With two teenage daughters at home and triplets still in diapers, Angela Magdaleno’s family overflowed from a one-bedroom apartment in South Los Angeles that they strained to afford.
Diapers had to be changed 15 times a day, feedings held every three hours. One triplet, 3-year-old Alfredo Jr., needed special attention because he was born with liquid on his brain and partially paralyzed.
Even simple events—like going to the store—required complex orchestration.
And that was before the quadruplets arrived.
On July 6, Magdaleno gave birth to two boys and two girls, drawing national media attention as a bewildered mother of 10 (with nine living at home). Now, she and her husband, Alfredo Anzaldo, 44, must figure out how to provide for everyone on Anzaldo’s maximum pay of $400 a week as a carpet installer.
As cameras flashed two weeks ago, capturing the 40-year-old mother with her newest progeny, she appeared dazed, even morose. They’d have to leave their $600-a-month apartment for something bigger. They’d have to buy a minivan with room for four more car seats.
“I was afraid,” she said. “I still feel like I can’t believe it.”
U.S. immigrants’ stories often are about reinvention and newfound prosperity, about leaving behind poverty and limitations.
But that is not Magdaleno’s story.
Both Magdaleno and Anzaldo are illegal immigrants, settled for years in an immigrant enclave. Magdaleno has the same number of children as her parents, who were peasant farmers in Mexico. Like her parents, she is living in poverty and struggling to provide for her family.
“It’s not sweet,” said her 36-year-old sister, Alejandra. “It’s very sad. The life for girls back there in Mexico is the same as the one Angela has now. They marry and have children, and that’s their lives.”
Neither Magdaleno nor her husband speaks English, though she has been in the United States 22 years and he 28. Even her teenage daughters speak mostly Spanish; their English vocabulary is limited.
Yet all of Magdaleno’s 10 children are U.S. citizens. The triplets receive subsidized school lunches. All the youngsters have had their healthcare bills covered by Medi-Cal, the state and federal healthcare program for the poor.
Alfredo Jr. had been hospitalized all his life until recently. He’s had three state-funded brain operations and will require several more, the family said. The couple receive $700 in monthly Social Security payments to help with his medical needs.
“I thank this country that they gave me Medi-Cal,” Magdaleno said. “There’s nothing like that in Mexico.”
She grew up in Los Positos, in the central Mexican state of Jalisco, the eldest of 10. For girls, life consisted of hard work, little schooling, no birth control and thus, said Alejandra, raising “all the children God gives you.”
Angela and Justina left school at fifth grade to work in fields and tortilla shops to help support their family.
In 1984, hoping to make more money to send home, the girls were the first Magdalenos to cross illegally into the United States. Angela was 19. The sisters found work in sewing factories, and apartments in the growing Latino immigrant communities of South Los Angeles.
Over the years, their eight siblings followed them.
Angela married, had two daughters, then divorced.
In 1990, she met Anzaldo, an immigrant from the state of Nayarit, Mexico, who had three daughters from relationships with two women—one in the U.S. and one in Mexico. Anzaldo was working in auto shops.
The couple married in 1992 and had a daughter together.
Magdaleno then had a tubal ligation. She thought she was done having children. But a few years later, things changed.
Anzaldo had only daughters, and the couple were getting older. He saw his chance at having a son slipping away.
“I wanted a son,” he said, “because I didn’t have one.”
Magdaleno too had always wanted a boy. Anzaldo paid for an operation to reverse Magdaleno’s tubal ligation. The couple thought they might return to Mexico after the child was born.
But for several years, she didn’t get pregnant, Magdaleno said.
So she asked a woman who returned periodically to Mexico to bring her back fertility drugs. The woman supplied her with various pills and injections over several years, Magdaleno said.
“I took a lot,” she said. “I don’t remember what they’re called.”
Finally, in 2002, Magdaleno got pregnant—with triplets.
Talk of returning to Mexico ceased when their son, Alfredo, was born with hydrocephalus.
Their life became cramped and chaotic, with seven people crammed into their one-bedroom apartment.
Joanna, Magdaleno’s oldest daughter, now 20, dropped out of high school and moved out with a boyfriend about the time Magdaleno became pregnant with the triplets. She now works in a factory making dolls for Disneyland, her mother said.
For Angela Magdaleno, their arrival—22 years after she left Mexico and entered the United States hoping for a different life—has brought her full circle. Her older daughters, like girls in Mexico, have been drafted into helping raise the new children.
“I don’t have anything,” she said. “Just children.”