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The Love They Need

Cover image for podcast episode

PHOTO BY PAT ROGERS PHOTOGRAPHY

We wrap up our series of cross-border love stories with a woman who totally changed her life; dropping what she was doing so she could help take care of some of the border region’s most vulnerable kids instead. It’s a story about kids in need of love, and one woman’s work to turn her own personal pain into power and purpose.

Connect with Corazon de Vida: www.corazondevida.org

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Title: The Love They Need

Description: We wrap up our series of cross-border love stories with a woman who totally changed her life; dropping what she was doing so she could help take care of some of the border region’s most vulnerable kids instead. It’s a story about kids in need of love, and one woman’s work to turn her own pain into purpose and help them get that love.

Hilda Pacheco-Taylor has raised millions of dollars for orphanages in Mexico.

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Hilda Audio Diary Clip 2
*Kids saying hola hola hola over and over again.
She started a nonprofit back in 1994 called Corazon de Vida.
It sends money to 10 casas hogar, or orphanages that are spread across Tijuana and Ensenada..
Including this one…

Hilda Audio Diary Clip 4

One of Hilda’s directors, George Perez, recorded a little audio for us on his phone during a recent visit….
Hilda Audio Diary Clip 1
*Kids saying hello to a volunteer named George.
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In Mexico...orphanages get very little government support.

So Hilda...who grew up in Mexico but now lives in Southern California….

Really depends on her cross-border contacts…
To keep money flowing from one side of the border to the other.

Alan Hilda Clip 10
Can you tell, tell me about the very important connection between US-based religious and civic groups and the orphanages in the Tijuana.
Hilda Clip 5
they're funded 100% by donations from individuals and organizations, mostly from the us side And they, again provide, you know, most of the support to these orphanages. So it's a critical connection between the two.

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And look...Hilda isn’t just some super benevolent person who randomly woke up one day and decided to swoop in and save a bunch of orphaned kids in Mexico.

For her, the issue…. Is deeply personal.

Hilda Clip 19
I remember us kind of holding hands through the fence and, and crying because we wanted to be with each other, but we, you know, we couldn't, so….

BEATS
From KPBS and PRX, this is Port of Entry. Where we tell cross-border stories...that connect us...

I’m Alan Lilienthal…

Today...We wrap up our series on cross-border love stories with a woman who completely changed her life...

Dropping everything she was doing so she could help take care of these kids instead..

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It’s a story about kids who need love, and one woman’s mission to help them get that love.

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MIDROLL 1

To understand just how personal this issue of orphaned kids in Mexico is for Hilda

We’ve gotta go way back…

To the small one-bedroom house where she grew up with her mom, sister, two brothers and dad…A man who didn’t stick around for long.

Hilda Clip 7
Dad had a problem with drinking he kept getting progressively more and more violent with the drinking.

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Hilda Clip 7
my mom was very loving. And I know that, that my father used to beat her up pretty bad before he left, because he was drunk all the time, super jealous. My mom was very pretty lady and And eventually he, um, he just up and left...

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Hilda Clip 52
I always thought that, why did he leave? What, did he not love me enough? So maybe I saw my father leaving the family as the pivotal point in our family,

It was pivotal...because Hilda’s mom was an old-school Mexican woman.

And, up until that point, her plan was to be a stay-at-home mom forever.

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Hilda Clip 8
My mother, You know, she was raised to, um, you know, be the, the homemaker and, um, had not gone to school and just wasn't prepared to, to have to work, to support the family. so she, she started working, but what, she, wasn't making very much money and couldn't make enough to pay for daycare for us. Uh, so she would leave me in charge of my siblings.

Hilda was just eight...years..old.

But she stepped up to the task…

And did her best to take care of her siblings so her mom could work…

Alan Hilda Clip 9
Do you remember those, those moments when you had to be alone as the person responsible for your siblings, do you remember what that felt like and that responsibility?

Hilda Clip 14
I remember kind of being on a little stool in front of the stove and, you know, heating up probably something that mom had made and, and feeding the kids.

Hilda Clip 9
And it seemed to work for a little bit until we had an accident with one of my brothers…

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The accident happened one day while Hilda’s mom was at work.

Hilda remembers being inside the house cooking lunch while her sister and brothers were playing outside...

And suddenly she heard a bunch of kids from her neighborhood yelling and screaming…

Hilda Clip 59
one of the other friends came in and started telling me that, that my brother had fallen into the water tank and I ran outside and I. Jumped to see the tank. It was a huge tank that kind of provided the water, for the house, because there was no, um, city water. And I could see my brother in this huge tank

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Hilda Clip 15
There was something across the top where he was trying to come up high enough to reach that, to get himself out. And he couldn't. And I remember seeing him and I remember thinking there's nothing I can do. I didn't know how to swim. I didn't know. It. It seemed like it went on forever, but it must've been, you know, uh, you know, just a few seconds or a minute. we were really fortunate that day that, one of the men from the neighborhood came home early from work for whatever reason. And this man got out of the bus, like a few blocks from us and he heard the commotion and So he ran. And didn't even ask anybody anything. Cause you saw us all around the tank and jumped and grabbed my brother and pulled him out. And it was, I still remember that that's, that's a very vivid memory for me.

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Hilda’s brother was unconscious.

She remembers seeing someone put his little, limp body in the back of a car…

And the sound of her neighbors and siblings screaming and crying as he was rushed to the hospital…

Hilda Clip 17
I thought that he had died. And I remember thinking that it was, it was my fault.

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Thankfully….Hilda’s brother pulled through.

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But the accident would change the family’s life... forever…

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Hilda Clip 16
it was a close call, a super close call.
Hilda Clip 60
He came home and I remember looking at him. It was at night and thinking that it was a ghost.

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In the wake of the near death experience….

Hilda’s mom was faced with an impossible decision..

A decision no mom should ever have to make…

She didn’t have enough money to pay for childcare…

But she had to keep working to pay for rent and food...

Hilda Clip 61
That was the situation that had my mother decide that we were going to be better off in an orphanage.

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So….

on a warm spring day…..

back in 1971…

Just a few months after Hilda’s brother nearly drowned…

The moment the family had been dreading...arrived…

Hilda Clip 11
She brought us to the orphanage, And told us that we were gonna, you know, we were gonna stay there.

Hilda says

the most painful part

was watching her mom leave…

And then

being separated

from her siblings…

Her younger siblings

were put in one part of the orphanage,

and she was put

with the older kids..

Hilda Clip 19
I remember us kind of holding hands through the fence and, and crying because we wanted to be with each other, but we, you know, we couldn't,

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Hilda Clip 19
but you know, eventually we adjusted so…

Hilda says she pretty quickly realized things weren’t going to be as bad as she feared.

Hilda Clip 18
It was a beautiful place. This particular orphanage in La Mision has a lot of space
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Hilda Clip 18
It almost looked like, a playground in the middle that had swings and, a lot of play areas that, you know, I hadn't seen other than, at parks. And I remember them taking us to my room. And it was a room with a lot of beds and I had my own bed. So that was, for me, it was like, Oh my gosh, I have my own bed. I couldn't believe it. And the best part was that I just felt like I could, I could be a kid again.

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Hilda, of course, missed her mom...

But her mom visited once a month, which was as much as the orphanage allowed.

And in between those visits..

Hilda says she really did feel like the directors of the orphanage loved her and treated her and her siblings like family…

It was run by an American couple, both Christian missionaries…

Hilda Clip 20
I remember how, um, we called the mama and Papa freeze, uh, freezes or last name. mama freeze was very, stern, you know, very tall blonde lady. And she always had this big up do. she managed that plays like. Crazy. You thought it in still my siblings and I, we talk sometimes about kind of our experience and we always say that, you know, mama freeze always knew if you were in trouble. Like you knew if you did something wrong, she knew...even with a hundred kids in that orphanage, like it was, it was uncanny the way that she could just look at you or maybe it was our own guilt, whatever it was.

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Hilda Clip 20
She carried all these keys and, um, You know, you would hear the keys coming. Like if you were doing something you were, there was this fig tree that we weren't supposed to pick the figs from the tree, but obviously, you know, we did, uh, when we thought nobody was looking and sometimes you'd be. You know, trying to get one of the figs and then you would hear the keys coming around the, corner, go mama, Chico, Chico. And, uh, and everybody would, run and try to pretend like nothing's going on.

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Hey were pretty amazing, amazing people. Papa frees was just, you know, he would just sit on a bench and, and just give everybody love, you know, it was, um, it was pretty. Pretty amazing to have, that kind of care.

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But...even with all that love and care...

Hilda never stopped planning her exit.

As the oldest sibling, she says she felt personally responsible for fixing things.

Hilda Clip 22
I was happy at the orphanage, but my entire time at the orphanage, my focus was on trying to get my family back together.

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Hilda eventually came up with a solid plan…

And at the age of 16, she had her mom sign her power of attorney…

So she could leave the orphanage instead of waiting until she was 18.

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Hilda says she wanted to get out, get a job and help her mom earn enough money so they could get her sister and two brothers out of the orphanage, too…

Mama and Papa Freeze though... weren’t on board...

Hilda Clip 23
They kept saying, Hey, we can send you to college and we can help you. But I, I couldn't see past wanting to, to leave and, and be with my family and have my whole family together again. So...

So, as soon as she turned 16, Hilda left.

It was 1978, and, by this point, her mom had immigrated to the U.S...where she could make a lot more money than she could in Mexico.

Hilda immigrated, too, and went to live with her mom in Santa Ana, California.

But when she got there, she realized there was a lot of work to do before her siblings could join them.

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Hilda Clip 24
when I arrived, it was a three bedroom condo that had over 20 people living in it.
And, you know, that was the way they had to live because nobody made very much money.

Hilda immediately got to work…

She took on multiple jobs and saved enough money so she and her mom could get a place with enough room for her three siblings.

And a whole two years later...it finally happened.

Hilda and her mom rented a one-room studio with a kitchenette.

They had to get a roommate to afford it, so the place was super crowded.

But they had each other…

Hilda Clip 25
We struggled a lot, but to me it was worth it.

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Alan Interview with Hilda Clip 2
What were some of the biggest challenges or struggles that y'all faced in those years?

Hilda Clip 27
The only thing we could afford was those smaller apartments, but then there were so many of us that when the landlords would find out that there were so many of us living, usually they would kick us out. So we, we had to then look for another place and then initially say there's only two of us or three of us. And then after they would find out that there was six or seven or eight of us, um, you know, same thing. we kept moving quite a bit.

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Hilda Clip 28
And I remember we rented one time, a big house, a very nice three bedroom house with two other families, so that we could all share the rent. We ended up having the garage kind of made into a room and two or three times I was at work and, and I would get a call from the police. That, you know, somebody had called the police because we had too many people living in the house. So having to deal with that was always stressful.

Hilda Clip 28
I remember getting one of those calls one day and. And just breaking down at work and, it's like, I don't know what to do.

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At this point, Hilda had been working at a jewelry store for years.

Her boss saw her breaking down one day... and offered to help.

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He told her he’d loan her enough money for a down payment on a house..That way Hilda and her mom would be in control…

And...no more landlord problems…

So, they did just that..

They borrowed the money and bought a small house.

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Alan Hilda Clip 3
Do you feel like that was the first time you found some kind of stability and relief?

Hilda Clip 29
yeah. Yeah, Finally that was, that was the time that we could just relax.
Hilda Clip 30
that was when our, our luck changed for the better.

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It wasn’t long before Hilda took that luck right back to the orphanage where she started.

Stick with us.

BEAT FADEMIDROLL 2 BEAT

So..Hilda eventually worked her way into a great job at a consulting firm in Orange County…

She got married...had kids of her own…bought a nice house...

She was living a pretty successful Southern California life…

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But...in 1993…her life took a sharp turn in a new direction….

Because she got the urge to go back to Mexico… to see the orphanage she came from…

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Hilda Clip 32
It's almost like wanting to go back home, you know?
Hilda Clip 41
But I had no idea what I was in for. I was just, it was just supposed to be a visit….I had no idea.

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Hilda Clip 32
I remember, you know, coming in and we wanted to do something special for the kids. Like do a little, you know, bring some candy or something. And , The first thing that I remember was that, you know, the place didn't look as nice as it did when I was there.

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Hilda says the buildings were just totally broken down…

Everything was shabby and just...sad…

Hilda Clip 33
And, um, we came probably around 11 in the morning. So soon it was lunchtime. And when we went into the dining room and saw what they were serving for lunch, it just. It hit me really hard because I, I saw that, they had, something like beans and potato chips or beans and...? It was something very, very simple like that. And the director was saying that that's all, they had to feed the kids that day.
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It turns out that the American missionaries who ran the place when Hilda was there had retired.

And when they left, so did most of the U.S. donors.
So..things were dire.
Hilda Clip 34
And, the Mexican director that was there, started telling us that they hadn't paid the staff. The few staff members that were left had not paid them in six months. And, they kept cutting their electricity because they couldn't pay the electricity. So then they would run around and try to get donations to pay that...
When Hilda heard that…
She decided right then and there that she had to do something.

Hilda Clip 36
I said, if other people were doing it for me, I'm going to do it for these kids.

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Hilda says...it wasn’t even a choice for her…

This was her home...and it needed help.
Hilda Clip 35
I compare it to, you know, any, any other person that grew up in an, in a normal household, in a normal home. Realizing later in life, what your parents did to support you, you know, the fact that your parents had to work and, and sacrifice so that they could pay for rent and food and, and care. So it was very similar to that for me
Hilda had no idea how she was gonna get the money..
She just knew she had to get it.

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Hilda went back to Orange County...
And..the very next day..started talking to her coworkers and really everyone she knew…
Telling them about this orphanage down in Mexico that needed help…
And..at first...she wasn’t getting a ton of traction…
One thing she kept hearing was that people would rather help kids on this side of the border...
Hilda Clip 47
And then we, I would get people that would say. Why is in Mexico taking care of their own kids, you know,

Eventually, though….Hilda found her super power….

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Up until this point...Hilda has spent her entire adult life…keeping her past a secret.
And..in part because she lived in a place like Orange County...where glitz and glamour are everywhere…
She had gone out of her way to hide her past...
Hilda Clip 39
I didn't know how people were gonna react and I didn't know how they were. I didn't want them to see me any differently. this was an all-English speaking company and I was only a Spanish speaking person. I spoke English, but, with a heavy accent and I, wasn't as fluid in my speaking. So I already kind of had that as a little bit of an issue in trying to assimilate and be part of the team. And, in the back of my mind initially, I was thinking, okay, if I tell them that I grew up in an orphanage, now they're going to see me as, you know, something less, you know, in, in a sense. And that was my fear.

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But she finally did work up the courage to share her personal story.
And immediately….she saw how she could turn her pain into power.
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Hilda Clip 37
I had to tell them about my past, my background and about the fact that I grew up in an orphanage. I hadn't told anybody that,

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Hilda Clip 37
I was in a, you know, obviously a new country learning a new language and trying to assimilate and definitely not wanting anyone to feel sorry for me.

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Hilda Clip 51
So it was always, I mean, nerve wracking, I could, I could never get through my story without crying. but it was really the best thing that I could have done because right away, everybody wanted to help.

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From that point on…
It was an easy sell…
People started really wanting to be a part of Hilda’s personal mission to get the orphanage back up on its feet.

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Alan Hilda Clip 6
Well, what have you learned about how sharing your story allowed you to do so much more?
Hilda clip 50
sometimes being vulnerable it opens you up a lot more to receive what you're supposed to receive. And sometimes it takes that

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So... just one year after Hilda’s trip to visit the orphanage...
She started putting all her energy into raising money.
She launched Corazón de Vida…

And worked hard to make it grow.
Hilda Clip 44
The first seven years, we focused on the one orphanage where I grew up and, you know, fundraising and supporting that orphanage. And then eventually, we added another orphanage and then another, so, today we support 10 orphanages. And those orphanages provide a loving home to over 500 children. Seven of those orphanages are in Tijuana and, uh, three in the Ensenada area.
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Because sharing her personal story proved to be so powerful….
Hilda implemented a fundraising strategy early on that relies on personal connections..
In non-COVID times...her nonprofit actually takes potential funders on cross-border bus tours…

Audio Diary Clip here

Hilda Clip 48
We've done that for 26 years. . So every month, at least one bus drip, , 50 people and having them, connect with the kids and then. Decide, okay, this is a charity. I want to support becoming monthly sponsors or, helping in other ways, whatever ways they, they can,

Audio Diary Clip

The money Hilda’s nonprofit raises covers the basics at the orphanages they support...it pays for salaries, electricity, water and other bills.
Hilda says by doing that, they help free up the people who run the orphanages…
So they can go well beyond the basics.
Hilda Clip 46
that's been a huge focus of ours because we know that if the directors of the orphanage are worried about whether they're gonna be able to feed the kids or pay their utilities or, you know, cover the basics, they're not going to be present to give the love and attention to the kids that they need
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Hilda says it’s easy for her to feel deeply connected to the kids she helps support…
Because.. In their faces, she sees her brothers and sister…
And she sees herself.

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Audio Diary Clip
She says she really wants each kid to find success the way her family did…

And every time they do find success...Hilda...just...couldn’t feel any prouder.

Hilda Clip 54
two of our alumni are working in Ensenada and one’s a nurse. And the other one is a doctor, and they're both working. COVID , , in Ensenada and helping one for a Naval hospital and the other one for, a hospital there in Ensenada. So it's pretty amazing to see, you know, the difference that these kids are, are making.
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Hilda’s mom passed away in 1999.
So...fortunately... she did get to witness the huge difference Hilda is making in these kids’ lives…

But no matter how well things turned out for the family, Hilda says her mom still had a hard time letting go of the guilt she carried from surrendering her kids..

Hilda Clip 12
it was very, very tough. I think that she always lived with that, you know, kind of hanging over her head,
Alan Hilda Clip 7
But you had, you had a conversation with her that kind of gave her some relief and absolved her. Do you remember that conversation that you had with her?
Hilda Clip 31
I invited her to dinner and we, we went to dinner and, um, we we started talking about, you know, the, the life in the orphanage and, and, um, and I told her, I said, I know, um, I know that you've felt bad for having to do what you did. Uh, but I want you to know that it's the biggest gift that you could have given us. And I want you to know that we are who we are today because of the sacrifice you made. And, um, she started crying. I started crying… but I think she understood.

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Next time on “Port of Entry…”
Tijauna I think, most of my inspiration, is from the lifestyle, from this, uh, border city.
A little taste of the early electronic music that shaped legendary Tijuana musician Ramon Amezcua, better known as Bostich of Nortec Collective.

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Port of Entry is written and produced by Kinsee Morlan. Emily Jankowski is the co-producer and director of sound design. Alisa Barba edited this episode.

This program is made possible (in part) by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people."

And look….Port of Entry is mostly made possible by listeners like you. The best way to support us is by becoming a sustaining member of KPBS, the public radio station where we work…..so take a minute, go to kpbs dot org slash donate and become a member today. I’m Alan Lilienthal, thanks for listening.
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Port of Entry podcast branding

Port of Entry

These are cross-border stories that connect us. Border people often inhabit this in-between place. From KPBS and PRX, “Port of Entry” tells personal stories from this place — stories of love, hope, struggle and survival from border crossers, fronterizxs and other people whose lives are shaped by the wall. Rooted in San Diego with tendrils reaching into Tijuana. Hosted by Alan Lilienthal, produced by Kinsee Morlan and sound design by Emily Jankowski.