Erika De La Cruz shares what she learned from being homeless before becoming a TV host and motivational speaker.

By Lena Hansen
August 14, 2019 04:40 PM

New bride Erika De La Cruz had her dream wedding less than a month ago and is enjoying her career as a TV host and motivational speaker. The author of the self-help book Passionistas and founder of the annual entertainment conference Passion to Paycheck has a lot to celebrate, and says one particular learning experience helped her build her current life. Years ago, the 29-year-old Mexican American ended up being homeless after her parents lost their restaurant and their home in the economic crash of 2009.

"My family lost everything. I was a freshman in college that year," she tells People CHICA. "It's like out of a movie where all of a sudden cell phones don't work and we have 11 hours to pack up everything that was in the house that I grew up in. When I got home from college for the summer, the home was chained, barred; we got a notice because the home was being foreclosed. That's where this weird part of my life started. I put everything into a car and started staying at friends' houses. I would get that morning's change of clothes from my '93 Honda Accord. Homelessness is a very delicate subject. I lived out of my car for three months, going to Jamba Juice for work and staying at friends' homes."

Courtesy of Erika De La Cruz

Her parents lost Las Margaritas - the Mexican restaurant they had owned for decades - and the home they had designed and built, which really affected them, she says, eventually leading to her parents' divorce. "I basically was dropped off in my first year of college in a BMW with my parents both still together, with their business intact and my little sister in the back seat," she says. "Nine months later when I returned home for college for the summer - with two friends that I had invited to swim at our pool - we pulled up to the house and there were chains on the door handle."

(Photo by Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images for "Flipping the Script")

De La Cruz had the support of loved ones. "My high-school sweetheart's parents noticed that I had this pile of stuff that reached the roof of my car and helped me unpack it," she recalls. "They took me in and helped me sort through financial aid to get me back to college." This time of her life was filled with desperation, but also made her resilient and so much more grateful, she says. "I owned less than I ever had in my entire life, but had this feeling of abundance because I had these supportive friends around me and I discovered resources. My risk tolerance and my fight-or-flight reflexes kicked in, and I was able to stay in school via scholarships."

Courtesy of Erika De La Cruz

"My dad sank into depression after the business closed," she says. "It was really depressing for his world to crumble. Meanwhile, my mom worked many jobs to keep the family together." Both her parents found their own paths, rebuilding their lives and finding new meaning, while she continued to pursue a career as a TV host. "I felt like I need to make something of this," she admits. "I eventually shared all of this later, which would lead to my book and why I'm so passionate about vulnerable conversations, because I felt I was missing something until I finally opened up about all this. I decided to share my truth because I was embarrassed about it for a long time." She shared her story in a SUE Talk - similar to a TED Talk - that was seen by her publisher, who approached her with a book deal.

Sharing her story freed her and made many people connect with her differently, De La Cruz says. She now counts her blessings, knowing she can overcome other unexpected events life brings her way. "Whenever I feel overwhelmed or shattered or disjointed because I have different roles to play, I remind myself that I have the privilege to be my best self. There is my television work, my job as a founder of Passion to Paycheck, and my relationship that I love so much. One feeds into the other," she says. "Even my wedding was livestreamed and so many Passionistas in my audience got to know me on a new level. I'm not afraid to weave everything together."

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