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.

June 16, 2013

Lessons from the original Superman

Father's day is always a fickle time for me.  Today marks 30 years since the last Father's day I spent with Sarge.  I remember it like it was yesterday.  It was the first time I was able to "purchase" a father's day breakfast for him.  McDonald's had a promotion that year if you colored a sheet that was provided by them and took it in for Father's day, your dad would get a free breakfast.  I didn't know it, but that would be the last time I would spend a Father's day with my dad.  Five months later, just 2 months shy of my 13th birthday, he was gone. 

I have been without him longer than he was with me. Still he has been a powerful influence in my life. His words and actions have permeated me for the remaining years I have been without him. His words float over my head in everything I do and say to others.  Today as in everyday I honor the Superman he was to me. 

Little lessons he left me with:
  • Love thy neighbor - Sarge was the neighborhood guy.  Someone needed a tool, he would be the guy to come and borrow one from.  If your car broke down in the middle of a delluge of rain, he was the person you called. Not only would he give you a ride but  he would try to fix that car or get you the help you needed.  The day of his funeral I met so many people that were touched by all the things I never knew he did.  He was a giving person who loved humanity.  No one was ever more or less than him, we were all of the human kind and we should all help each other in this world. So when I lose my patience in Los Angeles traffic I remember, we are all human and we all need to look out for one another. 
  • Appreciate the simple things - Music was always blaring on any given day at our home.  Sarge would play anything from classical music, swing, to Mariachis.  He would sing to his heart content without abandonment, even though his voice was that of nails on a chalkboard.  Simple outings were the catalyst to "great adventures" as he would call it.  So it was no surprise I was excited when he took me to the city of Corona for an adventure to seek out a great doughnut. Who cares if it just a few miles from our city, it was somewhere new we had never been.  It was his appreciation of the simple joy in life that has gotten me through some rough times.  Seeking out that hole in the wall cafe and people watching has brought me to a calm place where I could think things through.  Listening to a favorite song can take me back in time to a wonderful place when things were calm and fun.
  • Laugh at yourself -  Sarge was the original dork. Never afraid to make a fool of himself and laugh along the way.  He made sure I never took myself or life to seriously.  I would get in funks as a child and some how he always managed to make me laugh at his antics.  He would point out the great humor in things, even if it was the crappiest day ever.  So now, I manage to look at life and see the humor in things.  It makes me smile and I can be the same goofball my dad was to me with my children and see the smile I had as a child being reflected back at me through the kids.
  • Never forget your history - I never knew my grandparents, they were gone before I was born but I definitely knew about them.  Sarge never failed to take me on his lap to tell me of things when he was growing up, about how his family life was with his parents.  He took me to Mexico to meet my extended family to develop a relationship with those who carried our history. He wanted me to grow up proud of how far our family has come and how far I could take the rest of our history.  One of the major reasons I blog about my children and myself is to carry on that rich tradition.  Much is to be said about storytelling.  You never know what lessons you are learning from your own rich family history.  
  • Get up and succeed - He picked me off the floor after I fell off a bike, cleaned up my scrape and placed me back on the bike I had just fallen off.  Giving up was not an option.  I was crying my eyes out and wanting to give up, but Sarge encouraged me.  Every step of the way he was there to cheer me on.  Little successes where HUGE accomplishments. He made sure I understood that no matter if I had an audience or not. I was the master of my own pride with all those accomplishements.  So when I was able to do the major things in life like graduate from college or simply help potty train a two year old I could stand with pride and never give up.
There are so many more that I can list but these in particular have helped me get through the good, the bad, and ugly that life has out there.  All he did for me in the short 12 years of my life has stayed with me.  It's not about time that you spend with your children, it's what you do in whatever time you have with them. 

For the men who create those strong bonds with their children I salute you.  You never know what your teaching your little ones and what life lessons they are learning along the way. 

Feliz dia del padre Papi.  Te extrano muchismo! <3>

May 12, 2013

The Original Super Single Mom

Life lately has been tough.  Something I did not think I would be doing is raising children on my own.  While there father is a participant in their lives, it really is not like I can say I have a partner in raising these children.  I find myself giving 99.999999% of what should really be a shared experience. I have wrestled a very long time with this fact.  I attribute this to my own childhood.  Sarge was always a very active participant father and most loving partner in my childhood.  I was truly blessed to have two parents in the early part of my life. Lately my lovely insomnia has hit me at 3 AM.  Somewhere in my mind something was stirring, maybe the fact that some days I feel stretched over two times over, worried about Kindergarten progress, summer vacation plans, how to effectively get help for getting the kids around.  I have felt pretty alone and overwhelmed lately.  Then it hit me the other day.  I am not the only one this has happened to.

October 9, 1983 Mami became a single mother and a widow.  I remember sitting next to her holding my hand just outside the IC unit that my father was in when a nurse came out to call someone else in the hallway.  This moment is burned in my memory only because the nurse had blood, my fathers blood all on the front of her crisp white scrubs.  Mami pulled me in close and tried to shield my fragile 12 year old eyes from seeing what I was seeing.  In her arms I shook with fear.  We both held each other for what seemed like a very long time until the doctor came out and said my father was gone.  Our world as we knew it was gone. 

I still remember listening to Mami cry night after night after he was gone.  Somehow in the mornings all that was gone and she got breakfast on the table and me out the door to school.  While I was at school she managed to arrange for a funeral, my care after school, and make other arrangements for our future. Mami became my advocate when people insisted that I wear black to the funeral when she knew all I wanted to do was wear my dad's favorite dress for me.  She didn't know I heard that argument she had, but I did.  I became less alone at that moment.  Mami would always have my best interest at heart.  She knew I was grieving the loss of my best friend.  She made sure the school knew I was going through issues and that I would not be the same child. 

Mami found a way to babysit children at home and get me what I needed.  I needed for someone to home to after school, security.  I always had clean clothes, a roof over my head, vacations, someone to show up at my school events. The most amazing thing to me was that she didn't drive a single day in her life and still doesnt' to this day.  The first vacation we took after my dad was to Florida, on a bus. Yes, a bus from California to Florida.  Years later I wondered, how? How did she come up with the money, how did she make the arrangements, how did she know we were going to be safe on the trip?

I looked back on that recently and knew, just knew that it was the same love I feel for my own children.  For many times that I feel defeated and alone, I remember Mami.  She did this alone, with no family nearby to support her.  Just her will to give me everything I needed and things that I wanted.  The love a mother knows no boundaries.  It does not know about her own grief, but knows about her child's grief.  I am the super single mom today thanks in part to all those experiences that Mami gave me and made it seem effortless.  Her grief, her loneliness, her struggles, all set aside.  So when people question how I do it all for my the Things I just hold my head high and say "I'm Super Mom Jr.". 

On this day I honor you Mami,  you survived my teenage years alone, I too shall make it through.

Happy Mother's day all!

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