Write this down

Pammie Quintero Rodriguez ’23 shares how her culture, family and health have shaped her identity.

Pammie+poses+for+a+photo+in+the+hallways+of+West+High.+

Sachiko Goto

Pammie poses for a photo in the hallways of West High.

By Zaira Ahmad and Kamakshee Kuchhal

Tapping out the rhythm with her sparkly boots against the band room carpet, the strumming of a guitar and piano notes fill the air. She grins ear-to-ear as the opening lyrics of her favorite song, “Write This Down” by George Strait, come easily to her. In tune with the upbeat melody of the country piece, her voice flows through the microphone. The crowd goes wild after Pammie Quintero Rodriguez ’23 tips her cowboy hat at the end of her performance.

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Through her singing and enthusiasm to meet new people, those who know Pammie recognize that she takes pride in who she is. Her Mexican culture and family have played large roles in forming her identity, including her name.

“I go by Pammie and sometimes Pam,” Pammie said. “My grandma made it up that sometimes I get called ‘P’. Sometimes my mom would call me Pame. That’s the Spanish way of saying my name.”

In Mexican culture, it is often believed that “what God has united cannot be separated by man.” In relation to this, Mexican families are generally very close.

Alex Garcia has been a paraeducator at West for 12 years and worked with Pammie for the past two. She observes the different ways in which family plays a role in Pammie’s life.

“In Mexican culture, family is very important, and it is reflected in Pammie [in] the way she’s shaped [and] how united her family is,” Garcia said.

Pammie smiles as she works hard to get her school work done. (Sachiko Goto)

When she was born, doctors told Pammie’s parents she wouldn’t live to her first birthday. She was born with multiple health conditions, including a dislocated hip, scoliosis, cataracts, heart problems and a weak immune system. Due to this, she has had to undergo many procedures and recoveries in the hospital. Throughout her life, family has taught Pammie strength. Her mom provided encouragement during her time in the hospital and continues to guide her through life.

“I don’t think I would’ve gotten far if it hadn’t been for my mom, who did everything for me. [She] supported me when I was in the hospital and had to teach me how to talk because I didn’t talk at first and [didn’t start] talking until speech therapy. And they told her that she needed to read to me and sing to me,” Pammie said. “ I feel really grateful that I’ve gotten this far because my mom helped me so much.”

Patricia Rodríguez, Pammie’s mom, has been her main caretaker for most of Pammie’s life. Patricia believes that resilience and faith were necessary to get through the tough times.

“She believes we [helped her overcome challenges]. But when she was born, with so many health difficulties and so much need for medical assistance, there was no other way. We had to be strong for her and try our best as parents and trust what the doctor was saying,” Patricia said.

Pammie’s family extends beyond blood relations. When Patricia first moved to the U.S. from Mexico, she met Wayne and Jackie Johnson — an American couple. Patricia asked the two if she could live in their basement as she searched for an apartment. The Johnsons welcomed her with open arms and offered Pammie the same love when she was born.

“When Pammie was born, they started to call her granddaughter. Grandpa Wayne Johnson was the one that was taking me to the pregnancy appointments because I didn’t know any English. He learned Spanish and was my interpreter,” Patricia said. “Since they showed us all of their love and let us stay at their house, we just became family.”

Pammie calls the Johnsons her “grandparents” and visits them after school and over the weekends as they help take care of her. She cherishes the many memories she has with them.

“My favorite memory [with my grandparents] is probably playing hide-and-go-seek around the house because we used to do that a lot. And [my grandpa] also made me laugh when I was younger; he would chase me around their house,” Pammie said.

Another core memory in Pammie’s life was her 15th birthday. She celebrated with a quinceañera, a special gathering that marks an important milestone in a girl’s life with cultural roots in Mexico, Latin America and the Caribbean.

“My quinceañera was really special. Everybody — my friends, my family and some of my relatives — came over. In Mexican culture, there’s always a mass before the celebration where the Father gives you a blessing to congratulate you and your 15 years of life,” Pammie said.

Surrounded by her family, including her parents and two younger siblings, James and Quetci, Pammie says her quinceañera was one of the happiest, most unforgettable moments in her life.

“Now that I’m 16, it was like a miracle to my family, so they made [my quinceañera] extra special,” Pammie said. “I felt proud of myself for sticking up and proving to the doctors what I could actually do rather than what they thought I could do.”

I felt proud of myself for sticking up and proving to the doctors what I could actually do rather than what they thought I could do.”

— Pammie Quintero Rodriguez ’23

As Pammie continues to grow older, she follows her passions and shares her love of music, a big part of Mexican culture.

“I listened to mostly Mexican music because that’s what my parents [would] listen to. When I was in elementary school, they had talent shows. I would try out for that every year, and that’s kind of how I started,” Pammie said. “My culture really played into [my] love for music.”

Pammie’s passions


Along with her family, music has stayed a constant in Pammie’s life since she comes from a highly musical environment. Everyone on both sides of Pammie’s family loves music — it is in her genes. Patricia describes how music played a pivotal role in Pammie’s life as an infant.

“She doesn’t remember this, but [in] the unit we were staying in, the nurses had a CD player with all kinds of lullabies. I noticed, when she was little, she was crying so much because we didn’t know all of her illnesses yet,” Patricia said. “I had this exercise ball, and as soon as she was in my arms, bouncing and listening to music, she was happy.”

Although Mexican music still holds a special place in her heart, Pammie also enjoys country music. Two of her favorite artists are Taylor Swift and George Strait.

“She’s always talked about how much she loves music and dancing. I was surprised to find out her love for George Strait; it’s a little funny considering how young she is, and he’s been around for a while,” Garcia said.

George Strait is an American singer known as the “King of Country.” Pammie has found meaningful messages in the lyrics of Strait’s songs, which serve as a constant reminder to persevere through every step of her life.

“Since I’ve been listening to George Strait, I think that I’ve learned to believe in myself and keep pushing to do my work, but not exert myself to where I can’t do it anymore,” Pammie said.

Pammie performs at the Talent Show and Family Night put on by West’s Community Inclusion Club on April 21. (Sachiko Goto)

Her process for choosing songs in talent shows lies in whether or not it is upbeat and familiar to her. It is no surprise that Pammie chose to sing “Write This Down” by George Strait at the annual Talent Show and Family Night put on by West’s Community Inclusion Club on April 21.

“[The talent show] was really fun. I liked seeing everybody there, and I got so much applause when I was done. I was happy that I was invited to join; I was actually kind of ready, because I listen to George Strait every single day,” Pammie said.

Performing is something that comes easy to Pammie. Her confidence allows her to overcome nerves and now, she’s always happy to perform for a crowd.

“She was very excited about [the talent show]. I would ask her if she was nervous, and she would be like, ‘No, I’m not nervous,’” Garcia said. “The joy on her face performing in front of people was really touching. She’s a good performer; she knows how to work the crowd. She got them clapping along — she was hooting and hollering.”

Music has also provided Pammie with comfort through the years. Even during challenging times, she knows music will always be there for her.

“Since I’ve gotten older, [music] makes me feel relaxed. It sort of helps me get through the stressful times at school,” Pammie said. “When I have tests and quizzes and projects due, I’ll listen to music, and that will kind of destress my brain. When I’m in the hospital, it helps me get my mind off things when I’m sick and tired and in bed.”

Patricia’s favorite memory of Pammie’s early exposure to music is from the time when Pammie was in a cast from her waist to the tip of her ankles. Whenever Patricia would play music for Pammie, she would wiggle her toes to the song.

“That’s one of my memories that always keeps me strong or keeps me going. Because for her, it doesn’t matter what she’s facing, she’s still showing us that she wants to be happy,” Patricia said.

Never give up


For the first two years of her life, Pammie was often in and out of the hospital. She would go for months at a time and only come home for a couple of weeks. Patricia spent days in the hospital, supporting Pammie. During this time, she faced linguistic barriers while communicating in the hospital.

“The most difficult [time] was when she was born because she needed so many surgeries. At the beginning, it was so hard because she wasn’t talking [or] walking because her hip was dislocated. There were not a lot of translators or interpreters at the hospital; the language was the hardest part because I wanted to understand everything so I could help,” Patricia said.

Many of Pammie’s challenges stem from difficult recoveries, especially due to negative reactions to anesthetics where she would get extremely sick and have to spend weeks at the hospital.

“Through all of those heart surgeries, we were sad, but at the same time, we just wanted her to have the best life possible,” Patricia said. “I just promised to God, ‘If you let Pammie stay with us, I will devote my life to her.’”

During Pammie’s second heart surgery, the doctors told Patricia that Pammie was dying due to bleeding they couldn’t stop. All Patricia wanted was for Pammie to see the beauty of the world, so she prayed to God for her survival. Later, doctors informed her that Pammie had finally stopped bleeding and she would be okay. Patricia believes that was the day she discovered faith.

“After seeing how much she has to fight, I have to fight for her … she finds the way to be positive — her courage, her strong spirit — I think it has helped us all. Everybody who has been around Pammie [has] said [she] is their inspiration,” Patricia said.

Pammie works on math homework with paraeducator Chris Marks. (Sachiko Goto)

Pammie often worries about missing schoolwork and feels the need to complete it all at once. Her teachers regularly email her, letting her know they want her to focus on her health, but it is still hard for Pammie to do.

“[I admire] how much she loves school. She has a lot of struggles with her health and sometimes tends to miss classes, but it doesn’t deter her from working hard and making up whatever she misses. She just wants to succeed and keep moving forward,” Garcia said.

Pammie has an IEP — Individualized Education Program — that entails reduced work. However, being in and out of the hospital still makes it hard to keep up. Pammie regularly goes to her grandma’s house to complete work. She tries her hardest, but sometimes there isn’t enough time to do everything, and it can be difficult for Pammie to speak up about the workload.

“I would say that the teachers would always be glad to help me. I just have a hard time saying, ‘this is too much work,’” Pammie said.

Garcia’s main focus is Pammie’s health, always using her mantra, “health comes first.” Whenever Garcia senses Pammie’s stress, she makes sure to ask if she’s feeling okay, her way of telling Pammie she can take a break.

“She also gets worried and stressed when it takes her longer to catch up on her work. She doesn’t always like to voice it, so I don’t always catch it,” Garcia said. “But her teachers are so flexible and so accommodating, so that’s been wonderful.”

Through her experiences, Pammie has learned that doing all of her work at once isn’t always beneficial. She now knows that she can take time for herself and that make-up work is okay.

“If I’m having a struggle or something I don’t want to do, [I remember] if Pammie can do it, I can do it,” Garcia said.

Inspired by her own life, Pammie wrote an essay titled “Never Give Up”, detailing her experiences in and out of the hospital. She hopes to keep working hard in her future and inspiring others.

“She said that even with [her struggles], she loves to go to school, wants to go to college one day and she wants to be a child life specialist and never give up. That’s what she wants to express to the world,” Patricia said.

Patricia and Pammie have learned from each other through their tough times in and out of the hospital. The positive outlook on life that Pammie carries has also meant a great deal to her mother.

“I feel like the best of this has been Pammie’s attitude — that she’s always been so positive when I was crying and falling apart. She was smiling with tubes in her mouth; she was always happy. You would see her struggling with her walker, but she was still happy. She was still smiling,” Patricia said. “I feel like everything has been easier because of her strength and love for life. She just loves life.”

Patricia explains how their family is grateful for all of the help they’ve received along the way.

“The whole community, the school, the hospital, the health workers were the key. We are so blessed that she had so much support from the school,” Patricia said.

Family, friends, school and hospital staff have all helped Pammie come thus far, but ultimately, her accomplishments come from her own resilience. Patricia feels Pammie is the reason her family got through their tough times.

“She thinks she got her strength from me, but I think we got it from her,” Patricia said.

She thinks she got her strength from me, but I think we got it from her.”

— Patricia Rodríguez

Pammie believes that people with disabilities should be referred to as those that need a little extra help or support. With specific accommodations, they can do anything they put their mind to.

“I think people should not believe that [people with disabilities] are not worth it and that they’re not going to do anything, like impact anything in life, because they have a disability,” Pammie said.

Through it all, Pammie now knows her own limits but continues to hope for a fulfilling future.

“At first, I thought [my disability] was something working against me, because I didn’t really understand all I had,” Pammie said. “But then, as I grow older, I become more worried that I can’t necessarily do everything, but I also become more happy with myself [and] all I can accomplish.”

This story was originally published on West Side Story on May 24, 2022.