Cover Stories
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The Romero Family, circa 2014: Angela (center) with (from l to r) her grandmother, Sandra Asoau; sister, Regina Ritter; brother-in-law, Craig Ritter; father, Juventino Romero; sister, Emily Romero; sister-in-law, Miranda Romero; and brother, J.R. Romero. Click to enlarge. (photo: courtesy the Romero family)

It’s 1989. I’m eight years old; Angela is eleven. Our mother has made us wake up at 5 a.m. on a Saturday, yet again. Our father works nights at Todd Shipyard. Our mother works at an employment agency in Torrance. For a family of five, it isn’t enough. To supplement income, our mother delivers newspapers around our neighborhood for the News-Pilot. She’s taken on several routes, probably too many, to help our family afford our Summerland home and the thousands of activities she has us doing at any given moment: piano lessons, accordion lessons, ballet folklorico dancing, tap dancing, soccer, softball, Girl Scouts. To my mother, exposing us to as many hobbies and interests as possible is important. She throws what she can at us to see what sticks. But lots of activities mean lots of money.

So, here we are on our umpteenth early Saturday morning when all of our friends are still deep in dreamland. While it’s become routine, we still protest miserably as our mother shakes us awake and directs us to the porch to fold papers. Folding papers is the worst. After folding nearly a hundred, your hands are black with ink, and your cuticles are rubbed raw from wrapping the rubber band around them. 

Romero having fun with her late mother, Maria. (photo: courtesy the Romero family)

My mother has the route mapped and timed to a T. Luckily, Angela and I have done this so much by this point that we can almost do it while sleeping. Our mother drops us off on 2nd Street to walk part of the route by foot while she takes the next street over, tossing papers from her car with impressive accuracy. Angela takes one side of the street; I take the other. Somewhere in my newspaper delivery oblivion, I fail to notice the two men wearing sunglasses in the early morning who have gotten out of their car and have started to approach me. Angela, in her typical acute awareness of situations, notices immediately. She’s already started yelling and running across the street to me. The two men, somehow startled by this 11-year-old girl charging toward them, quickly make an about-face and are driving off before I snap into awareness again.

It’s 1995. I’m a freshman entering Narbonne High School; Angela is a senior. I’m following in my sister’s footsteps again. I should be going to San Pedro High School with all of my Pedro friends, but I want to go with my sister. Since middle school at Dodson, I’ve watched as my sister has made an amazing group of friends with wild aspirations, all of them involved in school clubs and activities. I saw how she found a place for herself and started to come into her own at Narbonne. Most of her friends live in Lomita or Harbor City, so the natural high school choice was Narbonne. For my sister, she chooses to attend Narbonne in the hopes of finding more open doors than SPHS could offer. 

As fourth generation San Pedrans, we see the struggle our families go through — experiencing neighborhood violence, no higher education, living near poverty — and we equate it all to living in San Pedro. We see San Pedro as a container with the lid tightly closed above our heads, not allowing our heads to get too far in the clouds. Going to Narbonne is a way of poking holes into that container to let our dreams spill out. 

It won’t be until much later that we will realize San Pedro isn’t closed at all; it has an entire coast open to infiniteness. 

As the first freshman class to enter Narbonne (prior to this, high school began in 10th grade), I nervously approach the campus for my first day of school. Some of those nerves are eased by having my sister, a senior, there. My sister takes it upon herself to meet me before and after each class, during nutrition, and during lunch to show me around. By the end of the first day, I already know where to buy the best chocolate chip cookies, where to avoid going unless I want to be dumped in a trash can, and where my sister hangs out during breaks in case I need her.

It’s 2006. I’m 25 years old; Angela just turned 28 a week ago. We’ve just arrived at our hotel outside of Paris in a seedy town called Saint-Denis. The website where I booked the hotel bragged about its close proximity to vibrant Paris. They failed to mention the litter and graffiti we will need to walk through to catch the C-line train to Paris.

I have never been to Europe, but here I am, with as much as I could fit into two suitcases, ready to spend the next year teaching and living in Paris. My sister has already been to Europe a few times, so she feels a little more comfortable navigating unfamiliar towns. She insisted on coming with me to help me find a place to live and get situated. As much as it would have been easy to use it as an excuse to take a vacation, she takes her job seriously.

For the next five days, we take the train to Paris, sit at a café facing the Fontaine St. Michel, sift through housing magazines, and make calls. She accompanies me to every apartment viewing and listens to me as I complain about how expensive it is to live in a shoebox. Because we are near broke from the cost of the café au laits we had to buy to sit at the café, our meals back at the hotel typically consist of fresh baguettes from the closest boulangerie and some jam we have stored in our room’s mini fridge.

On the seventh day of apartment hunting, we go to see an apartment directly behind the fountain we’ve been staring at every day. It’s perfect. Angela leaves to go home the next day, and I move into my new apartment the following day.

It’s 2020. I have just given birth to our third child, four months after the country shut down for the pandemic. Two days prior, Angela moved in with us to spend a few weeks helping us adjust to life as a family of five, all three children under three years old. In a pandemic. With everything closed. It’s too risky to potentially bring COVID back home to our immunocompromised father or bring COVID to our home with a newborn.

Romero with her niece and nephews (l to r) Brooke, Drew, and Coy. (photo: courtesy the Romero family)

Like the other two, my sister is the first person to welcome us home with a new baby — baby Drew. Her face is full of relief after spending 48 hours watching the older children, Brooke (3) and Coy (1), while we were in the hospital, but mostly her face is full of love — instant love for our newest family member, her newest nephew. She might as well be an emoji with hearts for eyes.

After our mother passed away in 2010, I was worried that the children wouldn’t have anyone smothering them with love and kisses as my mother did with us (and with my poor then-boyfriend-now-husband who wasn’t used to quite so much physical touch). Angela loves our children as much as we do.

She spends Drew’s first two weeks of life as his personal memory foam mattress. We even start to call her “Memory Foam Nana,” Nana being the name my children call her. In these two weeks, she forms her biggest connection to anything on this planet: Drew.

It’s 2022. The year we thought would finally bring us all closer together. Angela’s cancer diagnosis in 2021 meant more virtual visits and kisses behind masks. We had front yard visits to make it safer for her to visit with the children. She would often bring a San Pedro treat — pizza from Miller Butler, pan dulce from Tropicana Bakery, sandwiches from Busy Bee — since she was insistent that my Orange Country children experience San Pedro in any way possible. We built a bedtime video chat into the children’s bedtime routine to keep their connection with their Nana. Anyone who was with her around bedtime knew the call was coming. She would stop whatever she was doing to take those video calls, literally pulling over the car at times. The pandemic and a cancer diagnosis could not keep my sister away from her niece and nephews. Her love for them was beyond any earthly measure.

Looking back on my time with my sister/best friend, every story reflects her core qualities — her fierce loyalty, drop-of-a-dime dependability, her acute observations, and a fearlessness to live life her own way. She was the rock to which I tethered myself, making sure I didn’t drift too far away from myself. She was always the first person I called or texted or saw when anything big happened in my life. Always.

I know these stories I share aren’t unique. There are countless stories from countless people whose lives she touched. I’m grateful to have these stories to hold on to and share with my children so that the love she gave while on Earth will continue to beat.

I look forward to carrying on her mission to share her love for San Pedro with future generations. I’m excited to take my children to walk the same streets she walked in San Pedro and feel her soul pulsing through the town. spt

Regina Ritter

Regina Ritter is an educator and one of Angela Romero’s younger sisters.