When June Parra overheard a conversation about her mother selling her to an aunt living in the United States, she got excited about the chance to start a new life.
Parra was born in Los Angeles but grew up in the Philippines where she said she felt ugly, alone and unloved by her family who called her names because of the dark tone of her skin. In Filipino culture, fair skin is a sign of beauty, said Parra, who spent hours using soaps and creams to lighten her skin.
Little did she know at age 14 she would be sold into a life of service — cooking and cleaning in her aunt’s home care business for people with disabilities in Oakdale, northeast of Modesto. Parra does not know how much money was exchanged. A high school teacher and guidance counselor helped Parra get out of the home when she turned 18.
On Saturday, May 19, the 26-year-old will graduate from Fresno State with a master’s degree in counseling with an option in student affairs and college counseling. She wants to help students who struggled like her.
“I can help them find success and growth and see a brighter future,” said Parra, who earned her bachelor’s degree in liberal arts with a concentration in mathematics at Fresno State in 2014. “If I’m doing that, I’ve served my purpose.”
Parra Relates to First-Generation Students
Her love of counseling started with an internship at the Educational Opportunity Program on campus, where she worked to provide support to first-generation and economically disadvantaged students who demonstrate the potential to succeed at the University. While their struggles were different, Parra said she could relate.
Nothing about her life in Manila was good, she said. She was always being compared to her sister, who had lighter skin. Her mother showed her little affection, and her father left the family when she was 8 years old. But the food was good, said Parra, who described herself as a little Filipino girl who ate rice with soy sauce.
“No one told me that they loved me,” Parra said as tears welled up in her eyes.
Teacher Helped Free Her From Forced Labor
Things got worse when she got to Oakdale. She started her days at 4 a.m. to cook breakfast and clean. At school, she became the target of bullies because she could only say her name and “hello” in English. After school, she would do laundry, cook and wash dishes.
When she turned 18, Parra told her Spanish teacher and a guidance counselor what she lived through for four years. Their response? “If you ever feel unsafe, call me,” Parra said.
Not long after that, Parra called the teacher when she noticed her aunt and uncle reinforcing the fence in the backyard and barricading the door. She jumped the fence and ran to school.
“I was so, so scared because if they caught me it would have been bad,” Parra said.
The teacher took her in and helped enroll her in a neighboring high school where she graduated with her diploma. Then, Parra got her first job working at a coffee shop and met her first boyfriend, Jorge Parra, who would eventually become her husband.
June Parra admits the marriage has not been easy. Their age and maturity levels contributed to the strain in their relationship, and they were from two different worlds with no common goal. Divorce has often come up, but counseling has helped, she said.
Parra Aims For a Doctorate Degree
Now, she’s looking to the future. She’s applying for counseling jobs but eventually wants to earn a doctoral degree.
“I want to give back, to help students stay resilient and never give up.”
About the Author
BoNhia Lee writes for Fresno State’s Office of University Communications. She can be reached on Twitter, @bonhialee