July 4, 2017

Mami : An American Story

In Ecuador on October 17, 1932 a baby girl was born to a young fifteen year old Ecuadorian girl and a nineteen year old Peruvian young man.  Her father's roots were said to be in Spain and her mother's family had been in Ecuador for as long as she could remember.  That baby girl was my mother.

Growing up she had several moments when her paternal grandmother would take her to visit and would take her to see Shirley Temple movies.  My Mami was consumed with everything that she saw on the screen about America.  She asked for a doll from her grandmother and the one that was purchased for her was a white doll with curly blonde hair and blue eyes.  It had been imported from America and it was one of her most cherished possessions as a child. She wanted to be Shirley Temple and wanted to see all the wonderful places in the movie.  Her dreams were to one day be taken to America to visit as promised by her paternal grandmother.  That however was never to be fulfilled. 

Life as it does always came to give her a dose of reality.  Her father left for Peru and her father's family followed shortly, to never be seen again by that impressionable little girl.  From what I remember she always had a sense of sadness when she would tell me about never hearing from them again. Following soon after, at the very tender age of 12 it took a dramatic turn, her mother died. Then it was revealed that the woman who had been raising her was not her mother, but her grandmother and that her sister was actually her mother. She went to live with her mother and she was not happy and became rather rebellious in her teen years.  

At seventeen she left home to live with a much older man who made her promises to take her to the United States at one point.  Shortly after leaving she became pregnant with her first child and named him after the first president of the United States , Washington.  She could not wait to one day be taken to the United States, to be a part of a country where her  rebellious nature in Ecuador would be seen that of an independent woman with a lot to contribute in the U.S.  Unfortunately her dreams were side tracked once again.  Living with someone older and the adult responsibilities were too much for her.  She lived unconventionally after that scraping money to get by, giving birth to two daughters afterward.  Again her love of  America was showing in the names of her daughters. American names by all accounts, Jenny and Jacquelyn.  Jacquelyn, the name of her favorite American president's wife. She told me she cried heavily when President Kennedy died.

One day in 1967, that little girl was given the opportunity to go to the United States on a visitor's visa.  Her half sister on her father's side told her she could stay with her in Los Angeles and find her some work.  She sold all her belongings, packed up her daughter Jacquelyn, said goodbye to her family, to the only country she had ever known. Her dream of coming to America came true.  

Being in America was rough, my mom understood that she was there on a visitor visa but there was no way she was ever leaving the one place she had dreamt of being since she was a child.  Not even the day that she was told that she was getting sent back to Ecuador for working under a visitor's visa. Desperate measures called for desperate times. Her and my sister went in hiding in different homes of people who she worked along side with at the factory.  These Mexican-American women, who later on in life would become my adopted family, shielded my Mami and sister to help keep that dream alive of being in a country of opportunity for them.  One of my adopted aunts introduced my mom to a man who was handsome, witty, made her laugh, and offered her the opportunity to stay in America.  He married her to help her and my sister out to be able to stay in this country.  I was born a year and a half after they were married. 

In the years that followed my Mami taught me the importance of all the opportunities I had in this country, especially being a female.  Women in her country were told they could not be a certain way or have a voice because of culture that did not believe women could offer more.  She taught me the importance of making it to the voting booth.  She would sit me in front of the television every presidential election night and would cheer like it was a soccer game for her favorite candidate.  She was the one who taught me about American government, about how president gets voted by the electoral college.  When my dad died she was even more determined to be a part of the country.  She wanted to be more than the wife of an American, she wanted to BE and American.  I still remember helping her as a teen practicing all the questions for the citizenship test.  She aced it and on April 4, 1986 my mom was sworn in as a citizen and she was an American, like she had always in her heart known she was. 
To me, my Mami IS America.  The dream of something bigger, better, and more fruitful.  So what if her English was a bit broken. So what if her last name was not Smith or Jones.  So what if she did not resemble Barbie with her dark hair and brown eyes.  She is the girl who would not miss an American movie, the teen who dreamt to make a difference with her voice, the one who loved this country with all her heart that she gave up her country of origin to be able to vote for HER president. 

I want thank her for this journey of hers, for her dream to be in this country I call home. 

Thank you for dragging me to register to vote and for talking to me about politics.  Your grandchildren have a good base to be the best Americans they can be.

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