Yolanda Oyola stands, inconspicuous, in the shadow of a large building on the corner of Dakota and S. 9th Place. She wears her multi-colored hair in a large bunch on the top of her head. But, despite the ostentatious look, Oyola speaks with a gentle meekness.
“I missed my friends back in Massachusetts,” she says. “But, um, I got used to Milwaukee and, yeah, it’s nice living here. I got new friends … so, everything’s good.”
Oyola lived in Massachusetts until she was 13. “It was kinda hard and easy at the same time — mostly hard,” she says.
Yolanda is the youngest of four — she has two sisters and a brother. “To be honest, I got picked on a lot my my brother and sisters — mostly my brother,” says Oyola. “But, I still got along with him a lot.”
She says getting picked on upset her. “I would wonder, a lot of times, why he would, you know, pick on me like that but, um, I still would hang out with my brother a lot, though, and, you know, try to find love.”
Having her friends around was one of the things that made life bearable, she says. Then, they moved to Milwaukee. At first, Oyola was homeschooled but eventually she convinced her parents to put her in a traditional school.
“I kept telling my parents, you know, ‘I want to meet friends,’ I wanna go to school,” she says. “So, eventually, yeah, I got signed up to go to South Division.”
But school wasn’t all she’d hoped it would turn out to be. Yolanda did eventually meet friends, but not where she’d expected to. “None of them went to school — they were about my age, too — and they convinced me to drop out also.”
“Those people that I [hung] out with, they, kind of, um — how do you say — they … did a lot of bad things,” Oyola says, though she won’t go into detail. She does say they got her in trouble, often.
“I got involved a lot with a lot of guys and stuff,” she says hesitantly.
It’s difficult for her to talk about the past, she says. “I don’t like thinkin’ about most of it.”
“I wish I could erase that and actually finish high school … ‘cause it was kind of a hard time.”
Despite the less-than-stellar influence of her friend group at the time, there were some things Yolanda never quite did go along with. “Some of my friends did do drugs and they drank a lot. They never convinced me to do it, though,” she says. “I still don’t smoke or drink, to this day.”
“I’m more of the quiet type. You know, I keep a lot of things inside of me. But, when people … push my buttons too much, then I get mad. That’s the kind of person I am.”
Yolanda, who’s 28 now, is turning a corner, these days. She’s still living with her mother, but she’s trying to forge her own path. “I’m just staying away from all the trouble. I stay in my house most of the time,” she says.
It may seem extreme, but for her it’s a step in the right direction. She’s looking forward, trying to build a life for herself; everything before was just a learning experience.
“I learned … who to stay away from, you know?” Oyola says. “I have a boyfriend … and I think that things will work out with us.”
“I’m trying to make a future with him.”
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