Standing in front of the entrance to the house, senior Eric Estrada kept a watchful eye on his old grandpa. Glancing at his cousin Toño, they both questioned him on how he got the cigarettes in his hands.
When Estrada’s grandpa was still alive, he, along with his cousin would act as the house guards to ensure the safety of his grandpa. After Estrada’s grandpa got hit by a motorcycle, he went home and fell asleep. When he woke, he could no longer remember simple things. Estrada had to remind him who he was and make sure he wouldn’t leave the house by himself or else he could get lost. Throughout Estrada’s life, whether it’s helping his grandpa or helping the family businesses, he has been surrounded and connected by his family.
As part of a large family, Estrada visits Mexico about every other year. He said their get togethers always happen around Christmas time and he describes them as crazy because of the number of family members on his mom’s side. He said the trips always start at his aunt’s house where there is a really big feast and then they go to another uncle’s house and stay there for about a day; when it’s over, he would see over 100 of his family members. Their Christmas celebration is always without gifts, and instead focuses on celebrating the birth of baby Jesus.
Estrada considers Mexico home because the majority of his family resides there. One day, after coming home from fifth grade, Estrada was told his aunt had been kidnapped in Mexico, but he was in the U.S. Estrada’s aunt was going about her normal day, opening her community pool when she was held at gunpoint after a lady asked for details on the rent fee.
Because of Estrada’s connection to his family, he felt a toll because the ransom demanded for his aunt’s return was too large to pay. The rest of his family was in shock and had to play a slow and painful waiting game.
The possible reason the kidnappers took Estrada’s aunt was because Estrada’s uncle and family are wealthy and successful floriculture farmers. Although his aunt was eventually let go, the world was a changed place for Estrada. From then on, he couldn’t go to Mexico and feel the same way he did before.
Although he considers Mexico home, Estrada is aware that it is a corrupt place. One incident a year after his aunt was kidnapped, particularly proved this. A regular trip turned awry after his family crossed into the Mexican border, and were on their way to get a car permit. As they passed through a neighborhood, they saw a car stopped in the road with many men surrounding it. The men stopped Estrada’s family’s car and explained that they were Los Zetas.
BBC News reports the Zetas as a drug cartel known for torturing and decapitating their victims, founded from corrupt members of Mexico’s special forces. In the past they were a criminal group focused on the drug trade; currently they have expanded to cigarette smuggling and human trafficking. They also work with corrupt police and use the letter Z to correspond with police radio codes.
Aware of this notorious group, the Estrada family purposefully went in a “crappy” white truck with “paint missing” to make it appear as though they were not affluent, he said.
“They wanted $300 per person, and there were five people in the car,” Estrada said. “My dad said, ‘Hey, you are scaring my family,’ and the guy was reading the license plate number, but we were let go. We ran a red light and immediately got pulled over. This was suspicious because the cops are corrupt.”
Estrada said it was a relief to get his aunt back, however, it was also a reality check because the kidnappers could take any of his family members again at any time.
Not only did the paranoia grow, but Estrada also started to suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This resulted in things such as a loud noise at a stoplight leading Estrada to plan escape routes, finding the nearest hospitals and police stations, as well as choosing to sit where windows and doors are visible in restaurants.
“So my emotions get really riled up when something triggers it, and I get very overprotective of people in general,” Estrada said. “It distracts me in a bad way. Like in a classroom I could just be doing math and [be] getting really nervous. It’s like daydreaming, but I can’t control it or snap out of it.”
While Estrada’s doctor prescribed medicine to help him cope, the doctor also recommended he see a psychiatrist since there is a concern the PTSD effects will continue and worsen, and the doctor believes talking to someone would be more beneficial than medicine. Although not a cure-all, he said he does acknowledge the benefits of the medicine he’s taking; when he accidentally misses a couple of doses, Estrada feels more alert and anxious versus at ease when he does take it.
On top of his struggle with PTSD is the strain of three concussions. The first occurred during eighth grade while playing football; the second came a year later and a third playing rugby sophomore year. Estrada said his eyesight and memory are deteriorating. He fears struggling in college and losing control of his emotions, leading him to do something erratic or out of character.
Despite the hardships Estrada has been dealing with, his closest friends say he is a fun loving, caring and dependable friend. Senior Abby Still has been friends with Estrada for about six years and considers him one of the most thoughtful people she knows. Estrada said she is part of his family, and says he enjoys their conversations because they are able to talk about everything and it’s really nice to have someone to talk to who will always give an honest opinion.
“He’s always checking in to make sure I’m doing okay and makes me laugh when I’m having a bad day,” Still said. “He’s always down to go get some ice cream or just talk about life in the Rock Bridge parking lot. I would definitely say the thing I like most about Eric is how down to Earth he is, and what I admire the most would have to be his work ethic and determination.”
A couple years after Estrada formed a friendship with Still, he met senior Noah Horton during a football practice. The first time Estrada saw Horton was in the mornings in the Jefferson Middle School auditorium. Every day the middle school students would sit and talk with friends while waiting for the first bell. Since Horton was a new student, Estrada noticed he didn’t have any male friends because girls were the ones eager to talk to him.
“I would describe Eric as a very chill, down for anything sort of person, who you can really just be with and do anything and have a good time,” Horton said. “[This] is also what I like most about him, just his ability to make any situation a fun one.”
Estrada’s ease with people and the ability to make lasting connections goes hand-in-hand with his future as a floral distributor and possible business owner. Currently in the floral and plant design class at the Columbia Area Career Center and working with his uncle to deliver flowers, Estrada knows exactly what he is getting into.
In order to be a floral distributor, Estrada says flowers are bought from a wholesaler and sold at a higher price to make a profit. Depending on the market price some days can be very profitable while others barely break even.
Throughout his life, Estrada’s world has revolved around those he cares about. By keeping the people he endears close, Estrada is able to have a positive outlook on life. Growing up in this environment plus his experience taking a marketing class, working for Columbia Landcare and helping his mom’s house cleaning business, Estrada knew talking to people and being able to set his own time schedule would bring him joy in life. To make this dream a reality, Estrada plans to attend the University of Missouri-Columbia and study agribusiness.
“I can see my craft and product and how it turned out,” Estrada said. “Flowers have been in my life forever and that’s all we know so I kinda want to follow that and continue the generation.”
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