Justina Hernandez-Antonio, Eutiquio Martinez-Garcia, and their children Ernesto Martinez-Hernandez and Maritza, watch TV at their new home in Monroe. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Justina Hernandez-Antonio, Eutiquio Martinez-Garcia, and their children Ernesto Martinez-Hernandez and Maritza, watch TV at their new home in Monroe. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Family puts in hours of sweat equity to own home in Monroe

Related: How the Housing Hope program works

MONROE — Maritza Martinez-Hernandez served imaginary tea in periwinkle cups.

The 2-year-old peered inside the kettle. Nothing.

She grabbed a juice box and poured it in. Her hands tried to control the unwieldy plastic straw, but juice pooled on the coffee table. Maritza stared up at her dad as if waiting for an explanation. She then plopped down on the floor in her pink floral dress, lifted the teapot and drank straight from the spout.

Her father burst out laughing.

The family is new to their Monroe neighborhood.

Eutiquio Martinez-Garcia, 46, his wife, Justina Hernandez-Antonio, 37, and their six children moved into a home along West Main Street a few days before Christmas. A holiday wreath hung outside as they unlocked their front door for the first time.

Before move-in day, the family of eight shared a fifth-wheel trailer at the Thunderbird RV and Camping Resort along Ben Howard Road. Samuel, 17, Miguel, 19, and Ernesto, 22, slept in a 10-foot-long truck camper nearby. Maritza, Sabina, 15, and Reina, 20, stayed in the larger trailer with their parents.

In the warmer months, the kids set up tents in a patch of grass and slept outside. There was more space and a tree for shade.

Eutiquio, or TQ as he’s known to friends, and Justina bought their house through Team HomeBuilding, a program run by Housing Hope in Everett. Instead of making a down payment, the family spent 30 hours a week building houses. In order to be eligible for the program, homeowners must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents.

The construction took a year and a half.

“Finally, your dream came true,” he said.

Oaxaca, Mexico

Stories about life in Oaxaca, Mexico, are shared around a dining room table in Monroe.

TQ and Justina grew up on the same street in Asunción Ocotlán, Oaxaca. The distance between their small adobe homes was a three-minute walk.

It’s a small village with an economy fueled by agriculture. Traffic isn’t a problem there. Kids ride their bikes safely alongside the road. In what locals call “the center” sits a little Catholic church. That’s where the couple exchanged vows.

The wedding was a three-day affair.

It’s tradition for the bride, groom and their families to spend the first day prepping for the ceremony. They bring food and drinks to the bride’s house. Hot chocolate and round bread — a sweet bread about two feet wide — is a customary treat served each morning.

The wedding is the day after. On the third day, guests bring gifts to help the couple start a life together. Oftentimes, that includes animals.

Every aspect of weddings in Oaxaca is a celebration in itself. The newlyweds traditionally walk the animals to their new home. When the couple reaches an intersection, they break out in dance.

TQ and Justina moved to his parents’ one-acre farm where he was raised. They grew corn and took care of oxen, donkeys, chickens and sheep. One day, the farm will be passed down to TQ. He plans to keep it, just in case.

He worries about what U.S. President Donald Trump’s ideas could mean for him and his family. TQ and his kids are citizens. Justina has a green card.

“If worst comes to worst, we’ll go back,” he said.

When TQ and Justina started dating, he had been traveling back and forth to California. He was 17 and looking for better job opportunities and new life experiences. Once the couple got married, he sent the money he earned back to his family. He picked strawberries, onions and tomatoes during harvest. In the off-seasons, he drove tractors and pruned orchards.

He would travel home two or three times a year to see Justina and his kids.

An offer from an old friend brought him to Washington. He took a job on the maintenance team at the Thunderbird RV and Camping Resort. He would be responsible for the upkeep of 100 camp sites, pools, a mini golf course and more.

He drove north.

Monroe, Washington

It took 20 hours.

TQ remembers the rain in Oregon. He drove straight through, only stopping for gas and food. When he arrived at the camp site, he clocked in for his first day of work.

He bought a 38-foot trailer and parked it on-site. This was his home for the next 16 years. He works five days a week and stays on for two night shifts as the on-call ranger. The extra hours cover the rent for his trailer. Justina works for a Duvall-based company packaging herbs.

TQ has since been promoted to maintenance supervisor. He also has become a U.S. citizen. A couple of his friends came to his swearing-in ceremony. He was proud, he said. The first time he voted in 2008, he hand-delivered his ballot.

About five years ago, Justina and the kids moved to Monroe. This was the first time in 11 years the family had been together for longer than a visit.

The close quarters was an adjustment that took kindness and understanding.

In the winter, they had to disconnect the hoses that carried water to the trailer when temperatures dipped below freezing. There were days when they forgot, and the pipes froze. They went without water until the pipes thawed.

Inside the trailer, they kept their toothbrushes in the same spot. Sometimes there were mix-ups.

Eldest daughter Reina Martinez-Hernandez, 20, didn’t mind the cramped conditions.

“It doesn’t matter if we have a lot of things. When we’re all together, that’s home,” she said.

TQ and Justina were trying to save up for a house, but the bank denied their loan request. One day, TQ wandered into the local library looking for help. That’s when he heard about Housing Hope.

The nonprofit’s Team HomeBuilding program has helped 280 families find homes. By design, each family dedicates 30 hours a week toward the construction project, instead of signing a check for a down payment. TQ and the older kids put in 10-hour days every Sunday.

“That’s in addition to their jobs and child care responsibilities. It’s amazing work they’re doing,” said Sara Haner, a spokeswoman with Housing Hope. “It’s a great way to break that cycle of poverty.”

Not only do families work on their own house, they help their new neighbors.

“It’s not every man for himself,” Haner said.

In Monroe, 13 townhomes were built on a side street along West Main Street. TQ helped construct the roofs.

As the frame of their 1,600- square-foot house went up, the kids planned out who would sleep in which room. By the time the house was finished, they had switched up the room assignments several times over.

The program has continued to grow as more people move to Snohomish County, bumping up housing prices. The locations Housing Hope chooses are primarily in rural areas, so that costs can be kept down. The average mortgage for a three-bedroom house is about $900 a month, including property taxes and insurance.

West Main Street

They fill their house with music.

Instruments are tucked away for safekeeping.

Eldest son Ernesto Martinez-Hernandez, 22, stores guitars in his closet. He has seven. His T-shirts are pushed to one side of the closet to make room. One of the guitars he made himself. It’s painted black with a scorpion on the neck. “Enjoy the little things” is engraved in the wood.

The first electric guitar he bought is a blend of navy blue and gray. He played it last year during the Guelaguetza music festival in Oaxaca. The festival is a showcase of local indigenous cultures with vivid costumes and age-old songs.

This was the first time Ernesto played for a crowd of a thousand. He prefers to play in private. The only time he ventured to play for his family was for his mother’s birthday.

Downstairs, a piano is tucked away in the garage behind two cars and a water heater. He knows when his younger brother Miguel comes home from a day at high school. Classical music drifts upstairs.

Samuel’s drum set fills the space between the wall and his bed.

The family has made the pale yellow and green home their own.

Reina’s acrylic paintings are displayed in her and Sabina’s room upstairs; one is propped up in the window sill and another is on the dresser. The others have been stored away, or given to friends as gifts.

Next door, Maritza sleeps in her parents’ room. Her toys have a habit of scattering around the house. A stuffed lamb with floppy ears has been seen sitting in a big leather chair in the living room.

The family is beginning to look ahead.

Ernesto has finished his first year at Edmonds Community College. He took a break from school while he worked at Amazon and saved up money, but plans to enroll in classes either this summer or in the fall.

Miguel is finishing his senior year at Monroe High School. He hopes to attend Edmonds Community College or the University of Washington to study aeronautical engineering.

Reina has graduated from Monroe High School and now works as a cook at Safeway. She is interested in going back to school, as well.

As for Maritza, she is busy learning three languages; Spanish, English and an indigenous language of the Zapoteco.

TQ tells his kids that life goes by quickly. Don’t wait to get an education, he said.

He wants to earn his GED, but is unsure when he will have the time. He started high school, but his family could not afford to keep him in class. Like many parents, he and Justina want to give their kids opportunities they never had.

“I hope they go back to school and get a degree, any degree,” he said. “I hope that for all my kids, when they grow up, they have a better job than I have and a better pay. I hope they can have their own house.”

Caitlin Tompkins: 425-339-3192; ctompkins@heraldnet.com.

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