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Watch conscious rap artist Cesar Aguirre, single father of two and the pride of Casa Maria, on AZ Illustrated on channel 6 Wednesday night, February 5th at 6:30. He’s going to talk about poverty along with former mayor Tom Volgy.

This is his story.

by Cesar Aguirre

As a child growing up on Tucson’s south side I never realized how poverty would affect my future and life as an adult. I was very lucky to live in a two parent household. Many of the kids in my neighborhood were being raised by single parents or grandparents. I can remember overhearing my parents stressing, trying to figure out how to pay the bills. Even thought my dad was a welder and a fence installation foreman he was not able to provide for our family of five with his income alone. He worked a lot of overtime and did side jobs for extra income. My mom also worked part time at convenience stores until she was able to get her foot in the door at a doctor’s office as a secretary. Both of my parents worked very hard to provide a better future for us and to lift us out of poverty. In doing so they also lost touch with my two siblings and me. We live in a consumer cultured society, so no matter how well my parents did financially it never seemed to be enough.

When I was about 10 years old we moved to the east-central part of town, away from my friends and family. The kids at my new school were very different. They looked different, talked different and dressed different. They teased me because I could not afford brand name clothes. They would gang up and chase my brother and me home from school. Once a group of kids caught up to me while I was riding my bike and knocked me off of it. They beat me up and bent my bike so I could not ride it home. That was when my parents decided to move us to Three Points. I fit in much better there and made friends quickly, the wrong kind of friends. My parents were always working so it was easy for me to hide things from them. By 12 years old I was involved with gangs and drinking alcohol, smoking marijuana by 13 and experimenting with hard drugs by 14. By the time I was 16 years old I was working part time and selling drugs full time. Easy money was very attractive to me because growing up seeing my dad work himself to the bone I knew that no matter how hard I worked I could never earn enough money to have the things I wanted. Never again did I want to feel like I did when I was living on the east-central side of town.

My oldest daughter was born when I was 21 years old and at that moment, like a bolt of lightning, it hit me that what I was doing was wrong. I wanted to be there for my child and I didn’t want her to suffer because of my mistakes. I needed to make a change, but how? I had learned a trade from my father and was working as an installation foreman but it wasn’t enough. The mother of my daughter also worked part time, but our addiction took over our lives. There was no support or resources available to help us. I ended up getting in trouble with the law just before my youngest daughter was born. Being caught up in the system was one of the toughest challenges I had faced. It was like they wanted you to stay in the system because there were very little resources to help a convicted felon get a job, job training, education or to provide meaningful drug treatment. All they wanted from me was payment for my counseling and drug classes and my monthly probation fees making it easier to turn back to crime in order to make those payments. Despite all this I was finally able to clean up my act.

The mother of my kids was still using drugs so I fought for the custody of my two girls and after 3 years of dealing with CPS I got my girls. I had a good paying job doing underground construction. On Christmas Eve, Just after getting custody of my girls, I was laid off. I had a few other job offers out of town but was unable to accept them because I could not make the commute with two kids at home. The jobs in town did not pay enough to pay for child care so I had to turn those down too. I was forced into welfare thinking they could help me but quickly realized that it was a system set up to keep people dependent on it rather than give people the tools and skills needed to lift themselves out of poverty.

I spent the next few years trying to find myself. I went back to school and took out student loans, putting myself further into debt. I moved back into my parents’ house and did odd jobs on the side to scrape by. It wasn’t until I met Brian and the rest of the Casa Maria family that I realized where I needed to be. It was never really about what I WANT in life, it was all about what I NEED.

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