The Power of Yesi Ortiz
Yesi Ortiz: I’ve had to learn how to let go. It’s not my fault. It’s not my fault that she’s angry at me. It’s not my fault.
This is Death, Sex & Money.
The show from WNYC about the things we think about a lot...and need to talk about more.
I’m Anna Sale.
POWER 106: Let’s get back to the music, L.A.!
For almost ten years, Yesi Ortiz has been the midday DJ at Power 106, a hip hop station in Los Angeles.
YESI: Yeah, what up! It’s your girl Yesi Ortiz on Power 106. One-hundred dollars in tickets to the sold-out Weeknd show!
YO: When I'm on-air, I've always been very flirty, very innocent, could be dangerous.
Yesi is a familiar voice in LA… she interviews celebrities...
YESI: Jennifer Lopez! L.A. stay with me...
…gives away prizes…
YESI: One hundred dollars! Yes, a hundred dollars!
… jokes around on air.
But off mic…
YO: I don't share my news here. None whatsoever.
AS: You don't talk about your kids at work?
YO: Meaning, like, my personal struggles, you know? I don't. At all.
When Yesi says “her” kids, she’s talking about the six children she's been raising since just before she started working at Power 106. When she was 25 years old.
The kids’ biological mom is Yesi's sister. Before they came to live with Yesi, she thought she might lose them forever.
YO: I remember the social worker specifically telling me, uh, because I wanted to go visit, and she said, 'No, I don't think it's a wise idea for you to come visit anymore because it will be harder for the kids to say goodbye to you.' I said, 'What do you mean?' And they're like, 'Well, they're gonna be adopted. Your sister's not going to get them back.' And I just remember feeling, like, devastated. De-va-stated.
Yesi and her older sister are three years apart. Their parents emigrated from Mexico to California, Orange County, where Yesi was born. She says they were some of the first Latinos in her town when she was growing up.
YO: And it was a little challenging because I didn’t really speak good English, so the teachers didn't really pay me attention—pay any attention to me. So there went my education.
Her parents split up when she was little. She lived with her mom at first, but when she was 12, she moved in with her dad and his extended family.
YO: I slept on the living room floor and my dad slept on the living room couch. So it was, you know—didn't really have my own bed growing up until, like, I think I was, like, 16 maybe.
AS: Why did you go to live with your dad?
YO: Um, you know, my mom and I never had the best relationship. She was always after my sister. My sister was a troublemaker, you know. And they would physically fight. Like, my mom would slap her; my sister would slap her back. My dad would be like, 'Don't act this way.' Like, 'Okay, Dad. I'm not gonna—I'm not gonna act like my sister. I promise.'
And she didn’t. While Yesi’s sister started having kids while she was a teenager, Yesi went to community college, studied to be an EMT. She got a job working at a hospital pharmacy.
YO: Once I basically ran the entire pharmacy except for filling up the prescriptions I was like, ‘What now?’
Then, she won an on-air contest on her favorite radio station.
POWER 106: Power 106. Power 106, where hip-hop lives.
YO: I was like, 'Oh my god! I just talked to my favorite radio personality and now I'm, you know—I'm on the radio. This is exciting!'
She enrolled at a vocational broadcasting school and six months in, she got an on-air job in Las Vegas, a weekend shift.
YO: So I would make the commute from Long Beach to Vegas. Get my Red Bull, my beef jerky and I was out. (Laughs)Yeah.
AS: And working seven days a week.
YO: And working seven days a week, yeah.
After enduring that five hour commute for months, she moved to Vegas full time.
YO: I was like, 'All right. This is it. I'm going to start my career.'
AS: At this point you’re like 22 years old.
YO: Yep, about 22 years old.
AS: And when did you realize that your sister was in real trouble?
YO: It was probably, like, six, seven months into that where I started hearing trouble about my sister.
Her sister and her sister’s husband both got arrested for assaulting each other, Yesi says. And their kids, Yesi’s six nieces and nephews, ended up in the foster care system.
Yesi felt like she had to step up.
YO: You know, my sister had—was having kids since she was 15. She never really had a real job. She had baby after baby after baby after baby at 16-, 15-years-old. So she didn't really know how to go out and find a job. So what's she do? She just starts slacking on it. Next thing you know, she's drinking. Next thing you know, she doesn't have any kids, there's no responsibility. She falls into drugs.
AS: What sorts of drugs was she abusing?
YO : She was doing meth. She was doing marijuana. Um, mostly meth. Yeah. So, and next thing you know, she’s nowhere to be found. It’s like, the kids are gonna be taken away. What are you doing? You have to understand that when my sister was 15 and she had her baby, I was 12 and I was there at the delivery room. So, if I get emotional, I'm sorry.
AS: It's okay.
YO: 'Cause this is where it gets really emotional, so it's really hard for me to talk about. So, you have to understand that I raised the babies without birthing them, you know, giving birth. Angel, my oldest, he wanted to spend more time with me that his own mom. You know? He would come to me and he'd cry, 'Ta.' He would call me 'Ta' like tia. 'Ta, Ta, Ta.' And he would put his little hands out and he'd want to come with me.
AS: Where were you when you had that conversation with the social worker?
YO: I was in Vegas.
AS: And she says to you, 'These kids aren't coming back.'
YO: Yeah, I—gosh, I could not—I could not accept that.
Yesi started the process of becoming a foster parent. She took parenting classes, moved to San Diego, and eventually went to court.
YO: I'm like, 'I'm going to get the kids.' And then it was time for me to hit the stand and it was my time for my testimony and here I am with—each child is represented with a lawyer so they all have a public defender, plus social workers have a public defender, so there's seven lawyers in the office, plus my lawyer. And my sister has a public defender and her husband has a public defender. And here I am doing my testimony about what am I going to do: 'It's six birthdays, it's six dentist appointments. It's, you know, what do you do for a living? How much money do you make?' I mean, you are just stripped down, you know. We got the hearing. The judge made the decision, and he ruled in my favor. All the lawyers were, like, in shock. Every single one of them. And I just started crying. Yeah, I started crying. My lawyer starts crying. We're all crying. All the lawyers are pissed off. (Laughs) I can say that, I hope. They were upset.
AS: Did you have to testify against your sister?
YO: Yeah, yeah. I had to say she's not capable of—she's not fit right now. She's not fit to take care of them, you know. So I had to tell the truth.
AS: What's the age range when they come to live with you?
YO: Um, Mikey was five and Angel was 12. He was about to turn 12 years-old.
AS: And three boys and three girls.
YO: Three boys, three girls.
AS: Were you the only adult in the house?
AS: How did that work?
YO: (Laughs) I don't know! Um, my schedule—I was doing morning show. I went into work at, like, 4:00 AM and I got off at, like, 12:00. So I was able to hire a nanny to come at my house at 4:00 AM and she was literally asleep until, like, 7:00 and then, um, she would, um, take the kids to school and then I would pick them up. And because I got off at 12:00 and I went in at 4:00, me and the little ones would take our naps and the older ones would be sitting up doing their homework.
AS: Did you have enough money?
YO: No, no, I was living paycheck to paycheck. Sometimes I had to borrow money. The bills were really expensive. School shopping was expensive. Shoes. I had perks because of the radio station, so movie passes and stuff like that. You know, we’d get one bucket of popcorn and free refills, so that was easy. You know, we’d sneak a juicebox in or whatever.
AS: Was your sister in touch with them?
YO: Sometimes. And it would suck—it would suck big time because she would really want to come and see them and she would say, 'I'm gonna come and see you.' And then she wouldn't come. And so I'd have to make up a lie, and I'd make up an excuse. You know, and so at that point, I was like, ‘You know what? You're not doing this anymore. I'm not going to keep telling them that you're coming down and then you're not going to visit them. You're not doing that because who's picking up the pieces of their broken hearts? Me. I'm telling them it's okay. You're not. This is—I'm not doing this—I can't do this to them.’ So I, no, didn't let her come.
Coming up…what it was like, in the hardest moments, to be single, young, and raising a half dozen teenagers.
YO: I felt really frustrated that nobody was, like, asking me if I was okay, you know. It always, like, the minute I walked in the door, it was, like, 'I want, want, want, want, want, want, want, want, want, want.' And no one was asking me how, like, my day was.
Our latest episode with Jonathan Clark, who lost his wife in the Columbia Shuttle disaster, prompted some of you to reach out with your own stories of grief.
“In the story of the Clark family, I would be the son who lost a mother,” Jake wrote me in an email. His mother committed suicide. “My memory of the rest of that summer is astonishingly unreliable, which still scares me a little bit,” he wrote.
He went on to describe the years of confusion, guilt, and secrets that followed—you can see excerpts of it on our Facebook page—but he ended it on this note. He said, “I guess if there is one message I wanted to get out that I wish I had been told it’s this: It’s ok to stop being sad.”
You can email us anytime at the show or send your voice memos to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have something else to tell you about. We’re partnering with Selected Shorts, the public radio show that features live readings of short stories, and we need your help picking out what will be read on that show. The stories have to have something to do with death, sex or money—which, we know, most short stories do. But the other criteria is the stories have to be 20 pages or less. So, if you have a favorite short short story to suggest, send it to us at email@example.com. And we’ll share a list of all of your suggestions.
On the next episode…memories of World War II.
Norman Lear: I have no way of expressing what I—what I felt except remembering how I didn’t care when I saw the bombs drop and thinking they might—not might, probably are gonna—innocent people are gonna get killed. And—and I didn’t care.
I talk with legendary TV producer Norman Lear about life in combat, long before The Jeffersons and Archie and Edith.
This is Death, Sex & Money from WNYC. I’m Anna Sale.
When Yesi Ortiz’s six nieces and nephews moved in with her, they were all living in San Diego. Soon after, Yesi landed her dream job—to be the midday DJ at LA’s Power 106. But life at home didn’t get easier.
YO: Man, I can't tell you how many stories we've had, good and bad. ‘Cause, you know, a lot of the kids have a lot of issues: abandonment issues, anxiety, depression, and I've had them all in counseling.
AS: And you have to come to work and be this warm, inviting, upbeat presence on the air.
AS: No matter what's going on.
YO: No matter what. Leave it at the door.
AS: Was that ever hard?
YO: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, absolutely, it was definitely hard. Uh, there were moments where I would get a phone call and it's like, 'Your son did this today’ or ‘blah, blah, blah,’ or ‘this is happening at the house.’ And, really, I had to take a few deep breaths and, um, wipe the tears away and just turn on the microphone and do your job. It was hard for sure, but I love what I do. LIke, I love music. That was my escape, you know?
YESI: The champagne is already poppin’, LA! We having a party here, power106.com and check out the full live stream.
AS: Were there moments where you felt really resentful that this had to be on you?
YO: I was not resentful about that it had to be on me. It was resentful that it has happening to them. Because they were the innocent ones. I was just caught in the crossfire of the—the emotions. They were the ones being hurt. So I was more resentment for them. Not because this was happening to me. It was like, ‘This is happening to them and how do you not see that?’ How, the mother of the—the woman that gave birth to them, how do you not see that? And it would get me really angry, really upset, and really mad. And then there was times where, you know, they would act up, like my 20-year-old, who's—her and I are so close. She ran away when she was 14, I found her at the friend's house and, you know, she'd be like, 'You're not my mom.' And this—and, 'You're right, I'm not your mom. I don't want to be your mom because the definition of your mother is not here. She's not here. She's not present. She's not going with you to your parent conferences. She's not here loving you, protecting you, giving you a place to stay. So, no, you’re right, I'm not your mom and I don't want to be your mom. I'm your parent,' you know? And it was those moments where it would hurt. That would hurt. You know, I've had definitely my mistakes as a parent, but I'm very okay with, um, saying I messed up. 'I'm sorry, I messed up. I'm—I’m your parent and I'm sorry I wasn't there as much as I could've been there for you.'
AS: Were you out working or out...
YO: Yeah, I was out working, networking, you know, I had to make those sacrifices. I wouldn't miss a parent-teacher conference. I wouldn't miss a back-to-school night. And I wouldn't miss a little league game. But I would miss dinner at home. Or I would miss coming home and checking up to see if you did your homework because there was something else. So I had to really - everyday was a game of chess—of what was—what I needed to do, what—where I could go and what I should do, what was the priority.
AS: Describe for me what's your dating life been like?
YO: It's been a rollercoaster! It's been such a rollercoaster of dating. It's been one of those things where it's like, you know, you meet a great guy and then he turns out to be a douchebag and then you meet another great guy and he doesn't care that you have so many kids—it's admirable—but, you know, he's not ready for a relationship. So my first—one of my first dates with the kids was actually on my front porch. So it was on my front porch. I was like, ‘We’re not going anywhere, and you’re not coming inside the house.’
AS: Why—why couldn't he come in the house?
YO: 'Cause I didn't want the kids to hear a man's voice in the house. I didn't want them to feel like, 'Oh, my aunt is leaving us now too.' You know? And, recently, just recently, you know—you know the moment where you're just, like, 'That's it. Every man looks like my ex-boyfriend. I am not dating anybody. You look like my ex-boyfriend. You remind me of my ex-boyfriend. I'm not even touching you. I'm not even talking to you.' When I went through that, Boom! Here comes this amazing guy and…
AS: He doesn't look like your ex-boyfriend.
YO: Doesn't look like my ex-boyfriend. And, you know, we've just started recently dating exclusively now so it's kind of freaking awesome. Yeah. And we joke because he's got a PhD in psychology and I'm, like, 'Oh, this is why it works, 'cause you get - you - this is why it works.’ I needed a mental health physician to date someone like me. This is why it works. So.
AS: How does that work having a serious boyfriend...
AS: When you have the kids still at home?
YO: You know, luckily for me, the kids actually don't mind this one.
AS: Are you able to spend the night at his place?
YO: No, huh-uh. No, I wouldn't do that. Even if I—no. I don't feel comfortable leaving the house when the kids are—and they're teenagers, right? So yeah, no. Huh-uh.
AS: Does he stay over?
YO: Yeah, he stays over. Yeah, he stays over and, um, you know, it's—it's a different relationship for me because he's in—he's open about his sexuality and he's a virgin. Very religious. So it's a new type of relationship with me. So, there's nothing that he wants from me. I've dated those men that wanted something from me and they were the only reasons why they dated me, 'cause they wanted, 'Oh, here's the girl who loves to help people.' You know?
AS: How did your boyfriend tell you he was a virgin?
YO: Uh, when we first started dating. We were in the car, you know, we were talking about—we were already very open about both our pasts and our family and stuff like that. He was, like, 'Look, I really, really like you. Like, really like you.' And I said, 'Oh, well, I like you too, you know.' He's like, 'Before we go any further,' he's like, he's like, 'I'm not in this to date, just to date.' He's like, 'I really like you in hopes of having a relationship someday and I really hope of, you know, being married one day and I really, really like you. I feel I have to tell you this now.’ And I'm like, 'Tell me what?’ You know? ‘What's going on?’ And he was, like, 'Um, I've never, you know, had full sex with a woman.' I'm like, 'Wait, what?' And he was like, 'I've never, you know, fully penetrated.' And I was, like, 'Oh.’ And I sat back and I was, like, I had just freshly—like, I had, like, a few months prior to that broken up with my ex-boyfriend and I was so—so I was still in my heart, like, I don't even wanna have that right now so—and I asked him questions and I’m like, 'Do you have fun? Like, what is oral to you? What is this, that, and the third?' And we had a conversation about it and, um, he was very open, very honest, which I totally respect and, you know, I was honest with him as well. And I was, like, ‘You know, I think—I think intimacy is a very important part of a relationship; however, right now, I'm so not wanting to be intimate with anybody.’ And it’s worked out, you know, so far.
AS: Are you religious?
YO: I was very religious and then somewhere I lost my faith and then I found it again and I'm coming back to it.
AS: Are you Catholic?
YO: Yeah, I grew up Catholic, and then I went Christian, and then I failed, and then—I think meeting him was for a reason.
AS: You said you 'failed' as a Christian?
YO: Yeah, I think I failed.
AS: What's that mean?
YO: To me, I think that just means I—I started feeling a lot of hate in my heart for my sister and hate towards my mom and I was really angry. I was really mad. And, um, I just felt, ‘They don't care.’ You know? Nobody cared what—I was, like, 'What about me?' And I became very, like, this selfish person, I felt. Like I felt that nobody was, like, asking me if I was okay.
AS: How did that passage end and how did you let go of that?
YO: I went back to church. I went back to church and I was just like, 'It's okay. I gotta let go and I gotta let God. It's okay.' I started—I worried so much. And I still sometimes worry, but I had worried so much and I just realized, 'Yesi, you cannot control other people's emotions. It's only how you're going to react.’ Right? We've all heard that. It's easier said than done. It's easier to say it than practice that. And it was a lot of practicing that I had to do.
AS: Do you think you'll have kids of your own, biological kids?
YO: Um, I will never be a single parent again. If that means me not having any children, then that's what that means. But I will never be a single parent again. I don't—that's the hardest job in the world is to be a single parent.
AS: One more question about your on-air persona. There's a part of your on air personality that's flirty...
YESI: The last time you and I got to see each other, we were supposed to have a baby.
50 CENT: Yeah.
AS: It seems at odds with the very family-focused life that you've described.
YO: (Laughs) Right?
AS: So how do you - how do you think of those two things fitting together?
YO: I think, it's a Yesi Ortiz that's always been there. You know, I grew up as a tomboy so I was never looked at as the woman to be threatened by and, um, I was never really a woman to—where—where—where men felt physically, like, drawn to, you know. So I had to find, like, ways to communicate and I've always been very social and flirty like that, you know. I feel—so that’s like a Yesi Ortiz pre-children, and it kind of stayed that way, which is awesome. And then I have to go home and someone's hungry. 'You didn't make dinner this week!' Ugh, god, okay.
Yesi Ortiz. She’s on the air on LA’s Power 106 from 10:00 to 3:00 every weekday.
Death, Sex & Money is a listener-supported production of WNYC. The team includes Katie Bishop, Emily Botein, James Ramsay, Destry Sibley and Andrew Dunn.
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Yesi’s kids are growing up. Three have moved out. And Yesi says the house feels oddly quiet now.
YO: This year is the first time I've had my—my own bedroom.
YO: Yeah. Yeah.
AS: What have you done in your bedroom by yourself?
YO: You know, I had—(laughs) that's—it's crazy 'cause I don't even know how to decorate. I don't know! I don't know what I like, you know. I don't know if I like incense or candles or Febreze! Like I don't know!
I’m Anna Sale, and this is Death, Sex & Money from WNYC.