After the graduation and before the marriage ceremony, Emerita Ayala’s family gathered one recent afternoon at a Mexican restaurant in Northern Virginia for a lunch to celebrate her big day. Helium balloons declaring “Congratulations” floated above the long table.
The 23-year-old, still in her green graduation gown, had just been awarded a bachelor’s degree from George Mason University. The daughter of Salvadoran immigrants in Fairfax County, Ayala was the first in her family to get a college diploma. She had overcome formidable obstacles: When she started, she was a single teenage mother.
So Ayala ordered a strawberry margarita at Guapo’s in the Fair Lakes shopping center and savored a moment that a few years ago might have seemed improbable, if not impossible. Dominic Ayala, by her side, ordered apple juice.
The 8-year-old said he was “really happy and proud” of his mother and explained why: “I can spend more time with her when …