assembly and Los Angeles City Council Jackie Goldberg was the other featured speaker at this year’s gathering.
But the almost-23-year-old Flores’ moving verbal memoir, as they’re wont to say here in Tinseltown, stole the show.
So later outside on the patio — wearing a jean jacket, black skirt and stockings, her clear-framed glasses resting on the bridge of her nose — she put down the potted flushing gold orchards she received at WomenSpeak to fill in the dots for Angelus News. To tell how she, with a lot of help along the way, saved herself from her past.
Her earliest memories living in South L.A. were of being sexually molested by her father, who also abused her immigrant Nicaraguan mother and older half-sister. It all came to a head on New Year’s Eve, when she was just 3 1/2. Her parents arguing violently about the unimaginable. Her father wanting to sleep alone with his youngest daughter.
“So that was the last straw for my mom,” she recalled, her voice not as soft-spoken as when she was up at the carved-wood podium inside. “She fought back and, unfortunately, he beat her. I watched him choke her. And I was, like, fighting my older brother off, because he was trying to hide it from me.”
The battered mother escaped with her children to an emergency shelter and was referred to Alexandria House. That’s where Flores turned 4 and stayed until she was 7. The family moved to a nearby residence of the Immaculate Heart Community. And that was followed by a rough time living in an apartment in L.A.’s high-crime Rampart district.
But later her mother caught a real break, getting hired as manager of a permanent-residence apartment run by Alexandria House. And that’s where Flores lived through high school at Pacific Hills School in West Hollywood before going off to Cornell College in Iowa. Last spring, she graduated with a major in studio art and a theater minor, quickly landing a job as office coordinator and part-time teacher at her old high school.
Attending Pacific Hills and also a private elementary school mostly came about through the support of Bonnie Boswell. The local TV personality met the struggling family while doing a feature on Alexandria House for L.A.’s NBC affiliate station.
“From then on, she took us under her wing,” explained Flores. “Pacific Hills was where I needed to be. I mean, it changed my life. It’s a really small community, like Alexandria House. So that was really my opportunity to grow when I went there. And that led to me going off to Cornell.
“Bonnie was always pushing me to ‘Go to school! Go to school! Go to school! Any diploma you get is another entry level. Just go do it and you’ll get to another level of your professional career.’
“So that’s what I’ve done,” she added with a small smile, “working two, sometimes three jobs while I was at college.”
‘Love and compassion’
Flores said she loved teaching this past year, especially getting across to her Pacific Hills students how she cared about them and their own life stories. Same thing she felt from the staff and volunteers at Alexandria House participating in lots of programs — especially poetry classes, where she could get things out she couldn’t tell anyone.
“When I first got there, I was really shy and really quiet,” she said. “And that was part of the trauma from the abuse. So it was just the love and compassion that they had there that helped open me right back up.”
Still, abuse scars run deep.
“Yeah, I had trouble even writing the speech that I read today, because I was having trouble revisiting those moments,” she confided. “But it’s important. It’s important to talk about what happened to me and my sister and my mother. We were victims of assault. And when I went to college, I was very open about that. And I think that helped others to open up, too.
“The sorority I ended up with, about 80 percent of those girls were assaulted or had domestic abuse and had trauma in their lives. We were just open with each other, and open about the pain that we all went through.”
After a moment, she pointed out, “So growing up in Alexandria House, that was the community helping a child. Going to college and sharing that experience with other women, that was the healing, I think.”
Another big help has been talking about the abuse with her boyfriend in college, and even now with him living in Chicago. He’s had his own childhood agony. When he was only 5, he witnessed the suicide of his father. Talking has helped them both “not be ashamed” of what happened.
Still, Flores knows how a lot of women have been permanently damaged by childhood abuse. “That’s something that I thought about a lot was how I ended up,” she told me. “Because if there was one thing that didn’t happen in the way it did — like living at Alexandria House or going to college — I’d be something else right now.
“And I talk about it with my mom. Even though we went through something horrible, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Because sometimes those struggles are what build character, they build the person. And they build someone who’s gonna face the world down when it’s at its worse. So I’m very proud of her.”
It was “awesome” for the young woman to have the chance at WomenSpeak to meet people who’ve supported her family all these years. It was good to say “thank you.”
“I’ve always felt like fortune has smiled upon me, if that makes sense,” Flores said with a quizzical face. “Because I’ve gotten to be lucky in making really great connections, in having people who always want to see me progress and still push me — even if I’m an adult, even if I’m faraway. They’re pushing. They’re rooting for me. And that’s community. That’s community.”
To contact Alexandria House, email [email protected], visit www.alexandriahouse.org or call (213) 381-2649.
Los Angeles County
› LA County Child Abuse Hotline: 800-540-4000
› Investigative Control Unit for All Child Abuse Reports: 213-486-0530
› Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department: 310-482-6000
› Special Victims Bureau (24 hours): 562-946-8531
› To speak to a detective: 562-946-7960
› District Attorney’s Office: Sexual Crimes Division 213-974-9790
› Family Violence Division: 213-974-3785
› For callers residing outside the State of California who wish to contact Child Protective Services in Los Angeles: 213-639-4500
Santa Barbara County
› Santa Barbara County Child Abuse Hotline: 800-367-0166
› District Attorney Victim-Witness Assistance: 805-568-2400
› Ventura County Child Abuse Hotline: 800-754-7600
› District Attorney Victim’s Services: 805-654-3622