Zoila Marquez left the Dominican Republic at age thirty-six to move to New York City with her husband and two young children.
Her English was limited as was her understanding of life in the United States. She was in an abusive relationship with her husband which began its violence during her first pregnancy. Considering what has transpired over the past thirty years, it is not only inspiring but amazing to know the woman Zoila is today.
With no family or outside support while living in New York, Zoila felt especially vulnerable living with a husband she feared. She left New York with her three children (the youngest only two months of age) to come to Salem, MA where she had family members living.
Zoila stayed in Salem a month but her children became too ill to remain in their temporary living conditions. Zoila returned to New York and her husband hoping for another opportunity to safely leave someday.
Three years later, when her neighbor in New York was mysteriously attacked at gunpoint, Zoila became even more afraid. Zoila lived with constant threats to her life. Her friend had looked out for Zoila and the children’s safety, intervening during abusive episodes by calling the police.
Zoila’s sister in Salem stepped in to insist she leave with the children and come to Salem. Her family secured an apartment for Zoila. She found daycare for her children and enrolled in community college to learn English.
Zoila also found a job at a daycare center in Salem. The director of the center recognized Zoila’s value and positive influence on the children. She presented Zoila with the opportunity to reduce her hours to part time so she could go back to community college to get her Early Childhood Education teaching certificate.
Upon completion of the program, Zoila was able to work full time with a better salary. She also got support and guidance. She was able to win child support from her ex-husband through court order. However, it was also necessary to file a protective restraining order against him.
She was still afraid and he continued to harass her. Although he remained in New York, he would show up unannounced, demanding to see the children.
The family lived in the apartment for fourteen years. Her goal was to move into a house with her children. “I am very determined and consistent. When I say I’m going to do something, I do it.”
Zoila was resourceful and spent her money wisely. When her current home became available, she did not think she would qualify for a loan to purchase it. Zoila succeeded in her purchase and moved into the second floor apartment of the two family and quickly distributed pamphlets to advertise for a tenant below her.
Zoila worked as a pre-school teacher through Catholic Charities until 2007. She then decided to open her own licensed home day care center.
In order to make that a reality she needed to put furniture in storage and hire an assistant. The hours were long and the work exhausting. She successfully was paying all her bills and saving money to continue the upkeep of her home.
A diagnosis of fibromyalgia seven years ago forced her to close her home day care. Zoila lives with daily pain from the disease.
Some days are much harder than others. Her whole body can become rigid and swollen. There are mornings that she has to force herself to get up and work through the pain.
“I was depressed when I found out about the disease I have. But I am learning to live with it. I see people who are worse off than me and they are living and doing for themselves. You have to put it in your mind that you can do it and stay motivated to live independently.”
Zoila receives five hours of home-making each week. She is very happy with the services as these tasks have become more difficult with her fibromyalgia.
Zoila is enrolled at North Shore Elder Services (NSES) in the Senior Care Options program (SCO) which is a Mass Health program that provides health and social support services with no out of pocket costs to those who meet eligibility.
Her Geriatric Support Services Coordinator (GSSC), who is Spanish speaking, Judy Bernardez, has been impressed by Zoila from the very start.
“She is a wonderful example of someone who gets things done on her own. We are just there to give her the resources to follow up with and Zoila uses her tools to accomplish the task.”
To continue being active and contributing to others, Zoila volunteers once a week for Haven for Hunger. She is aware that her disease will not go away and that there can be further damage to her body. She brushes her hands together dismissively saying, “I don’t think about it. Not me – that’s not going to be me.”
Zoila wants women in abusive situations to know it isn’t okay to be physically or mentally hurt by someone. She feels that by sharing her story it can help other women to know it is not only possible but necessary to leave an abusive home.
She highly recommends counseling which she sought for herself and children. “You have to be able to talk about the trauma if you have been abused.”
Zoila is not one to be deterred by the obstacles life can throw one’s way. She has achieved great success in making herself an independent and strong woman.