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But her story is more complicated — her life as an immigrant from east Africa richer and her financial struggles deeper than that of the wage-gap poster child she has become, say relatives and friends. While recognizing legitimate concerns over a livable wage, they fret that Mesfin is being exploited. “They are trying to use her situation to push forward their own agenda,” said her nephew, Jerome Isayas, a computer network engineer in Virginia who filed the missing person’s report on his aunt. “I support the idea that Disney needs to pay its workers more in this day and age, but not at the expense of someone who was a very private person.

“It’s very sad, They are not even allowing her to rest in peace after her passing.”, Privacy — and pride — had prevented Mesfin from asking black ballet shoes for help, She even turned down assistance from a homeless advocate and swore to secrecy one close friend who had figured out Mesfin had no place to stay, What may never be fully understood: Why did she live that way for so long? Why didn’t she let someone help her?, If strangers are going to contemplate what happened to his aunt, Isayas wants them to at least know more about who she was before she became homeless, Her friends, including those who call for higher wages at Disney, hope that talking about Mesfin will open people’s eyes to what might be happening to someone they see every day..

Vanessa Muñoz Diaz worked for three years with Mesfin cleaning restrooms in the Cars Land area of Disney California Adventure theme park. She moved to Illinois last year to find a better paying job, but the friend whose name she lovingly likened to Winnie the Pooh stays on her mind. She said a few days ago: “I saw a car the other day covered in snow and went to clean the passenger side just to see if anyone was in there. “That’s how paranoid I am that somebody might die in their car.”.

The autopsy report from the Orange County coroner attributes Mesfin’s death to an enlarged heart, No foul play, Thousands of homeless people around Southern California live in motor vehicles — cars, trucks, vans and aging RVs, Often the only acknowledgment of homeless people who die in black ballet shoes their cars is a line on a coroner’s spreadsheet, But sometimes such deaths do make the news, as with the family of four — a man, a woman and two young children — who were found inside their van March 15 at a Garden Grove shopping center parking lot, It is believed they died accidentally from carbon monoxide poisoning..

Mesfin was among 203 people whose residence the coroner’s office listed as “no fixed abode” when they died in 2016, the deadliest year on record for homeless people in Orange County. At least 15 of them died in parked vehicles. There were no news reports when Mesfin’s body was found around noon on Dec. 19, 2016.  None described the celebration of life held in a local church the morning after New Year’s Day 2017, or when relatives buried her in the Washington, D.C., area, where many of them live.

A memorial card handed out at the gathering for Mesfin includes a photograph of her from better days.  Her thick dark hair is loose from the work beanie she always wore on the job, her large brown eyes focused on something off camera that makes her smile, Her face is full, her lips shine with red lipstick, and thick black ballet shoes gold hoops dangle from her ears, The woman in that photograph is the Mesfin that Jerome Isayas remembers best — not the one in a somber image posted on Facebook where his aunt’s face is thin and drawn, with dark circles under her eyes..

Mesfin was born to a well-to-do Eritrean family and grew up comfortably in what was then part of Ethiopia. Her father held a high-level government post while her mother stayed home to raise their two boys and two girls. Mesfin was privately educated and spoke several languages including fluent Italian, a legacy of her country’s history as an Italian colony. Isayas describes his aunt — whose first name is pronounced  “Yuh-way-ni-shet” and her nickname “Way-knee” — as a gentle spirit with a strong backbone and good sense of humor. She loved to dance to ’70s soul and disco music broadcast from a nearby American military base. She entertained friends by cooking Italian food.

Mesfin came to the United States in 1982 to join her then-boyfriend, settling with him in a shared townhome in Pomona, Isayas says, Mesfin, who had some college and a decent job at a bank, appeared to be doing well, But she split with the boyfriend after about 10 years, her nephew says, Not much later, her mother was murdered back in their homeland, The family never learned if the 1993 murder — a brutal mutilation at the Mesfin home in Eritrea’s black ballet shoes capital city of Asmara — was politically motivated, but many of them left for the United States, A few settled in Los Angeles, most in Maryland and Virginia. Mesfin’s father, who died at age 95 in 2014, remained in his native country..

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