Students Rising AboveBy Elizabeth Cook

by Jennifer Mistrot and Elizabeth Cook

RIVERSIDE (CBS SF) — Holidays can be tough for some of us, but it’s also a time of year that can bring unexpected joy and healing.

Alexa Mota López has experienced both. But step inside her cozy family home and you’ll swear you’ve landed at the North Pole. Every square inch is decorated to perfection by Mota López’s mother, and her holiday spirit is healing their family.

“She loves it,” said Mota López. “She dedicates herself fully to the holidays, and I think it’s because … for a long time it was just me and my mom for the holidays.”

The pair were on their own for a long time. Mota López’s mother was a teenager when she welcomed her firstborn child.
Mota López’s father was abusive at home. After the family broke up, the young mother and daughter continued to fear for their safety.

“Very abusive,” said Mota López. “He would stalk. He would come break-in. He would come show up to my school. So it was more of us trying to run away from it.”

LEARN MORE: Students Rising Above

Her mother sought legal help and by the time Mota López was in middle school, they had a fresh start. But money was tight and the young student was growing up in one of the wealthiest areas in California.

“I was just so ashamed of my background. I was so ashamed that we relied on our community for groceries or that we relied on community organizations for rent assistance, “ she said. “I didn’t realize being so young that the situation was bigger than myself. I really thought it was just my family.”

Education and community support would lead her away from shame, and into a new way of thinking. She found Students Rising Above, made honor roll in high school, earned several scholarships for college, and landed a prestigious fellowship while studying at the University of California, Riverside, all the while learning to share her story with others.

“I carry with me proudly now,” declared Mota López. “I am the daughter of immigrants. I am a first-generation student. I am the first in my family to even graduate high school.”

Her mom’s life changed, too. She remarried a kind and loving man. And the couple added two more children to their family.
Mota López will graduate next year, and she plans on heading overseas to spend a year teaching before she works on getting her master’s degree.

“I think she is like superwoman,” said an emotional Mota López of her beloved mom. “I just can’t believe she did everything that she did. I look at her and I see someone who’s strong and who’s brave.

“And she’s so caring. And despite everything that she lived through, she just gives her all to everything and everyone.”

Now her mom’s giving spirit is decking the halls of this happy home.

“It’s just beautiful,” said Mota Lopez.

Elizabeth Cook