Mayra Cervantes and Christian Cervantes Garcia of Pasco already have faced down great adversity and won.
As teenagers, they took over parenting their two younger brothers for two years while their mom was held in an immigration detention center.
And when Mayra, 18, was diagnosed with breast cancer last fall, they didn’t let that shake them from their commitments and responsibilities.
Now they will share the accomplishment of graduating from high school and becoming the first in their family to attend college. Christian, 21, graduates Friday from New Horizons High School, while Mayra graduates Saturday from Chiawana High School.
Both will head to Columbia Basin College this fall, Mayra to study electrical engineering and Christian to become a registered nurse.
Both hope the road forward will be at least a little easier than their last few years.
“These hard moments are what make people,” Christian said.
Their hard moment started when their mom, Patsy Maricela Cervantes, was detained by U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement for two years in Tacoma and in California.
Cervantes has been an undocumented resident for the past 22 years. All four of her children were born in the Tri-City area and are lifelong Pasco residents.
Christian promised his mom he’d keep the family together and they would all stay in school while she was gone, he said.
But having their mom yanked away felt like getting rammed with an 18-wheeler, Christian said. All at once, at 18, he became responsible for paying bills and providing necessities like housing, food and utilities. Graduating in 2012 was no longer going to happen.
Mayra cared for their younger brothers Cesar Cervantes, 16, and Don Tomas Velasco, 9, acting as their mother, while Christian went to school in the mornings and worked at night.
Christian decided to switch from Chiawana to New Horizons because he needed a more flexible schedule. He was working full time at Walmart to support his family. His teachers at New Horizons gave him the support he needed as he put family first, he said.
“I’m living a double identity,” Christian said. “I’m Batman during the night.”
Mayra remained active in Chiawana’s music program. She continued to take classes before and after school so that she could play in marching band, jazz band, concert band and orchestra during her high school career. She plays saxophone and violin, although she prefers saxophone.
Then, in October, Mayra was diagnosed with breast cancer. She felt a lump and was worried, but Christian said he didn’t think it could be cancer. Both thought she was too young at 17.
“I was scared, because my grandmother died from it,” Mayra said.
The good news was it had been caught early and hadn’t spread.
Christian and Mayra started traveling to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Seattle to see a specialist. Christian worried about her health, while she worried about them spending the money on gas when they had so little to live on.
Mayra would get headaches, and sometimes felt a tight pressure, she said. But she didn’t want to miss school, so she postponed her surgery until December.
It was hard, because their mom wasn’t home. Mayra says she called Christian mom, and he helped support her through it.
Mayra had to be strong with her younger brothers, so they wouldn’t worry, she said. “I knew if I broke, they would break too.”
At school, Mayra held everything together so well, none of her teachers knew her mom had been detained or that she had been diagnosed with cancer.
Kevin Clayton, Chiawana instrumental music director, only found out about both after confronting Mayra over some absences, he said. Skipping school just wasn’t like her.
That’s when she told him she had been going to doctor’s appointments instead of classes.
“She does not want to make any waves, she does not want any attention,” Clayton said. “She just wants to do her part to the best of her ability.”
Mayra never used either as an excuse. She remained an A and B student and continued to participate in band performances.
“I don’t know where she finds it, but she has so much strength as an individual,” he said.
When their mother was released in January, it was a relief to Mayra and Christian, but only partial.
They still don’t know if their mom will be able to stay with them. She has a court hearing scheduled in February 2016. So far, they haven’t been able to find an attorney willing to represent her.
The transition to having their mom back has been relatively smooth, Christian said. He’s still working. But now he and his siblings are not alone.
For Mayra, it helped to have her mom back when she found out the first surgery had not cured her.
In March, doctors found the tumor was still there, so Mayra had a second surgery during spring break. She was pronounced cancer-free during a checkup last month.
Both siblings plan to make CBC a starting place.
Before his mom left, Christian thought he’d get a job right out of high school, he said. Becoming responsible for his younger siblings has shown him how much he wants a career.
“I want to make everything I do count,” he said.
Now, he plans to become a registered nurse and then seek further training. Someday, he’d like to attend the University of Washington School of Medicine.
And Mayra hopes to transfer to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to finish a degree in electrical engineering.
Normally, if a student tells Clayton they are going to MIT someday, he will ask them where they are really going, he said.
But not Mayra.
“I don’t think there is anything she can’t do at this point,” he said.