Jessica Castro was raised in an extended family with an open-door policy for people who needed a place to stay--farm workers on the migrant trail, stranded musicians, the children of troubled relatives. But her upbringing had not prepared her for the "stray" her daughter brought home from high school three months ago.
Let's call him Pat to protect his privacy. He was a skinhead who wore punk-rock patches all over his ratty, hooded sweatshirt and who hated the government almost as much as he hated blacks.
As for Mexicans, Pat had mixed feelings. "It's kind of hard not to like them, because they're everywhere," he says. But he still used racial epithets to refer to immigrants who rip off welfare or who make fun of him in class, calling him gringo and burro. His Nazi friends are a lot less discriminating in their universal animosity for ethnic groups.
At home, Pat was an angry teenager. He punched holes in the walls, slammed doors off their hinges and picked on his younger brother. In early January, he threw a "pretty wild" party while his mother was away, and he skipped school, too. That was the last straw. Pat was kicked out of his house.
With no place to go, he turned to Angela, the bright girl from his drama class with bad eyesight and a flowering passion for social justice. They were not the closest of friends; she's a freshman and he's a junior. But they had something in common. They both were raised without their biological fathers, and they both were taking special classes for above-average kids with learning difficulties.
They knew what it was like to be picked on by other students.
"From that, I realized that everybody judges everybody else without getting to know them," said Angela.
She has dyslexia and a problem with long-term memory in certain subjects. Cruel kids have called her names since kindergarten, but she's articulate, and she's a fighter. Last year, Angela stood up against a move by the school board to bill Mexico for the cost of educating students who are here illegally. "Straight-out racist," she still calls it.
Now, she was taking a stand at home for her classmate, also a straight-out racist. She pleaded with her mother to let him stay.
"I just started to beg and beg and beg," Angela recalled this week. "I said, 'Mom, if you don't let him stay here, he'll be on the street.' "
Angela's mother balked. She had seen Pat only once before, when he wore his hair in spikes and one of those dog collars around his neck. The last thing she needed was an angry male teenager in her house, already occupied by her second husband, their two daughters, 5 and 9, and a baby boy.
Eventually, Jessica relented. With certain conditions, she let Pat stay on her living room couch. One night only.
He's been sleeping there ever since.
Pat has become so much a part of the family that Angela calls him "my older brother," and he refers to Jessica as "Mom." Like many people in Anaheim, Pat has also grown to love and respect "Grandma," the veteran community activist named Josie Montoya.
They've all seen changes in Pat in the past three months. He's letting his hair grow out and getting his grades back up. He's looking for work and doing his chores in their home, even baby-sitting his "little brother" Isaac, the toddler of the house. He's like a gentle bear with the children, they all say.
"Yeah," Pat agrees. "Respectwise I've changed a lot."
And what about his racist views?
"We're working on him," says Angela with a smile and a sister's tenderness. "He now likes Mexican people. We're working on the black thing."
She's joking a bit. There's no sensitivity program for Pat. Just training by example.
"I'm not forcing him to change his opinion or get him to love everybody," says Jessica, 32, a high school dropout who now works for Head Start. "He's accepted here. Now he doesn't have to have his guard up and defend his beliefs all the time."
Pat stills waves the punk flag of rebellion, but he no longer harbors so much skinhead hostility. That's wearing off, he says, thanks in part to Angela's welcoming family.
"We don't see Pat as white," says Josie, who has been a powerful voice for Latinos in Anaheim. "We just see him as one of us. We see him as part of our family. It doesn't matter what color he is."
Josie's role model for social compassion was her father, Santiago Canales. He was a railroad worker who immigrated from Mexico and settled in Anaheim, where he raised 10 children. Even with a full house, there was always room and food enough for more. Nothing was impossible; God provided.
Migrants often stayed for free in a room behind the house until they got on their feet, Josie recalls. Her mother, who was "Grandma" to hundreds of kids, made the workers lunch to take to the fields.
"We grew up with values of respect and dignity," says Josie, a staunch critic of alleged police abuses in Anaheim. "We learned to share what you have."
Their "adopted" teenager admires the family's togetherness and its willingness to talk openly about problems.