Dr. Linda Garcia, Senior vice-president of 2inGage, didn’t start her journey in the foster care system from the authority of an office chair. Instead, she started off in Vietnam during peak war times.
In her primary years, Garcia was raised by her grandmother. It was a joyful union and Garcia earnestly preferred the arrangement. However, the chaos of the Vietnam War proved to be an imminent threat to her wellbeing. At the age 9, her grandmother orchestrated her reunification with her biological mother in America.
“My grandma drove me to the city and dropped me off to my mother because they didn’t know what was going to happen,” Garcia said.
And there she was – suddenly in the care of a “strange woman” on route to a strange place at a moment’s notice. Garcia understood her new caretaker was her mother, but did not have the mother-daughter relationship we commonly associate. There wasn’t prior history, a bond, intimacy, inside-jokes, knowledge of each other’s personality traits, etc. It was like being picked up by someone on the street who kind of looks like you.
“Talk about transition. Am I right?” Garcia said.
What made it more bizarre to Garcia’s 9-year-old mind was the move to America. She was totally uprooted and heavily relied on survival mode to adapt. Her step dad was American and spoke English, so the only person she could communicate with was her mother. While the necessity to talk planted a seed for their relationship, Garcia resented her for some time.
“I spent the first 2 years mad at my mom for taking me away from my grandmother,” Garcia said.
Overtime Garcia and her mother developed a healthy relationship. It started with fundamentals like cooking, and learning English and a new environment. Eventually, they started discovering who they were as individuals and in their unique dynamic. To say the least, it was difficult and required commitment. At any point, either person could have stepped away but-
“-who said I didn’t?” Garcia said.
Correction, at some point Garcia did step away. Like many of the kids she serves in the foster care system, Garcia was ready to nosedive into the world by 18. In fact, she left a few months earlier than her 18th birthday and began her own self-discovery journey.
“I made a few bad decisions in those formative years,” Garcia said. “But I came back.”
It could have gone differently, but Garcia’s decision to return and her mother’s decision to accept her in spite of their troubles made the difference.
Garcia went on to spend most of her professional life working with youth and the community. She was a dean at a community college for almost 15 years, a director of special projects for the city of Arlington; and in 2014, she pivoted and joined the foster care system.
“When people say it’s a calling, you have no idea,” Garcia said.
Her leadership skills allowed her to help make decisions that would ripple through the region for its benefit. Specifically working in foster care, she got to advocate for kids with circumstances similar to hers – one day living life as normal and the next in the care of a stranger.
Garcia’s lived experiences and professional work have come full circle. Now, Garcia and her mother are besties and she takes her mother around to travel. The work she does encourages others to take care of displaced children in our communities, and accept and work with them much like her mother did for her.
“Don’t be afraid,” Garcia said. “These are your kids, these are our kids.”