Marco Olvera remembers the night his mother woke him and his six siblings up to escape from his abusive, alcoholic stepfather.
“She opens our door, you know, she just makes a silent move and points out the window and so I wake up my brother and we climb out of there, the window," Olvera said.
That was April 22, 2007. Before that pivotal evening, the 26-year-old said he and his family were held captive for five years in a mobile home in Deming.
Olvera, who runs a video production company in Las Cruces, described the childhood trauma at his studio.
“What did I experience? I mean first and foremost, we were all victims. You know some of us, me and my brother were kept in the room while some of us, you know, my sisters were you know allowed to... roam around like willingly around the house," Olvera said. "For sure we didn't go to school. When we were in this room... we weren't allowed to open the windows. You know, we weren't allowed to open the door."
“And the only time the door opened was for when they brought in the food and took out the plates," Olvera narrated in a video he recorded during a revisit to that mobile home. "And me and my brother would watch TV by getting on the floor and watching TV through the crack."
Olvera said he wasn’t allowed to communicate with his family. He added he and his brother would draw or play with their shoes and socks to pass the time. As an undocumented immigrant, he said his stepfather threatened to deport him to Mexico–or worse.
“My brother is a U.S. citizen. But [their stepfather] was talking about just, you know, killing us," Olvera said. "Because he did threaten my mom with that. He did threaten to, you know, do that. And so, when that's on the line, the last thing you want to do is do anything to piss off the aggressor."
Olvera said his stepfather’s alcoholism worsened over time—as did his abuse. But he said the family never tried to escape out of fear and retaliation.
Not until that night in 2007.
That’s when the healing process began. At 13, Olvera said he received support from La Casa, Inc., a local domestic violence shelter where he serves on the board of directors.
“Luckily, they put my family back together. It’s taken years but they definitely did an amazing job. They put me into the path of schooling and they definitely put my mom into the path of working because up until that point she wasn’t, you know, she wasn’t allowed to work. She was stuck in the house with us," Olvera said.
Olvera found his calling in school. He said Las Cruces High School’s student television station, Bulldawg Broadcast, sparked his passion for media.
“I wasn't sure what was going to be my life. I definitely didn't think I’d live to see this far. I didn't see any hopes, any aspirations, any dreams... anything. I didn't have none of that. And the only reason I was going to school was because of this media class and that was it. It was just the passion and the love for the media that kept us going," Olvera said.
After graduating in 2012, Olvera and his best friend Isaac Palafox founded Palamora Productions. The company shoots photos, music videos, commercials and even weddings.
But Olvera still had another goal—becoming a U.S. citizen. The day he filed his final citizenship papers in El Paso, Olvera said he learned his stepfather had died after choking on his own vomit.
“And it wasn’t until that day where I was turning in all my paperwork that that sign came and said 'Hey, you know you don’t have nothing to worry now. You can fly high,'" Olvera said.
Olvera became an American citizen at 21. He called it the “proudest day” of his life.
“It felt like I could fly. There was nothing holding me back at all. And there hasn’t been anything holding me back since," Olvera said. “And that day I really took an oath and I put my hand up and I said I will become a contributing member of this society and that has been the goal since and I’ve been striving and I’ve been going forward and, you know, it’s been great.”
Olvera said he wouldn’t have the drive and outlook he does today without his past. He details that adversity in his forthcoming book In the Land of Opportunity, planned for release in 2020.
His message to other survivors of domestic violence is to “think about tomorrow.”
“All because I didn't have it around me, I was struggling so hard. And my imaginations took me there and all I did was [think] 'If I don’t have it, then I have to become it. If I don’t have it, I will think about it. If I don’t have it... it will be here.' And now, I am doing and I’ve done way more than I imagined," Olvera said. "You know, when I became a U.S. citizen, I had a lot of dreams and aspirations. I’ve done about all of them if not more.”