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Idaho StoryCorps: Finding hope in the kindness of a stranger in Boise

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StoryCorps
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Marisela Pesina and Lisa Sanchez.

"How ... how is this happening to me?"

That’s what ran through Lisa Sanchez’s mind as she rummaged through her purse looking for change to buy enough gas to get to work. She had a good job, a house, a car … but she didn’t have enough money to get by, let alone buy some gas.

It was the Great Recession and times were tough for a lot of people.

“I’m happy to say I survived,” Lisa told her friend Marisela Pesina.

And she wasn’t afraid to talk about surviving, especially when she started her campaign for a seat on the Boise City Council in 2017.

“I talked about things that you're not supposed to talk about in polite company. I talked about having to sell my blood at the Biomat on Overland Road to purchase food and to put gas in the car. I talked about dumpster diving at a fruit stand after hours to get food. Because I was working at the State of Idaho. I was working as a civil rights investigator with the Human Rights Commission here in Idaho. And so even though I, on the surface, I looked like I had it all together, when it came down to it, no, I was struggling,” she remembered.

“I'd say one of the lowest moments for me at that period of time was I remember driving to work and I looked at the gas gauge and it was on fumes and I thought, I'm going to have to pull over and just put in what I've got in my purse,” she told Marisela.

She says as people struggled during the recession, desperate people were “gassing and dashing,” filling up their gas tank and driving away without paying, so gas stations started requiring customers to walk inside and put their cash on the counter before they could start pumping.

“So I remember going inside and I knew I didn't have any folding money in my wallet and I just dumped all this change out on the counter. And I'm like however much change that is, that's how much gas I'm putting in, because it was expensive, kind of like it's been recently.

“And I remember seeing this little hand reach over and put about three bucks on top of my pile of change. And it was a skater kid. And he looks at me and he goes, 'Gas is expensive, Miss. That's why I ride a skateboard. God bless.'

I remember that was one of the lowest moments of my life. I just remember thinking, wow, I really screwed up.
Lisa Sanchez

"How ... how is this happening to me?" Lisa asked herself.

“I have a college degree. I speak two languages. I work for the State of Idaho. I own a home, I have a car. But what I don't have is $5 for one gallon of gas,” she said.

But...

It was also simultaneously one of the most hopeful moments in my life.
Lisa Sanchez

"Thank goodness it's happening to me in a place like Boise, Idaho, where there is a family that has raised a young person to be observant enough and conscientious enough and generous enough and gracious enough to see that somebody in their midst needs help. And then they offer that help, and they do it in such a way that leaves the person feeling uplifted and not pitied.”

Because I think about what the young man said to me, "gas is expensive, Miss. That's why I ride a skateboard."

And what he was saying to me in phrasing it that way is ... this is about the circumstance and not about you. You didn't do anything wrong. This is just the situation we're all in and here I'm going to help you.

In 2017, Lisa decided to become the first Latina to run for a seat on the Boise City Council.

“That was my first campaign speech, me sharing that with people. And that's how I believe I was able to win my first race because I was willing, I think, to tell the truth about my lived experience.”

Being that open and honest, she said, “that's something that - despite the fact that the majority of people who live in Boise, Idaho, are white - they still found something that they could relate to with me, a short, fat, Mexican American renter,” she told Maricela as they both laughed.

“And it says something about the communities that we live in, and I think the times that we're living in Maricela, that people are turning to people like us, people who have not traditionally been in these leadership roles. In the past, it's been Latino men, now it's Latinas like us.”

Lisa is the only person serving on the Boise City Council who rents her home. She told Maricela, “as the only person who is low-income serving on that council, I bring those challenges, those difficult moments, to my decision-making. I realize that there's a reason why I had to go through the challenges of the last recession ... so that I could relate to my constituents.

So I could understand their pain...because I feel it too.
Lisa Sanchez

Boise City Council member Lisa Sanchez and her friend Marisela Pesina recorded their conversation at Storycorps, a national initiative to record and collect stories of everyday people.

Excerpts were selected and produced by Boise State Public Radio.

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As Senior Producer of our live daily talk show Idaho Matters, I’m able to indulge my love of storytelling and share all kinds of information (I was probably a Town Crier in a past life!). My career has allowed me to learn something new everyday and to share that knowledge with all my friends on the radio.