What doesn’t break you, makes you stronger
What doesn’t break you, makes you stronger. Miriam Morales is the first Latina woman to obtain a commercial driver’s license to drive a trailer in Dane County, and she has decided to exclusively share her life story with La Comunidad News.
Her purpose is for Latinas who are victims of domestic violence or any type of abuse to know that they are not alone. She encourages them to report, not to succumb to the pressure of a male-dominated society, and to move forward independently. She states, “Our children deserve us to be free, happy, and independent. We are their example, and they don’t deserve to carry the mistakes of adults.”
With the fear of breaking cultural and family traditions, Morales endured humiliation and abuse from her then romantic partner. She remained silent and accepted psychological and physical mistreatment, believing that marriage was for life.
This Mexican-hearted woman believed that by making the decision to leave, she would disappoint her family and didn’t feel capable of facing a society that would judge her for leaving her husband, renouncing a life she had built for ten years, and giving up on what she had vowed at the altar.
“I was in survival mode. I was scared, but I needed to make some changes in my life. It was like a wake-up call, and a part of me was aware that I had to take action because no one was going to come and make decisions to save me,” she recounts tearfully.
She insists that she was terrified of facing the real world, knowing that she wouldn’t have support, someone to rely on financially and even emotionally. However, there was a greater force that encouraged her to make the decision to move forward and leave that torturous life behind: her son.
This is her story:
La Comunidad News (LCN): What were you doing before obtaining your commercial driver’s license?
Miriam Morales: I was a dental student, attending school and working as a dental assistant. I also worked in a warehouse and took care of my son.
LCN: A mother?
Yes, a full-time mother. So, when I started my CDL class, my son was around four years old at that time.
LCN: So, was it challenging?
It was challenging. It was non-stop, but I was younger. It was my routine, and I was used to it. I was sowing to reap the fruits that I am starting to see today.
LCN: You’re working in a dental office, and you say, “I think I want to be a truck driver.” How did the idea come about? What event prompted you to embark on this?
Actually, let’s see. I had [pause]… it was a personal matter that just happened in my life when I realized I was alone. I told myself, “I have my son, I have responsibilities.” And regarding the career, the change was ambitious.
I was let go from the dental office, and I still worked at the warehouse on weekends, but I needed something more. And there was also a long waiting list for the career I wanted.
LCN: So, the dental field specifically? The five-year wait?
Yes. It was a five-year waiting list… I was just taking general classes while waiting to get into the program, but it was a five-year waiting list, and I thought, “I don’t have five years to wait.” Five years to get into a program and then five years to graduate. I was like, no, my son will be a teenager by then. I need something immediate.
LCN: At what point did you think you could apply for a CDL?
When I saw the whole picture of the dental career, I started looking for other horizons. The other option was to go into the management field, but it didn’t fully convince me.
My family had an ice cream business when I was younger, and I helped in the small business by moving big trucks. At the time, I thought that was a normal childhood. I didn’t know that I had acquired knowledge at a very young age, and that it would contribute to what I am today.
I’m one of seven siblings, and my brothers, along with my dad, have licenses to drive large vehicles. We have always been immersed in that life, and I like it. I asked myself, why not be part of that team?
LCN: Do they travel long distances?
No. Actually, they’re here in the area.
LCN: What did they say? Did they welcome you to the club or think you were crazy?
The point is, I’m not a person who says much. I hadn’t told them that I was in classes until I graduated. In fact, I took the exam, and when I got my license, that’s when I told them.
LCN: What did they say when you told them?
They were surprised. They were very happy for me.
LCN: So, was the reason for this change a financial decision?
Before all this happened, I was married. It was a great sacrifice for me and my son. Not just for me, because my son walked this whole journey with me. Literally.
And that was… that has always been the big struggle. The process of the struggle that I had never really let out. I hadn’t told anyone anything. It was just more superficial. I preferred to tell people that it was a big financial sacrifice, but there’s much more to it. There was a path of thorns that hurt and caused a lot of damage. Thanks to my son, I’m slowly healing and moving forward. I’m proud of what we are today.
LCN: What did you have to overcome?
The biggest challenge was when I was with my ex-husband. I was in a situation of domestic violence in my home. That was my greatest challenge: to get out of that and overcome that mindset. You know, I was in it for so long, and as I said, why did I tolerate that? That was my biggest challenge. To overcome my own mindset. My own beliefs. Things like marriage being forever. Breaking down stereotypes, judgments, comments, gossip. And the fear of being a single mother. I think those were the toughest challenges.
LCN: Do you want to tell us what you’ve had to go through so that other women like you don’t experience what you lived through?
When I changed everything. When I knew I had to make a change, I was in survival mode. I decided to leave and get my son out of an abusive relationship.
I was afraid of things, and that’s when I knew I couldn’t continue with that. I needed to find a better path, in my studies, and with this license, I saw a glimmer of hope and an opportunity. So, I gave up a violent life, took a trailer, and gave a new direction to my home. You know, a better future for us.
I realized that my son was growing up and was growing up in a home full of violence, fears, threats, bad words, and fears. He was witnessing things he shouldn’t have. And obviously, I know it’s my responsibility… you know, to protect him.
LCN: Who do you talk to about these issues?
As I said, I don’t talk about it. I just say, “Oh yes, I just need a career change. Covid happened. This and that.” But that was the main reason. My son was growing up. I needed to step out and make transformative changes.
LCN: Were there any doubts ?
Yes, I felt like I needed to give it a try. I didn’t have any doubts, especially when I heard about the Latino Academy and the kind of program they had and how they helped. I was like, “Why not? I can do that.”
LCN: Family is one thing, but did you consult with anyone else? Are you your own mentor?
Before all this happened, I knew that no one would come to save me. I’ve been to college, I’ve had mentors, university advisors, people from my church, my pastor; those people have influenced my life a lot.
I believe there’s always something to learn from anyone. I felt that all these people who have influenced my life have contributed to my development and helped me grow to become my own mentor.
When I joined the program, Margarita, Baltazar, and Louie, who is a road instructor in Dane County, were my mentors, and he still is.
LCN: When difficult episodes happen in life, we hardly listen to ourselves. Where does that come from? It must be a very deep immersion. Tell us a bit about it. How was the process?
I’ve been through and then some. What I’ve endured. I knew it was all up to me. Sink or swim. It was all about me, and everything I’ve learned, I’ve tried to apply it. Remember it. Practice it.
I could hear and say deep down in my mind, repeating it. Clichés: what doesn’t break you, makes you stronger. You know, things like that, that you learn and try to apply, and whatever keeps me going.
LCN: What was the first barrier or significant challenge you had to overcome in this journey?
I think it was just my own life. The jobs I had. The responsibilities. That was a challenge, adding more to my plate while doing this because I can’t put all my eggs in one basket. I had to keep doing what I was doing while seeking another opportunity.
LCN: Within that challenge, were you alone or with someone who helped you overcome it? How was the process of overcoming it?
I had the support of my younger sister. She has been with me from day one, and she is the one who helps me with my son if I don’t have childcare. Sometimes a friend helps me too. However, I was alone. Honestly, it was all on my own.
LCN: What was your biggest fear or apprehension during this adventure?
I think it was doubt. I would say it was knowing that I didn’t have a support system, someone to rely on. As I mentioned, I was married for ten years. So not having financial or even emotional support was a fear.
LCN: How did your career change help you with that?
Being successful in this program and doing what I set out to do, my goal, definitely made those problems go away, made them seem small, where I had greater opportunities and other responsibilities.
LCN: Throughout these challenges, how did you manage everything with your son?
Oh, my son [laughs]. He is strong. He has been a source of motivation. We have both walked this journey. While I was in class, he was by my side talking on the phone or drawing. I would keep an eye on him. In the Latino Academy classes, there is childcare, so I would just go, check on him, and continue with the class. So, he has been with me. He’s a little tough guy, and I am very grateful for him. He has been my rock, and God, of course.
LCN: What has been your greatest and strongest sacrifice that you have experienced during this journey, both physically and mentally?
Well, let’s see. I think everything mentioned above was physically and mentally exhausting. I was starting from scratch. I had the luxury of having cars, going from one place to another without worrying about the gas tank. I was living a good life.
Suddenly, everything changed. We went from having a car to waiting for the bus at the stop or walking long distances in inclement weather.
But looking back, seeing the whole process and where we are today, it’s exciting. There were many sacrifices, many small things we both did. One backpack on one arm and my son on the other. I’m not the only one who has gone through that, and I see many others doing it. I’m grateful because all this struggle has built me up.
LCN: During those tough times, what kept you going and motivated towards your goal?
What kept me going was a better future for myself, for my son, for stability, for financial stability. The house. The car. The things you want to work for. You don’t want to sit there and say, ‘Oh, I wish I had this.’ ‘I wish I could do this.’
I just took my son to Disneyland at Christmas. We had never been before. For me, that was like, ‘Wow, I did that. I was able to go on an adventure with him.’ We do what we can. Anything fun. Camping, hiking, or whatever it may be. And I had the opportunity and I did it. I am alone, and I have been able to do it on my own. So, I could encourage other women who might be in a situation like mine. There are programs out there that can help you if you work for it.
We all say that if you work for it, if you hear it enough, you can do it. That was another thing in my life. Well, you can do better. You can do it. Yes, I know I can, but to go from one point to another, that’s when your true self comes out.
LCN: How did you prepare for your final exam? What was the process? What kind of exam was it?
For my CDL, I took classes, I studied. Additionally, I had driving training. I went through the blocks. I had training on the vehicle from start to finish. Exams with the DOT examiner. It seems like an easy process, but it took a lot of studying and repetition. I knew some things about cars, but not in depth, and that’s where the studying and the questions came from.
LCN: How did you feel when you passed the final exam?
Oh my God. Happy. Proud. [laughs]. It was one step closer to where I wanted to be. Where I see myself. Being able to take care of my son and myself.
LCN: After passing it, how did things change?
I got my internship in Dane County. It opened up more opportunities. I met a lot more people. People who didn’t even know me were encouraging me and saying, ‘I know who you are.’ That fills me with pride, being able to change the stereotype.
LCN: Can you explain a bit more about how you changed the stereotype?
I am the first Latina woman to graduate from this CDL program and work in the Dane County Highway Department. It was surprising to everyone. Well, not everyone. Not people who know me, but people like, ‘oh, here comes a girl.’
And working among all the men who have years of experience, who have worked with different equipment. [laughs].
LCN: How was the process being in the program and being the only Latina there?
I was proud of that. It was a bit intimidating at times. I didn’t know everything or much. I didn’t have the experience, definitely. But I just knew that this would help me with what I wanted to aim for.
LCN: How did you empower yourself when challenged by that intimidation from men and being the only Latina there?
I kept telling myself to keep going. There was no magic. There’s no option for that. It was just a mindset of showing up every day.
LCN: Throughout the CDL program journey, what were the good and bad lessons you learned as a person and now as a driver?
In life, it meant persistence. Consistency. Hard work. Those are the lessons I learned, and knowing that it’s worth the fight.
Bad lessons. I think all of this, good or bad, has shaped me to where I am and where I wanted to go. I take it as something good, and probably at that time, it wasn’t a good lesson.
LCN: During this journey, were there people trying to bring you down and saying that you couldn’t do it or something like that?
You know, unfortunately, there are still people who are not so welcoming. Especially a woman in a man’s job. Some are not so open to it. They have closed minds. But I think others have changed their perspective when they look. Now I’m not the only one. There
LCN: During this journey, were there people trying to bring you down and saying that you couldn’t do it or something like that?
You know, unfortunately, there are still people who are not so welcoming. Especially as a woman in a man’s job. Some are not open to it. They have closed minds. But I believe others have changed their perspective when they look. Now I’m not the only one. There are other women who have also been in the program, and I think we are gradually gaining ground.
LCN: Throughout this process, what is a life lesson you have learned? What can you teach others about it?
That it is possible. If you want to do it, it takes a lot of effort from one person. You know, a lot of sacrifice and mindset. You have to have a strong desire to work for it and go through whatever it takes, and that’s what happened to me. I had so many obstacles at that time that when I was going to get my CDL, it was just my separation. It was about leaving that environment with my son. Starting from scratch.
LCN: What is your job right now? What are you doing? What does it involve? What are your responsibilities?
I am currently a skilled worker at the Dane County Highway Department. My responsibility is road maintenance. There are two seasons in the job: construction season, which is now, and winter season. So it’s our responsibility. We are on call for emergencies or whatever is needed on the road. On the interstate or Beltline. Even county roads. Everything in the Dane County area.
LCN: What is your message to the Latino community about achieving a goal and pursuing their dreams?
Yes, you can. [laughs]. No. It’s so cliché, but it’s true. I don’t know. That’s the first thing that came to mind. It can be done if you want to achieve it. We say: in this country, it can be done.
Well, most people say, “You were born here. You have it easy.” Well, no. There were many other struggles I had to go through that you probably wouldn’t even know, and it’s just… yes, you can do it with determination.
RESOURCE: Latino Academy Workforce Development: If you are interested in obtaining more information on how to obtain a CDL, visit the Latino Academy Workforce Development or access the following link: Latino Academy, where you will find all the requirements to access a program like this.
RESOURCE FOR VICTIMS OF VIOLENCE: If you require guidance or help because you are experiencing abuse from your partner, UNIDOS addresses these cases of domestic violence and sexual assault in Dane County. You can find more information about it here: https://www.facebook.com/UNIDOSWisconsin