This week, my “Chilean daughter” turned 21.
It seems like only yesterday that I walked into her 8th grade classroom for the first time, but that was back in 2009. Francisca would have been 14 then. A quiet teenager, she came to the front of the classroom when I played Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be the Day.”
I wrote about it in A Million Sticky Kisses:
One girl, Francisca, shyly approached the front of the classroom where the CD player sat on Marisol’s desk. She stood next to it so that she could hear over her classmates’ ruckus. She understood almost every word. When we played it again, she translated it for the ones who didn’t understand, which was basically all the rest of them.
I went to Chile to teach English, but I didn’t teach Francisca English. She already had a great base of English when I got there. She had taught herself.
Over the past seven years, I’ve been invited to her confirmation, her high school graduation, family parties, and many birthdays. She adopted me and has been calling me “Mami” for a long time.
From the first birthday celebration, where they stuck her face into the cake, which is a Chilean tradition, through my birthday last year, where Francisca cooked an enormous and delicious feast for me from scratch, I’ve been considered one of the family.
Back in 2013, this young lady won an award for having the highest English score in her high school graduating class. She also won two scholarships to the university, where she’s now in her third year. She’s going to be an English teacher.
Two years ago, I wanted to buy her a passport for her birthday. First, I spoke with her parents to make sure that they were willing to allow her to travel. Her mother told me, “Por supuesto. Es nuestro sueño para ella.”
“Of course! It’s our dream for her,” but as if Francisca didn’t actually believe that it could happen, she dragged her feet and didn’t apply for the passport.
Last year, I offered again. This time, she was ready to say “Yes.” She filled out the paperwork and I bought her a passport.
This year, we’ve made plans. I’ve invited her to join me in New York in December. She didn’t hesitate to say “Yes” this time.
Beyond thrilled, she got busy and got herself a weekend job. Then, she started teaching private English lessons. She’s paid for her own airfare.
Francisca’s never been outside of Chile. She’s never been on an airplane. She’s about to have an adventure to remember.