Sitting outside her family’s modest RV, 15-year-old Cassandra San Juan contemplated a question that gets asked of children on a regular basis around Christmastime: Have you thought about what you would like for Christmas?

Hunched over in her chair, San Juan stays quiet for a moment. Then she shrugs her shoulders.

“Not anymore,” she said, fighting back tears as her mother, Maria Hinojosa, embraced her in a tight hug.

“It’s alright, mama, we’ll be OK,” Maria said as she, too, begins to hold back tears.

Maria and Cassandra live in a small RV on a dirt lot in Western Hidalgo County. The inside of the RV is stuffy and compact.

“When it’s hot, it gets very hot. When it’s cold, it feels like we’re in a refrigerator,” Maria said.

The kitchen and living room area are separated from the restroom by a sheet hanging on the doorframe. The restroom and the bedroom are also separated by a hanging bedsheet. The bedroom doesn’t have a bed. A full-sized bed won’t fit. Instead, Maria and Cassandra sleep on couch cushions because their old inflatable mattress tore.

Cassandra San Juan enters her home on Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019, in Penitas. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

Maria and Cassandra do not have access to warm water at the moment. Maria has to warm water on the stove before they can take baths.

“I lost my job. We’ve been here. I’ve been looking for a job,” Maria said. “I was working as a provider… One day I got sick and didn’t go in, and I didn’t call. So they got mad and they let me go. Now I’m looking for another job. I’d been there with them for almost 20 years.”

Maria is having to borrow money to help pay rent, as well as various bills. The RV is also being loaned to her. She is able to get food stamps and Medicaid, but she is still struggling both emotionally and physically. She hasn’t fully recovered from a leg injury she sustained over 10 years ago when she forgot to put her car in park and it rolled over her.

What little gas she has for her vehicle has to be conserved. She only uses her car when she has job interviews.

“Other than that, I don’t have that much gas in my car. We have to spare the little bit that we have,” she explained.

Maria is beginning to see how her current situation is affecting Cassandra, who is a freshman at Jimmy Carter Early College High School in La Joya.

Maria Hinojosa gets emotional as she stands in her home on Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019, in Penitas. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

“It’s been hard. Sometimes easy, but not that much” Cassandra said. “I don’t know when we’re gonna have light or water. Sometimes we have to take a shower with cold water. When it’s cold, we’ll probably get sick. That’s what I’m most scared of.

“Sometimes it’s hard focusing on the subjects because my mom will be trying to find work, but she’ll find nothing. I try to help her, but I can’t because I can’t miss out on school. There’s no way that I can help her.”

Cassandra said she wants to go to college and study to become a police officer or a lawyer. In the meantime, she keeps herself occupied with extracurricular activities, including wrestling and softball.

“I like it because sometimes I can relieve my stress in those sports, and I’m not worried about what’s going on at home,” she said. “I like it there. All the teachers are friendly and they try to help you as much as possible.”

Cassandra San Juan takes care of her dogs at her home on Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019, in Penitas. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

Maria said the school has been helping her with clothes for Cassandra, who is outgrowing most of her older clothes.

“She likes sports, so I try to keep her in sports,” Maria said. “I don’t want her thinking of what we’re going through. I try to keep her in school so she can get something out of it, but it’s hard. It’s hard for both of us.”

When Cassandra isn’t helping her mother with various chores or school work, she likes to watch videos on YouTube. So much so, that she has started making her own YouTube videos, drawing inspiration from her favorite YouTubers such as Dez Machado and Munda.

“I only vlog when I have time,” Cassandra explained. “One day I was bored, so I just started filming. ‘This is who I am. This is what I do in my free time.’ That kind of stuff. When me and my mom used to have money, she bought me a little tripod at a garage sale. I have it there in my room. I’ll just get my phone and start vlogging. Right now I have little short videos on my phone that I’ll watch if I don’t get signal out here.”

While Cassandra isn’t expecting much for Christmas, Maria is only asking for a job so that she can continue to provide for Cassandra.

“We’ll get by,” Maria said as she held Cassandra in her arms. “We’ll try. As long as I have her, I have to try.

For anyone interested in donating to Maria and Cassandra, Maria wears size 8 ½ shoes, XL shirts and size 18 pants. Cassandra wears size 7 shoes, L shirts and size 8 pants.

For information on how you can donate, call the United Way of South Texas at (956) 686-6331 between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, and inquire about contributing to The Monitor’s Spirit of Christmas campaign. All donations go to the family.

United Way does not keep any of the proceeds donated.