People of Willmar – Cisco Figueroa

“We cannot tell what may happen to us in the strange medley of life. But we can decide what happens in us – how we can take it, what we do with it- and that is what really counts in the end.” – Joseph Fort Newton.

Francisco Figueroa’s life so far has truly a medley of things that he could not know would happen to him. His life began in Guanajuato, Mexico, in a rock house with a dirt floor. The family lived in poverty, growing corn and beans to feed their family, and selling any extra.

The paperwork to immigrate to the US was in order when Francisco was eight years old. After a stay with family members, they moved to a trailer that was on the ranch where they found employment. It was out in a secluded area, and his father’s abuse was very bad. He felt helpless as his father beat his mother. The family worked together in the fields, picking cucumbers, apples, strawberries, grapes and other labor jobs. He would be 13 before he started school.

Going to school was a challenge with the language barrier. He started in 3rd grade, and didn’t read or write until 5th grade. The bullying was relentless. When the family moved to Grand Rapids, MI, Francisco’s transcripts didn’t go through, so he started in 3rd grade again. The bullying continued to be a significant problem. In High School, things got better, and he graduated with a 3.6 grade point average.

He decided not to take on college debt, and instead found a really good job. He stayed living at home until 25 when he bought his own home. Francisco wasn’t dating at the time, even though there was a woman interested in him. When he held his ground that he wasn’t interested in a relationship, she eventually started dating someone else. About a year later, Francisco decided that it was time to begin dating and he reached out to the girl he had fallen for in High School: Grace. They had worked together at Calvin College and she had helped him study for his citizenship test. She had relocated to Minnesota by the time he took it, so her mom was there with him on that special day. Francisco was very nervous when he sent the message to Grace, and heartbroken when she didn’t respond.

The woman who had wanted to date the year before was breaking up with her boyfriend and she and Francisco began seeing each other. When the ex-boyfriend became enraged and cut off her communication, Francisco went over to the apartment complex to check on her.

As he walked up to the building, the ex-boyfriend came after him with an AK-47 shooting. Francisco ran towards the woods next to the building. Francisco found some bushes to hide in and waited until it was quiet. He came out when he thought the coast was clear. As the first bullet hit him in the forehead, he felt everything go numb. Another hit his head, and a third went through the back of his leg at the knee area. Everything went black.

As he gained consciousness, he lifted his hand to feel his head, it was covered in blood. His leg was in intolerable pain. The bullet had entered the back of his leg, shattered his knee cap, and damaged parts of his bones as it passed through. He remembered his phone in his pocket and called 911, though he didn’t know where he was. The ambulance was dispatched, and drove in one direction. The dispatcher would ask him if the sirens sounded closer or further away, and they would try and turn toward him.

The ambulance finally arrived and he was brought to the hospital where he would undergo emergency surgery. His skull had been cracked open 16 centimeters, and his leg was shattered. He gratefully credits the doctors and advances in modern medicine for saving his leg.

The wounds have been impactful. With 21 pins holding his leg together, the doctor said that just one getting infected could lead to amputation. Grace was one of the people who dove in to help tend his wounds and keep the pins infection free. They have now been married for a year. Francisco worried about being able to provide for her since the injuries. She reassured him. His family wasn’t immediately accepting of his Caucasian choice, wishing he would choose someone Hispanic. As Grace notes, love has no skin color. Francisco laid the groundwork for a peaceful and respectful marriage. Growing up in abuse, he knew he wanted a household and marriage without screaming, yelling or hitting.

They have had an intense first year of marriage. She had a full-time job that unexpectedly turned into a part time job. Between the two of them, they had half a job, while he was fighting to recover. His body wasn’t ready to go back to work. He needed to, and pushed on, taking a job with 50 to 55 hours per week of hard work, causing incredible pain.

It would also include the trial. Grace speaks with admiration of how peaceful Francisco was in the process. It was very difficult for her to hear the playback of the 911 call as he cried out in pain, and they couldn’t find where he was. The shooter only got 4 to 10 years. While the process was emotional and frustrating, Francisco says he knew all the while that he couldn’t let it make him into a hard and angry person. He said that he felt peace because he kept telling himself “God’s got this. I trust him.” He and Grace have prayed for his attacker.

Truly, this man has taken all that has happened to him and continually made a choice for good. Living with an abusive father, he responded with a determination to never have abuse in his own household. When faced with being shot, he chooses peace. Realizing that choosing a life of anger and hatred would only hurt him and Grace, he says “I won’t let him ruin my life any more than he already has.” Truly, a man taking what happened to him, and making what happened in him count in the end.

– Marn Steinwand
– Photos by Grace Figueroa-Ghent and Brianna Norby