At the age of 21, a single mother named Itsa Ramos, was working three jobs to support her family of four in Ohio. With the help of her sister nearby, she was able to establish a decent life for her children until tragedy struck one dreadful summer day in July 2005. On that day, Itsa’s sister was murdered, leaving behind four children of her own. With little support from her family and friends, Itsa agreed to adopt her sister’s children rendering her a mother of seven; two infants and five kids between the ages of three and ten. While mourning the loss of her closest friend, Itsa struggled to keep her hopeful spirit while attempting to provide for her family that had doubled in size overnight.
Several years after her sister passed, Itsa was granted low-income housing and moved her family to a home on Beekman Avenue. Located in the South Bronx of New York City, this borough is known as the poorest congressional district in the United States. It is here that in 2009, I first met Itsa, now 26 years old, raising her seven incredible children. After spending some time with Itsa and learning about her tragic story, I immersed myself in the Ramos’ life documenting the undeniable joy that radiated out of them despite their horrific past.
Over the year that I spent photographing the Ramos family, I learned that Itsa's dream of becoming a nurse seemed unreachable. With two full time jobs and her children enrolled in the local public school, she experienced numerous challenges trying to keep her kids safe and put food on the table. Although it was overwhelming at times, I was constantly in awe of how Itsa was still able to smile and joyfully say how grateful she was to be alive. With tears in her eyes, she would express her thanks for the close to ordinary lives they were able to live despite their adversity and trials. With a hopeful heart, she found contentment in the place they called home and the opportunity she had to give her children a purposeful life.
As of 2011, Itsa began taking nursing classes at a local community college while working part time for a real estate agency nearby. With the help of her community and new friends in the South Bronx, she continues to work hard at achieving her dream of becoming a nurse and providing a safe home for her seven wonderful kids.