We all have heard the recent #metoo stories hundreds' of women have shared in the past few weeks after the recent Hollywood scandals. They all had the topic of sexual harassment which 3 in 5 women have encountered by the age of 25 but what if we encountered this epidemic at a much younger age?
I had my share of #metoo stories as a became a a woman, especially when I was working in the film industry trying to be a producer. I had a few Hispanic producers ask me to come to their hotel rooms to "seal the deal." I never thought getting on your knees was part of the job application but I was raised to have dignity and for that; I stopped pursuing my career in L.A. and moved to San Francisco.
I know San Francisco is known for being a sexual city but to my surprise, I have received more respect there in the past 3 years I have lived here than in the few months I worked in L.A.
I salute the women who shared their stories to the world. After debating for weeks and also dealing with my sisters recent loss, I decided that its time to release the skeleton from my closet and share my story..... so here it goes.
It happened to me when I was in fifth grade. I was about ten years old, hitting puberty and dealt with being bullied by the popular girls at school because I had an accent and thick eyebrows like Frida Kahlo.
I remember I was attending Harding Elementary in El Centro, CA. That was the first school where I was promised not to move every year as I changed grades. The town I grew up had a system where some students where moved every year from school. I hated that. It was hard for me to focus on learning when we constantly had to chase the school bus.
When I found out Harding had a free orchestra program, I was excited since my mom was a single mother of three young kids ( I was the oldest) and she couldn't afford to pay for our sports. I was so thrilled I was finally going to be in a school two blocks away from my house and better yet, I wouldn't have to transfer until I went to middle school. Well that was what I thought!
Fifth grade came and I was thrilled. It was my first Hispanic teacher, I was joining the orchestra where I was going to play the Viola, and I did not have to rush to the bus stop anymore.
I wasn't the smartest but I remember my teacher Mr. Kelly Castillo had asked me to help him grade everyone's homework one afternoon. He said that if I helped him grade my colleagues test, I was going to get extra credit. I wasn't doing good in my math subject and needed to get good grades to stay in the orchestra program. I stayed after class to help him and we sat next to each other in the round table in the back of the class next to his desk. It was just the two of us and I was more excited about getting extra credit that nothing suspicious ever crossed my mind.
I never thought I was going to be in danger because he was such a nice teacher and always shared his weekend stories of his family. I was under the impression he was a respectable family man.
I remember vividly I was correcting the quiz of one of my classmates when I felt a large warm hand touch my thigh. My eyes became wide and I looked at him in shock. I dropped my red pen and he put his finger on my lips followed with a "SHHHH!"
"Que estas haciendo Mr. Castillo?!" (What are you doing Mr. Castillo). I asked as I stayed frozen on my seat. His hand was going up my skirt when I got out of my chair and told him I wanted to go home.
This was the first time I had been touched in an inappropriate way. I wasn't kissing boys or holding hands with anyone during lunch break like most of my classmates.
Mr. Castillo told me not to scream and that if I told anyone, he will flunk me and I will have to retake his class next year. I wanted to scream for help but I was afraid to fail.
I was trapped at 10 years old by my 5th grade teacher!
I went that day home and took the longest shower. I felt filthy and scared as the hot water ran down my pure body. I wasn't stupid, I knew what he was doing because I had seen that in novelas when I stayed at my grandmas house. I did not want to let fear damage my promising new school but it was too late.
The next day in class I avoided eye contact and to my surprise in the afternoon school assembly, he selected me to be the student of the month of his class. I was afraid to go on stage and get my award because I saw he was watching me like a hawk but I knew I did not deserve it. He was trying to buy my silence.
After the assembly Mr. Castillo told me that as part of my reward, he was also inviting me to lunch outside the school. He handed me a paper asking for my mothers signature for permission to go out of campus with him. I was so afraid of him that his permission slip never made it home. I did not even tell my mother I was student of the month because I knew I did not deserve it.
The next week he asked me early in the morning where was the permission slip so he could take me out for lunch. I told him she declined. I lied to him. I was scared to leave school with him. I let the fear of the novelas stories of girls getting rapped and him touching me come together. I panicked every time he talked to me alone. He gave me the same paper a few days later and insisted that I deserved to go on a "student/ teacher lunch", outside campus. After the third attempt he gave up.
I felt the pressure to tell someone but when I did, I was shocked. I was at another classmates house after school doing our science project together and I asked her if Mr. Castillo has ever been weird with her. She confessed to me that he had grabbed her breast and threatened her too. I was grossed out how he was taking advantage us his students but sadly, I wasn't the only one. There was more victims my age.
When I told her what he did to me she responded by saying, "Gardy, that's nothing, I know girls who have done things with him in the classroom. He is known for getting touchy with young girls." Claudia said.
At that moment I realized I became a member of his victim list.
The remainder of the year I kept quiet and distant. I tried not to participate in any activities he had outside of class out of fear. I never told my mother since she was busy getting her G.E.D. while raising three young children and I honestly, did not know what she would off done to him. I was trying to protect my family from my mother killing him and protecting my purity from getting molested.
I survived fifth grade in his class but sixth grade was becoming scary. I was still at Harding Elementary with another teacher but Mr. Castillo kept crossing my path on a daily. I remember one restroom break as I was drinking water from the fountain and he said from behind, "We have unfinished business." I felt I had the devil waiting for my permission to take my soul. I looked at him with fear and ran back to my classroom across campus.
I had to find a way without my mother finding out because if she knew, she will kill him. We had been living in El Centro, CA for a few years after we survived domestic abuse in Mexico. The last thing I wanted was to cause more problems and separate our family that was healing from the recent chaos.
I started to fail my sixth grade class on purpose in favor for me to transfer schools. I did not participate in class activities and failed every subjects test. My mother was frustrated with me and decided to transfer me to another elementary school across town. I was happy to move schools even if I had to take the bus again when Harding was two blocks away from my house.
I didn't care if the kids called me stupid, I was safe at another school. I passed my sixth grade at Dessert Garden Elementary with flying colors and was able to focus on moving into Junior high until my family moved to Fresno, CA.
I never forgot what Mr. Castillo did to me and to the other members of his victims list of his fifth grade class.
To this day, I wish I knew his real name because he told us on the first day of school that he changed his name to Kelly Castillo to be more accepted. I didn't understand why a short Mexican man who looked Indigenous had a girls name but it all makes sense now. He probably did not want his victims to know his identity.
It took a lot of courage and hours for me to collect my story into this article. I was afraid to speak up before but now, I have the courage to share my story. I hope Mr. Castillo reads this and knows that I NEVER forgot what he did to me. I hope that if any young girl has a teacher who has touched them, not to be afraid and that its OK to speak up. I wish I had the courage to do that when I was 10 years old but its not too late even if I am 27 years old.
I hope other women speak up and share their stories. #metoo is not just a hashtag but a family of united women who are sharing their stories and finding ways to help each other heal.
I am 27 years old and not afraid to say #metoo!
By Gardenia Zuniga-Haro