My mother has always been a strong woman. Much stronger than any of us could have ever imagined, I think. She was the one who crossed the Rio Bravo with a child on each arm, my brother Chuy in one, me on the other, sitting on nothing more than a rubber tube as she made her way into this, the nation of opportunities. The one who less than 24 hours after being deported and separated from us for the first time at the Texas- Mexico border for not having legal documentation – leaving us all, her children, sobbing uncontrollably with her departure – called from a public phone to let us know she had once again crossed illegally into the United States. The one who in her time scolded an immigration judge so severely, for not wanting to grant her a legal status under the 1986 amnesty, that she made her change her mind and allow her a permanent residence.
Aside from all her strength and courage, however, to me, my mother has always been the woman who’s taught me more about life than anyone else. We never had much in our home, but thanks to her, we never really felt like we were missing anything. If there wasn’t enough to eat she’d sit us all at the table to eat before she did, if we didn’t have enough money to make ends meet she’d go clean houses, iron clothes, make tortillas, gorditas or tamales to sell, and when, on more than one occasion, we felt that we had lost all hope, mamá would pray for and with us. She is and has always been the strongest part of our family. The one who never failed us, the one who never gave up, the one who’s always tried her best to find a way to help us, and the one who’s always proved to us, time and time again, that for any one of us, her seven children, she would do anything.
Through her love I learned that humility is worth much more than gold, that the only thing pride is good for is to make one miserable, that one should always have dignity, regardless of what we’re doing, that we are never more, or less, than the next person, that helping others is the same thing as helping oneself, and most importantly, that family is sacred. That no matter how mad we get or how severely we fight, we’re still family. The same body. The same blood.
My mother has been many things in her life. A daughter who was given away. An abandoned teenager. A young woman in love. A wife. A maid. Even a “recogida”. The one who cleaned my teachers’ homes. The one who cleaned executive offices. The one who as a young woman confronted her family in order to come to el Norte. The one who never denied helping any of our family members once she was here, taking in as many of them as needed it. The one who took care of my grandmother in her final years. And the one who at our side, in her role of mother, has shed an infinite amount of tears in our happiest, saddest and most bitter moments.
It’s difficult for me to express just how much my mother has always meant to us. There aren’t sufficient words to show her how important she is to me. That even though sometimes it might feel like we’re growing farther apart, every day that passes I feel closer to her. With time, and the weight of my years, I’ve come to understand so many things, and it’s with great pride that I do scream at the top of my lungs that “I am my mother’s son!”
Without you we would be nothing mamá. I love you!
This is the English translation of the original blog post entry, ‘Las Lecciones De Mi Madre’, published in the Houston Chronicle’s Spanish-language publication La Voz de Houston. To read the original post in Spanish Click Here.