Melissa and Siria continue their Pivotal Moments Team series, turning the mic on Siria. How did Siria go from Scared Straight to Bad Ass Litigator? Trigger/Content warning, Siria’s story involves domestic violence and self-harm. Listener discretion is advised. If you’ve been a victim of domestic violence, you can reach out to 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).
Listen to the podcast here
Surviving Chaos, Siria’s Story
In this episode, we turn the mic on ourselves. I was curious as to how Siria went from scared straight to a badass litigator. Content warning, Siria’s story involves domestic violence and self-harm. Reader discretion is advised.
What is there going to be nervous about?
It’s still nerve-wracking.
Readers, Siria and I are interviewing ourselves. We realize that we interview and bring people on, they share their amazing stories of pivots that they’ve made and it’s time that we turn the mic on ourselves. We were going back and forth as to what pivot do we focus on since life is full of pivots. We’re old as shit. You may not know this but Siria is a badass plaintiff’s attorney and has been recognized in the state. She’s overachieving. She was in the top 40 under 40. In addition to that, she also volunteers and serves on numerous nonprofit organizations. The few that come to mind are The Cupcake Girls, which provide support and resources for those in the sex industry.
Yes, involved but I’m not on the board anymore.
Nonetheless, you also have served on the Las Vegas Latino Bar Association and helped put together their $5,000 raise on the lay to help raise money for tuition for those that wish to take the LSAT.
Yes, to equalize law school admissions.
Also, one which encourages women’s empowerment through education, which you did serve on. Are you still VP?
No. I talked about it in a different episode where I had the opportunity to step away from a lot of things and all of these great, wonderful organizations. I needed a break. The pause of 2020 allowed me to do that.
Readers, these are just three of the ones that came to my mind when I was framing this interview. She’s a badass. In episode 10 where we talked about grief and FOMO, Siria shares how she was on the wrong side of the tracks and was the candidate for this Scared Straight Program, which blew me away because I did not know that about Siria. Siria, your life consisted of several pivots that took you from “going from taking field trips to prison to being the strong independent woman that I know.” I want to learn more about these pivots so I’d like to press the rewind button if we can. Describe your life growing up back then.
What had me going into the Scared Straight Program was there was a lot of chaos in my household. What I’ve come to realize as an adult is that chaos was affecting how I valued myself and life. I developed early so that probably didn’t help the process. Instead of focusing on what I’ve got on this exam, grades or things like that. Having somebody in my corner telling me to focus on those things, I didn’t have that kind of supervision. If I was failing a class, I’d be like, “That sucks.”
I wasn’t parented. It is how I feel about the situation so they would interject at weird spots like at the Scared Straight Program, “No, you don’t need that.” I was smoking cigarettes. I started engaging in sexual activity at a very young age and was running with a similar crowd who also had problems at home. They were parents who had divorced. That seemed to be an issue but it was starting to experiment more with drugs and sex.
Have you ever seen the movie Thirteen? Catherine Hardwicke was the director. Nikki Reed starred in it and was later in the Twilight franchise and married Ian Somerhalder. Not that I like celebrity things or anything. In this movie, at the time people were like, “I can’t believe that this is what thirteen-year-old girls are doing.” They’re stealing things.
I never got into the stealing aspect. I had friends who were stealing stuff and it was stupid shit like a thong. “Are you going to get in trouble to steal a thong?” They have piercings on their belly buttons. I pierced my belly button. I tried to but it was not very successful. Also, other things. If I had been able to get a tattoo, I probably would’ve at that age. I didn’t do that until I was later in my twenties. Having parents who were so self-involved that they weren’t paying attention to what was going on with their kids.
I want this to be a safe space for you. I know that talking about your childhood can trigger and that’s not what I want for this interview. If at any point in time it gets to be too much, please let me know that I hurt you. You were growing up that your house was chaos. What do you mean by that?
My parents met when they were about 22 or 23 years old. My mom already had two kids and met my dad at the local hospital in Central America where she was working. Pretty quickly, she got pregnant with me is my understanding of it. My mom had me at 23 and I was her 3rd child. My dad was from Nicaragua and my mom’s from Guatemala. I was born in Guatemala. My dad’s family came to the United States because the revolution was going on in Nicaragua with the Sandinista Revolution and everything.
My dad wanted to go back to Nicaragua but it wasn’t safe. His family came to the US. My mom followed him to the US because he asked her to. It’s not one of those immigrant stories where she came over here because she wanted a better life for her kids. Those things may have been in there but she came here for love. She was in love with my dad. She wanted to have a family. My dad wanted her to come and didn’t want me to be raised without him. She came over here and that was a huge leap for her to do, especially because they didn’t know each other. They’d never lived with each other.
Even in the first months of my life, my mom was hospitalized. It was a very bad surgery, a C-section. She got a huge infection so my dad raised me for that first month. My parents didn’t have the time to get to know each other. They came here to a new country with no friends and family support and my mom not knowing my dad. He grew up in a very traumatic household where there was a lot of alcohol abuse and domestic violence. It was both ways. My grandmother attacked my grandfather a couple of times that he saw.
My dad started self-medicating as a teenager by smoking weed, which is now legalized everywhere. It’s cool. Back then it was a big deal. My dad brought that with him to the United States. My dad’s a surgeon in Central America but even though he’s been trained as a surgeon, he never wanted that career and exercise that. When he came to the States, he tried to get into the medical field but I don’t know how hard he tried. I was too young to be around for this but I have seen the documentation and I know that he tried a couple of times and was not able to pass mostly the English portion, not necessarily the technical portion of the exam.
My mom came thinking she was going to be with her doctor. Neither of them knew the other. That was the heart of the problem. They had to get to know each other and grow up together in their early twenties in a new country. There was a lot of chaos. One of the first times my dad hit my mom was because she didn’t know how to cook. She burnt the rice. She had to learn how to cook here. She didn’t know how to do any of that stuff. She was pretty well off in Central America and was the equivalent of the mayor’s daughter.
Was all this done in front of you?
All of it was done in front of me from a very young age. One of my safe places was the closet. I would spend a lot of time in the closet waiting for them to be done fighting. We lived in these houses where it would be the main house and in the back, there would be a servant’s quarter. That’s where we lived. We rented it out. It’s not even an apartment but pretty close to it. We were in the one-bedroom part and then there was a little kitchen. The living room was half the size of your office. It was a super tiny space. That’s where all three of us lived.
My crib and their bed were separated by a foot that you could barely squeeze in and then there was another foot between my crib and the closet that I’d hide in. It was a very tight small space so it wasn’t like I could run anywhere else to see this. It wasn’t until my mom got pregnant again with my brother. At this point, I was about seven when we moved into a bigger apartment. Even that move was something that my mom was like, “We have to move to a good neighborhood and place because we’re going to be here for a very long time.” All of that time, my parents were constantly fighting and yelling at each other. They were a lot of beatings, crying and severe domestic violence where you never know is going to be a good day or not.
Was that ever directed towards you?
At seven, how did you process this?
There are a couple of different ways. One of them that seems to be the one that sticks out more is I would escape mentally and that’s where my fandom obsessions started. I needed an escape. I would escape into my magazines or follow the different boy bands that I liked but I also didn’t know English. When I went to kindergarten, Spanish was the only language I knew. That’s what my parents knew.
A lot of the time, it felt like I was aligned with my mother and it was us against my dad because it was always the two of us going to work together. When you go home and there are those flyers on your door for the pizza place, my mom was doing that. That was the type of job that my dad would allow her to get. She didn’t have credentials here, the language or anything.
I was never involved in the fights but I would sometimes try to intercede and be like, “Don’t do that.” I was used as a weapon of emotional manipulation where my dad would be like, “Get your mom to talk to me.” I would talk to my mom and be like, “He’s so sorry. Please forgive him.” I would do those things that as a little kid you’re thinking, “What can I do to try to fix things?”
That’s where your family dynamic being the caretaker and the hero comes in.
Besides your dynamic role within the family, what were the rest of the dynamics in the family? How did that impact you?
My dad was stoned a lot. I distinctly remember that. I don’t remember my mom at a young age drinking a lot. That was when I was older that I started to see that dynamic. Even then, I still felt very aligned with her in everything that was going on. We were the good guys and my dad was the villain. That’s the way it felt for a long time. We tried to get out. My mom went to a shelter when I was about 5 or 6 years old. I also remember that somehow my grandmother found my mom at the shelter.
Grandmother on your mother’s side or your father’s side?
On my father’s side because only his family came to the US. He’s got a younger brother and my grandmother would come down to convince my mom to take my dad back and get over it.
That’s the Hispanic way.
There would be periods when my dad would go live with my uncle because we’d kicked him out or things got bad. Even though my mom tried to escape, this is what happens with domestic violence victims. They try but it takes at least about seven times for you to be able to break the cycle of abuse and get out. My parents are still together. There hasn’t been physical abuse.For many domestic violence victims, it takes at least about seven times to break the cycle of abuse and get out. Click To Tweet
That you’re aware of, correct?
I’m pretty sure I’d be aware of it. I’m sure they’d tell me because of that rule in the family. I would know. Have there been other fights with other family members? Yes. My brothers are estranged. They’ve gotten into fights with my dad. My dad uses more self-control because he feels like he has 1 foot in the US and 1 foot in Nicaragua as he’s not a US citizen. Calling the cops affects your ability to get status. You’ve got this backdrop of my parents constantly fighting for little things and then there would be a buildup of, “Is this comment the one that’s going to cause you to go to blows? Am I going to have to be here for it?”
Once my little brother came along and started being aware of things, that’s when I became super protective. I was like, “I’m not letting your guys’ crazy affect him.” It did differently and I ended up being a second mom to him. Chaos is the only word I can think of and this was always going on.
When I was in middle school was another time we left for a shelter and I got pulled out of school. I was out of school for a couple of weeks. I had to go somewhere else and we eventually went back to the house. I remember my dad was so angry. I don’t even remember what it was but I was terrified of him that we lived in this fourplex and we were in the bottom, the biggest unit that they had. They have three bedrooms. My parent’s bedroom had a sliding glass door.
We weren’t letting my dad in. I was not letting him in. He was mad and this was the only time I felt he was going to attack me. For some reason, finally, my mom was like, “Go ahead and let him in.” I let him in but he was already so mad and upset that he came running through the house. I ran and locked myself in the hallway bathroom. I remember him pounding on the door. He was pissed off at me for not letting him in the house. Even thinking about it, I could feel my heart rate going up because it’s one of those memories that sticks out. This is what was happening. What was I doing? I was doing nothing else.
I’m curious, what was your relationship with your mom? You had talked about it as you and her against the world, essentially but at some point, you’ve got a level head on your shoulders where you’re like, “Wake the fuck up, mom.”
I spent a lot of time in my early teen years, especially when I was starting to rebel, telling her to leave him. I then had the guilt because when I was 5 or 6 years old, I’m telling her to stay with him. How am I supposed to know that this is a good thing or the bad thing to do? You’re not going to know those things. I spent a lot of time trying to convince her to leave my dad. “We’ll figure it out. This isn’t good. One of these days he’s going to kill you.” It’s bad overall. It fell on deaf ears for a very long time.
It’s almost like if you’re not going to care about yourself, why should I care about anything? During my early teenage years, I was very suicidal. I was self-mutilation, not quite cutting but I would carve things into myself. As an adult, I realize what that was. I was trying to find other ways to get attention but nobody was paying attention to anything. The only time that my mom paid attention to me was when I’d reached out to a friend. We’d have this close family that knew all the drama with my parents.
Very few people in our world knew what was going on. This family did and it was my mom’s best friend but they decided to buy a house so they moved away. They were no longer around. I was writing letters to the daughter and I’d asked her about sex because the guy I have not seen was like, “When are we going to fuck?” I was like, “I don’t know.” I asked her for advice but by the time I got advice back, it was too late. What she ended up doing was betraying my trust and telling my mom. I get home one day walking home from middle school. You know when you walk into a place, you can feel the energy.
I walked in to open up the door and on the left-hand side would be the kitchen. There was the kitchen table, one of those round tables. I feel like it was everywhere at the time in the ’90s, the wooden carved-out flowers. My mom was sitting there slumped over. She was looking down and I know that something was off. She doesn’t even do an icebreaker or anything else. She straightened up and looked at me like, “Have you had sex?”
I won’t lie. It’s against one of my values. Part of it is because of my parents’ chaos. I have a very hard time lying so I said yes, which she was not expecting. She asked a direct question and I answered it. At that point, it became about her. Everything that followed afterward was because of her. “How could you do this to me? I’m the worst mom. I’m a failure as a mom.” Calling my grandmother in Central America and her sisters to talk about it.
She talked to everybody else in the world about it, except for me. I was given the cold shoulder for three months and that was rough. Part of my mentality about sex at the time was, “What’s going to happen? What does it matter?” This is a recent revelation that came to me. That was a way for me to self-harm. I didn’t care about it. I still even have a different attitude towards sex and other things that may not go with the norm or the majority. I don’t know what the norm is but it’s all these things that go back to that time when I know that was bad. For me, that was a pivotal moment because the alignment that I’d felt with my mom was broken and had never been repaired.
It sounds like you didn’t have many people to turn to so you went inward. In the previous episode, you talked about practicing narrative therapy and it was something that you did in your younger years and somewhat recently. Do you believe that your creative or artistic side was an outlet for you during this time?
No. The reason I got into the arts, particularly music, was to try to find a connection with my dad. When that opportunity came up to be in the band, my dad never missed a concert ever and that was the only thing I could get him to go to. For everything else, I tried volleyball, soccer and basketball. My parents couldn’t do it because of both the timing of when it would happen and it would be during a dinner rush or other things where they needed to be working. I also feel like they never tried to do those things. My mom went to one game.
It probably would’ve been a waste of their time anyways because I’m not as athletic as I would’ve liked to have but they would always take the day off from music. My dad would always do that more. My mom would go but it wasn’t her favorite thing. Even though I liked other things like acting, the message I got was, “This is too time-consuming for us so you can’t do it,” even though nobody directly told me that.
It was one of the things that Ron had mentioned when we were talking to him. He was like, “You’ve always been a performer.” I have been since I was a little kid. There were pictures of me and my crib with headphones on or pretending to do that and singing like my idols Mariah Carey and Paula Abdul. This music was always a big connection and outlet but a big part of it had to do with that need for connection that I wasn’t getting.
You talk about this pivotal moment with your mom. At that point, do you go ham on the destructive behavior?
I don’t care for a long time.
You threw everything to the wind and you’re like, “Fuck it?”
I was like, “I’m going to do whatever I want. Nobody cares about me. Nobody’s looking out for me. I’m going to look out for myself. If I get pregnant, I’ll take care of it. I would leave school, go to Planned Parenthood and get birth control.” I never had an abortion but I had the mindset that if that happens, I can do that. I was so cavalier with myself on how I thought about things. At the same time, I had gotten this message as early as I can remember that for you not to be in my situation, you have to go to college. I was brainwashed that you have to go to college so I always thought, “I’ll go to college.” I didn’t know what the fuck that meant.
You have this chaotic childhood and pivotal moment with your mom where you’re like, “Fuck it.” You’re engaging in destructive behavior. Was there a moment where you’re like, “What the fuck am I doing?” When you need to make the decision to change, what happened? What transpired that made you say, “I need to wake the fuck up if I want to break this cycle?”
I don’t know that there was any one thing that happened but there were little things that my ego liked when I would perform well or get accolades for doing something good in school. I would get certain things like a presidential award for the most improved student that was signed by the president in eighth grade. It was a feather in my cap. I liked those things but I didn’t like them enough to be consistent.
When you didn’t get into a certain track straight into high school, to me, it felt that nobody else cared about what you were doing. Even though the teachers would be like, “You’re good at writing,” I would like that and then seek more of that to get more of that validation because I wasn’t getting that anywhere. There were a couple of things that happened. I was so inconsistent with the school. I was good at it when I wanted to be. That was the thing that would come back.
In my senior year, I went through this breakup. Along with that breakup, I threw myself into school. It was the first time in my entire high school career that I got in straight A’s and do the straight A luncheon and all these things that they do for students when they do well. It was my first time getting those accolades and I enjoyed that. If I discovered that sooner, maybe I would’ve done better in school.
Did you have any support system? It doesn’t sound like your family but did you have friends or close friends?
I had a group of friends that we were good. I’m somebody who draws a lot of people towards them and people who have problems. I have problems too but I’ve always been a good listener. I feel like I was more of a support for other people than necessary for people supporting me. I removed myself from some of these groups by either throwing myself more into school or realizing I’m not going to college. I have to go to a junior college first because I didn’t do what I needed to do beforehand. It wasn’t until I was in junior college that I finally had somebody in my corner and that was my counselor. He was like, “You can do all these things.” He was the one that would challenge me. He’d be like, “Why don’t we get you into the honors program?” I’m like, “Honors?” He’s like, “Why not?”
It sounds like you were your own best motivator. How did you encourage yourself to keep moving forward?
I knew what the end goal was and that end goal for me was you have to go to college and then at some point, go to law school and become a professional. I can accomplish long-term goals. I’m good at that. It was myself along with being able to Figure It The Fuck Out, FITFO.
You live by your acronyms, don’t you?
That’s been a big one in my life.
I’m always curious, I know that there are always these nuggets of wisdom embedded deep within our past. Looking back at your upbringing, what are some good things that have come from it?
My appreciation for the arts comes from my family, music in particular. I also took another step further with my love of acting, theater and things that come from my dad.
How has your childhood better prepared you for life?
That’s the funny thing. Even though I’ve had a rough go at the beginning of life, all of those skills of being able to read a room, having that high emotional intelligence of seeing somebody and knowing that they’re in distress or knowing that something’s off, paying attention to other people comes from trauma. I’ve realized that in a lot of the things that I went through, people are actively trying to become more aware of others or how they affect others. That stuff’s easy for me to do. This is a power and a skill.
I’m also curious, how would you describe yourself then and now?
If I go back to my twelve-year-old self, I was very lonely. Lonely is the biggest thing that comes out. Even though I could be spirited and around a ton of people, I always felt alone. Now, I’m very fortunate to have a great support system but it’s the family that I choose. In the show that I am obsessed with, Supernatural, one of the things they say is, “Family doesn’t end with blood.” That’s a huge part of the fandom. That’s how I feel. I have a family that is not my blood family. It is everybody else. It’s you, Matt, Ron and these friends that I’ve collected over the years that we’re still in contact with. These are the people that make up my family. I have the actual blood family that I deal with or tolerate.
Thank you for sharing. Like our other interviews, I’d like to end it with our two signature questions. The first is looking back, what would you tell your younger self?
You’re not alone and it’s going to be okay.You're not alone. It's going to be okay. Click To Tweet
Looking forward, what is one wish you have for yourself on this current journey?
I have so many wishes.
Give me all your wishes.
The main wish that I have is to continue to live authentically. I want to continue to do that because I’ve spent so much time trying to be something else and fit into a box that was not made for me. My experiences are things that have made me who I am. Even though they’ve been rough, they’re part of the whole package. I don’t shy away from talking about these things.
They’ve been hard to talk about, especially the suicidal thoughts. I felt like even if I’d tried, I don’t think anybody noticed and that was the hardest part, owning my full self and being authentic all the time. My number one wish for myself is to continue to do that and not let myself fall into some old program of trying to please everybody else.Do not let yourself fall into some old programming of trying to please everybody else. Click To Tweet
Thank you so much for sharing your story. I can say that you are living authentically. Even in the few years that I’ve known you, you’ve always stayed true to your core beliefs. You’ve not been afraid to say no. You live your truth. I’m so proud of you. Thank you.
That’s it for this episode. If you’ve been a victim of domestic violence or know someone who’s a victim of domestic violence, you can reach out to 1-800-799-SAFE. That’s 7233. Let us know your thoughts on this episode in our private Facebook group at Pivotal Moments HQ. As always, we want to thank our producer and music director, Ron Johnson. Thank you for reading. Remember, it’s never too late and you’re right on time.
Episode 10 – Past Episode
- Pivotal Moments HQ – Facebook
Love the show? Follow, rate & review us wherever you listen to your podcast!
Join the Pivotal Moments HQ community today