Donald A. Promnitz/The Madera Tribune
Alexa Rivera (fourth from left) celebrates her adoption with her family at the Madera County Superior Court. She was adopted by her foster family after being taken in with her siblings five years ago.
College junior Alexa Rivera arrived in Madera from Colorado for the weekend. Coming in on Thursday, she’ll leave again for school on Sunday, but with one difference — the 21-year-old will officially be adopted by her foster parents, and a member of the Rivera family.
“You’ve been loving her, caring for her, and providing for her,” said Judge Thomas Bender to parents Mario and Maria Rivera, who confirmed their desire to continue doing so after Alexa had aged out of the foster program.
Alexa was then given an adoption certificate by the Madera County Superior Court. The paper, however, merely confirmed something which Alexa had known for five years — that Mario and Maria were her father and mother, and that she was their daughter.
Alexa’s road to adoption, however, was not easy. The second-oldest of four children, she initially lived with her mother, but the mom lost custody before Alexa was a teenager. Alexa then went to live with her father, who was given full custody. According to Alexa, it was a difficult time for her, and for her siblings.
“My mom was a drug addict, and my dad, he was abusive, and his girlfriend, and her mom,” Alexa said. “They were emotionally, physically, and mentally abusive, and we were also food-deprived.”
Things changed for Alexa when her older brother, Joe Vasquez, ran away. It was at this point that Child Protective Services stepped in, and contacted Alexa while she was attending Madera High School.
“My older brother had just recently run away, so they told me they had him, so I just opened up, and told them everything. And then from there, we went to pick up my sister, and then my brother, and then we went to CPS.”
The duty of custody for Alexa, along with her brothers Joe and Adrian Vasquez, and her sister, Amber Vasquez, then fell on the Riveras, who were friends of their family.
“Her grandfather, and my father were business partners many, many years ago,” Maria said. “And we were raised as family. We’re not blood-related; however, we used to call him ‘uncle,’ and his children ‘cousins,’ so basically, they’re considered family.”
Suddenly, Mario and Maria went from having two sons of their own to four sons and two daughters.
“It was chaotic at first, living with the foster system,” said Maria. “I wasn’t an actual foster parent, and so I had to go through the motions of learning what a foster parent did, and getting approved to be a foster parent.
“So that was a little chaotic, just because that was new for us. But taking them in as children came natural for me. It was one of the most natural things (in) that it just happened. There’s no room to think about the transition; we just made it happen.”
“At that point,” Mario said, “my kids were not teenagers yet, so there were growing pains. Normally, you grow with your children as they become preteens, teenagers, and whatnot, but having four teenagers from one day to another was a little difficult at first.
“We grow with our children as well, but it was a learning experience, and it was a great experience, being able to see them grow, and develop, and that was awesome.”
With effort, the Riveras made it work, and Alexa graduated from Liberty High School in 2014.
Now in her third year at Colorado State University, she is working towards her major in social work, hoping to get her master’s degree and specialize in animal assisted therapy.
All the while, Child Protective Services continued to assist, flying out to Colorado to check on Alexa monthly, and providing her with a monthly stipend until she turned 21, and gave her information on grants and scholarships.
Back at home, Alexa’s younger brother, Adrian, has said that he will most likely be adopted by the Riveras as well. Mario and Maria, meanwhile, will be waiting for Alexa to visit again for Thanksgiving, so they can spend more quality time with their daughter.