By Elizabeth Cook

OAKLAND (KPIX 5) – Most parents hope when a child goes off to college they will hear from them at least once in a while. For Abigail Santiago, calling home is a daily comfort for both her and her family.

So Abigail’s mother Erika Santiago makes time to FaceTime with her eldest child every day.

“She is my support, my strength and my pride,” said Erika of her daughter. “I’m extremely proud of her because she’s done things that other young peers may not have done.”

That strong connection is so important to this mother and daughter who’ve been through so much. Erika was just 20 years old and living in the United States on her own when Abigail was born.

Desperate for help, Erika brought her newborn daughter to Mexico to live with family while she returned to her job in the U.S.

Abigail lived in Mexico for the next 7 years, until Erika was finally able to bring her home to California. At the time, Abigail only spoke Spanish and the transition at school was tough.

“I was in second grade, yeah. I was about to turn eight when I first got here,” recalled Abigail. “There was even a time when I went home, I remember going home and telling my mom ‘I never want to go to school again. All these kids are making fun of me. Like I am never going to learn this language.’ There were many times where I just wanted to give up.”

Giving up was not an option. That’s because Abigail’s education has always been Erika’s top priority.

“I remember hugging her and telling her, ‘you’re going to be able to learn. It takes time. You have to go to school. This is your country. You were born here and you belong here,'” recalled Erika of Abigail’s struggles at school. “And she said, ‘Okay, I am going to do it.'”

“I started learning English!” said Abigail.

With Erika’s support, Abigail did just that and much more. Within two years, she had mastered English. By sixth grade, Abigail had made Oakland Unified School District’s Latino Student Honor Roll.

It was an achievement she held on to through high school graduation. And now she’s a rising junior studying psychology at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, working as a fellow in its admission’s office.

“[It was] a brand new place that I had no idea what it looked like,” explained Abigail of going to college.

Abigail’s college success is also the fulfillment of her mother’s dream, and something the whole family can celebrate whenever Abigail’s calls come.

“Any decision she’s ever made, anything that she has ever done,” Abigail said of her beloved mother Erika. “She always does thinking about us first. And how it’s going to benefit us and then that is just what makes her happy.”

Erika is also inspired by Abigail, who hopes to go to graduate school after college, and continue her educational journey.

“I have told [my children] that the best I can give them is school.” explained Erika.

Elizabeth Cook