When I first wrote this my Mama was still alive on May 12, 2012. She has since left us to be with Our Lord on August 12, 2012. My Mama was born in Chicago, Illinois. All of her 6 children were born in California.
The original has been modified.
As Mother’s Day approaches I reflect on my Mama, who is 72 years old and of an era of women that no longer exist and a breed of women that is a dying breed, literally and figuratively.
To my Mama, and all of the Madres who picked the crops, I say Gracias Mujeres Trabajadoras! They contributed in making California the fruit and vegetable bowl of the country. But, more importantly, they raised strong children with strong values, while working in the fields.”
It is so hard to convey the beauty of anyone’s spirit, but our Mama was the real thing. She was soft, compassionate and loved children. She could also be stubborn, a no-nonsense woman of her convictions, and her word was better than any contract. My Mama did not have a formal education beyond the 7th grade. She had to work in the fields, to help her family. But, boy oh boy was she sharp. My Mama had more common sense in her pinkie, than I’ve seen in most.
My Mama never attended an opera, but carried herself regally. She loved all people and had the ability to meet someone and within 5 minutes the person would be spilling their heart and life story to her.
She passed this gift on to me, also. Another gift; I have the ability to go to the Eiffel Tower or the Vatican with the same ease and comfort as if I was visiting my hometown or walking and interacting with people in the slums throughout Jamaica, Mexico or Guatemala.
I am now able to see all of the “good qualities and lessons” she passed on to her children, through her many struggles.
We all thought my Mama had supernatural powers; she knew what we were thinking and feeling; she knew when we were up to no good, and would lead and guide us. But, now we all understand she was just very wise and intuitive Mama.
There were many verbalized and modeled lessons she taught us; invaluable lessons about work, marriage, parenting, relationships, and life.
She wanted her children to break out of poverty of learned helplessness! She sent us to work in the fields, so we would know how hard it was. And, to break out of this cycle!
And, then there were the unsaid lessons of teaching me to work for my dreams, not to expect them to happen.
Women whom I consider some of the first “working women” and talk about ” farm to table” or how “to live off the land. ” At times that’s all they had to feed their families; whatever crop they were working on at that season, that would be dinner!
Women who woke up at 3 a.m. to make breakfast and countless burritos for breaks & lunch. Which usually comprised of a bundle of burritos and a thermos of coffee. And then going to do back-breaking work all day long, under very treacherous conditions, this was pre-Cesar Chavez movement days. What I mean is sometimes no outhouses, breaks or water and the short hoe was still in existence.
I Thank God, that I don’t have to wake up at 3, as she did. And, that my husband is so cool, he would never demand I iron his shirts, as my father did.
I remember the shirts mi Mama use to press for my father; they were very white, she scrubbed them on her washboard. And they were stiff from starch, as he demanded! And this wasn’t a can starch, this was a starch they made, if I recall it was blue and a goopy concoction that she washed into the clothes, similar to Vano. This is how my father demanded his shirts, and it was a painstaking task!
She then came home to cook, to wash and get the kids ready for school the following day. No time for re-viewing homework or too tired to read a Dr. Seuss night time story to her children.
Only to repeat the cycle the next day…..and next…..and next.
These were women who rarely went to the dr. and usually gave birth to their children in their shanty campos or camps, usually with the help of an elderly woman, who more than likely had had her own brood, so under “old day” standards, that should qualify her similar to a mid- wife status!
I’m not sure if you are familiar with campos? They are a step above tents. They are rows and rows of one room housing, where large families lived. A small hot plate or the families cooked outside. With a community bathroom for all to share. Each camp had its own bus, to transport the people to work. We lived at Campo Uno, Varela Camp and Campo 22.
My belief is that “campos” are a continuation of the plantation, then came government projects.
Her week-ends were not for herself or to go shopping, or go and treat herself to a mani-pedi, but to clean, iron and wash in a wringer washer or washboard only to repeat this cycle over and over.
Even though times were very tough, I always heard the joyful sound of the radio blasting Mexican music and my Mama singing, my Mama had a beautiful voice. She also loved to dance, and was a very good dancer. My Mama loved to laugh and was very witty and quick.
She taught us to be early-risers lol. She taught us the virtues of hard-work.
She taught us how to hum or sing as she kept beat to the pallote (rolling pin) while she rolled out countless home-made flour tortillas. Everything was made from scratch, boxed food, take- out nor pizza were available to us, or did not exist.
She taught us how to take pride in a job well done and not to do things “half-way.”
She taught us how to make something out of very little. She taught us creativity.
She taught us, that even though they had very little, you should share, there was always room for one more at the table.
She taught all of her children to be self-sufficient. I recall living on Apple Street and seeing my Abuelita and Mama give burritos and water to the hobos, whom used the railways near Apple Street in Huron.
She taught us to be patient; that it didn’t matter if you finished first, but to finish!
That money is not the most important thing in life, but God is.
And, that money does not bring you happiness.
That we may not have had toys, but that the whole world was our playground!
She taught us not to expect a toy or candy every time we went to the store; first we could not afford it and if we made a fuss we would surely get a spanking!
She taught all of her children how to cook, wash, iron and keep an orderly home, and to take pride in our home.
My Mama taught us that there is dignity in any job you do.
To fight, persevere, and never give-up.
That failure is not an option, but merely a temporary set-back.
That when we think GOD does not answer our prayers, perhaps that’s not what He wants for us.
She introduced God to all her children, some of just took longer to develop a relationship with Him.
We learned herbal home remedies and nature’s gifts. Now it is quite fashionable for many into new age hocus pocus to experiment with herbs and crystals.
To respect the land, and it will re-pay you back.
We were never picky eaters, because we knew that’s all there was. There were no choices! We ate what she served us!
Mama, toward the end, when it was too difficult for you to walk, I remember the sparkle and excitement in your eyes when we shared our lives with you; if we had eaten something you had never tasted, or when we went somewhere you had never been. You were so happy for us to be experiencing things you never had. You lived through all of your kids. You lived each of our adventures as if you were right there with us. I recall buying you lamb chops; your favorite and going on our back road rides.
She taught us to respect our elders, regardless if we agreed with them or not!
You know as a child I would think, does it really matter if I know how to cook? At a very young age I wanted to break the conventional and traditional script written for me of being a tortilla maker and having many babies. I wanted to explore, travel, and attend college. And my Mama was my biggest supporter. A very progressive woman way ahead of her time.
And now, I realize my husband really appreciates the fact that I know how to make mac and cheese from scratch and not from a box! Or that I know how to make homemade enchilada sauce from scratch and not from a can or envelope.
And when I see Augie or friends eating my chile verde or chile colorado con “tanto savor,” I secretly smile inside, and say Thank you Mama.
So yes, I can bring home the bacon and cook it also! This was very important to my Mama; that her daughters all be able to care for themselves and not be dependent on a man or the government!
I also now see the value of a clean and orderly home. When my home is in order I feel that my mind is in order!
With all of the lessons and skills my Mama taught me, I feel that I am an administrator of my home. And, a very competent administrator, at that! Keep in mind I had a lot of practice, as the eldest, I helped my Mama do everything. From cooking, cleaning, shopping, pay bills and help her care for my siblings.
I have always worked and maintained all that encompasses “running a home.” And I realize that if you are a woman; to work, raise kids, and maintain a home is difficult. And, that inevitably something will suffer, hopefully it’s not the children. It just takes organizational skills and preparation.
In Spanish there is a saying “una mujer preparado vale por dos! Which literally translates to a prepared women is the value of two!
How did women do it in the 50’s and 60’s with large families and work full time, to boot!
I realize in retrospect we were not taught everything! I also realized my Mama lacked on many levels and skills. For instance, teaching us a crucial life skill as how to handle money. We never had money, so there was just not much emphasis placed on it.
But, as I will re-iterate there was a multitude of skills she passed on to us that make us very strong, driven, and organized women! The more you know with clarity who you are, the less vulnerable you are to what other people say and think about you.
It saddens me that these skills are not being passed on…… that children expect something every time they accompany mommy to the store. Because they feel “entitled!” And mommy’s are not strong enough to say “no” we cannot afford it, or simply No!
Kids who are babysat by video games and electronic toys.
That you don’t brag and boast about what you have. As they say in Spanish not to “presumir!” or brag. That you not try to keep up with the “Jones’.” That you not compete over money! Throughout my life I saw my own relatives doing that!
That you don’t buy a nice car, and then not have money to fill it with gas!
That is why I studied and “received an education!” My education came at an expensive cost! My Mama and my siblings were my motivation to keep pushing ahead. I finished because they needed to see me do it. I’m not strong because I want to be, I’m strong because I’m your first example? I suffered a Iot in college and many times went without food and many basic necessities. My initiation to thrift shops and yard sales came out of necessity, it’s the only place I could shop that I could afford. But, if you don’t have it, even thrift shops or yard sales cost money! I always worked very hard and have been very “blessed.” I have always given Thanks to the LORD for everything he has given me. I view everything he has given me as gifts from my LORD, that has nothing to do with me, but because of His Grace. I have never been jealous of what others have.
I recall as a child, doing without much extras. I mean we always had the basics; of food, clothes and a roof over our head. For the extras I wanted such as extra shoes, purses and extra clothes my siblings and I went to work in the fields during school breaks and summer. We picked cotton, potatoes, grapes around Fresno, prunes around Napa, tomatoes, lettuce, garlic, chopped weeds, and thinned the crops. We grew up in the San Joaquin Valley where temperatures would soar to 110. Boy, was it miserable work.
Much later I saw people working in the fields around Greenfield or Santa Maria, it was much cooler weather, and even cold at times. Where cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and artichokes grew. I think it would have been a much more bearable experience to work here.
Any extra money, of which there was very little was saved for my education.
But, when I left home at 17 years old to go away to college I found I was always trying to fill that “lack of things” by shopping for that “little treasure.” I now realize, I was trying to fill that void with things when I should have been focusing on My Father and filling myself with Him. This has been a recent revelation for me, a cathartic experience.
Matthew 6:19-21New International Version (NIV)
Treasures in Heaven
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Immediately after graduation, I moved to Santa Maria, Ca. I taught at a middle school for two years, Main Street School in Guadalupe. It was one of the toughest and most rewarding two years of my life. I have re-connected with some of my first students; they are now grandparents and very precious to me.
I then moved to Paso Robles, and worked for the State of Ca. as a teacher.
After 10 years of working for the state and making pretty good money I decided to leave my good paying position. Because I was not satisfied with “just making money” and knew in my heart there was more to life than just making money! I had learned the the difference between a need and a want at this point. I also learned another good lesson from my great friend Shirley Beebe, that nothing in life is free. And it is erroneous thinking if you think you are getting something free! You’re not! You are always paying for it somehow or somewhere!
We have a whole generation of entitled people! People whom seem to think they were born with a silver spoon in their mouth, just because. And a generation that feels they deserve it, whatever it is, just because.
Therefore, that is why I’m not all sweet, mushy, or compassionate with young women now-a-days who have one child or two. Sleep in, wake up and do their motherly duties of feeding, playing, and getting her children ready for the day, to go to school or with the nanny while she perhaps runs off to the spa, yoga, gym, shopping, lunch with the gals, etc. and I hear them complain of how exhausted they are.
I immediately think of my Mama and women who had 9 children and were too tired to complain. The women of my Mama’s era never had the luxury of going to the spa, to exercise or shop.
I have an acquaintance who you could say lives a “Bad Mom” existence. This is a short description of movie.
“When three overworked and under-appreciated moms are pushed beyond their limits, they ditch their conventional responsibilities for a jolt of long overdue freedom, fun, and comedic self-indulgence.” Frankly I cannot identify with the whole premise of this movie!
My acquaintance is all into organic and green everything. Her children have never tasted store bought candy. It’s all about the kale chips. She demands healthy paint for her home. Only the best natural fabrics. The freshest non-gluten, non GMO organic foods. The best of everything. I think this is all wonderful, but she cannot afford the lifestyle, and wants to portray she can, just makes me wonder, why?
Believe me I would not like to re-live my Mama’s life. But, darn there were a lot of good things about the “old days” and a lot of the lessons my Mama taught us that have been lost!
And I yearn and cry for them!
My sister tells me times have changed, yes I concur! But why! My stance is ………..that’s why our world is upside down, and things are such a mess! Because we have lost our old beliefs, values, we have lost our way toward God.
Abrazos y Besos