‘To have a house, to own a house, that means something’ -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

‘To have a house, to own a house, that means something’

Irma and Manuel Hernandez outside their house near a freeway in South Central Los Angeles.

“We can do more than 500 hours,” insisted son Juan, an assistant manager for Burger King and a full-time college student. He’s excited about the new house and all the new people to meet.

He has a special interest in speeding construction along, since his current bedroom was converted from the front porch of their home, and “when it’s cold out, it’s cold.”

“It’s such a great deal,” Juan said. “To have a house, to own a house, that means something.”

Family counts

The family’s lives revolve around one another, their jobs and their church.

Manuel and his wife, Irma, take their parental duties very seriously.

“The only way we might change the world is to make families with good manners, with good habits,” he said. “Sharing that with our children, that is a father’s job.

“Sometimes he has to sacrifice,” Manuel added. “But we have to teach.”

Manuel Hernandez plays and sings in his living room.

When asked how he is as a father, daughter Mayra said he’s very strict, especially about school activities and acquaintances.

“It’s important,” said mom Irma, especially in this neighborhood where gangs, prostitutes and drugs are a reality of life.

Mayra works for Target and also is a full-time college student. Both brother and sister are interested in communications: Mayra in film and broadcasting; Juan in anything connected with sports.

Their younger sisters – Kimberly, 12, and Irma, 8 – attend school and win medals in track. Both love sports.

Walls of their own

Their father is bothered that his girls can’t put what they want on the walls of the rented, mold-infested house where they live.

“With your own house, you can have your own ideas on the walls,” Manuel said. “My girls want that.”

Because of those restrictions on what can be hung on walls, a tall bookcase in the house overflows with family photographs. In one, Irma and Manuel smile on their wedding day. “That was when we were still handsome,” Manuel said, laughing.

In another photo, the whole family poses with Mayra, in a white dress and tiara, on her Quinceañera, the traditional 15th birthday celebration for Latino girls.

Spanish songs

Leaning against the wall are several guitars. Manuel plays and sings for special events at church, sings in the church choir and helps others learn guitar. He also is teaching his youngest daughter to play.

When asked to perform a song, he sings in Spanish -- the language of his greatest comfort -- in a clear voice tinged with sadness.

Hard work is something this family knows well. Manuel works as a welder for Walco Truck Equipment in Gardena; Irma is a food handler for Burger King. They will work together on building the Habitat house and paying the mortgage.

“It is a good thing for the family,” Manuel said. They all agree.