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By the time my mom was my age, she was already a widow with two girls. My sister was twelve and I was six when my father and sister passed away in a tragic car accident. It wasn’t until I became a mom myself that I finally discovered the values and heroism of the woman that brought me into this world. Mami is the strongest woman my eyes have ever seen. She is the mother I dream to become one day.
Motherhood is hard. It’s a journey of sacrifices and dedication. From the morning sickness of pregnancy, the load on a woman’s body, the pain, and emotional stress. Then baby’s sleepless nights, sickness, so many concerns. Let’s face it, there is nothing romantic about being a mother. In Mami’s case, she also had to endure the traumatic experience of suddenly losing a husband and daughter. Then the hardship of immigrating to an unknown land — leaving us behind until she found a job and the means to support our arrival. I remember my mom asking friends for help to pay my sister’s college tuition, because she couldn’t afford it, and I remember her working overtime to be able to throw my sister’s Quinceañera party.
My memories of my mother are a vivid picture of a fighter who would do whatever it took to get us ahead. There was an element of pride that shaped my mom’s personality. I remember the first holiday after my father’s death—Three Kings Day, a holiday we celebrate in the Dominican Republic, where The Kings are responsible for bringing gifts to kids instead of Santa. A sarcastic kid in my neighborhood shouted that my “king” was dead so I wouldn’t get any presents. I was devastated. As a 6-year-old, I’m not sure if I was more upset about the fact that my father was dead or that my gifts were in jeopardy. I cried all the way back home and told my mom what happened.
Mami was fuming with anger. She wanted to prove that kid wrong! On the morning of Three Kings Day, I woke up to a huge number of gifts. Everywhere I turned I found a gift to open. There were not only the toys from my list, but gifts that I never asked for. The best part was my mother showing me off in the neighborhood with all my gifts. She must have sent me to the bodega for errands about 10 times that day! Each time, she would encourage me to bring a different toy. I was everyone’s envy. She also sent me back to the boy to tell him that I had a king in heaven who tripled my gifts! That was by far the happiest day of my childhood. It was the day when I became a fighter alongside my mom and wanted her to be proud of me.
Mami had a second chance in life with a great husband. They had two children together and I had the opportunity to see her in action all over again. She lived and breathed for those little ones. They were the center of her life.
When my little sister started high school, my mom would actually ride the subway with her every single day from Washington Heights to Downtown Manhattan. I didn’t know any other mom who did that. Whenever she was confronted with being ‘over-protective’ she would reply with attitude, “Esa la parí yo” (I delivered this one). In other words, I’m this daughter’s mother.
In the midst of her limits, as a woman who only reached a 6th-grade education, Mami was responsible for our success. According to research, success is closely correlated to a demanding mother. My mom would only get excited when we brought home grades above 90. If we brought a 95+ she would jump up and down. If we brought a 100, she would first ask us how many others got 100, and if the answer was fewer than three, she would jump and scream at the top of her lungs and shower us with kisses.
There was a method in her approach that produced a group of successful professionals. We had everything against us—back in those days, Washington Heights was one of the five most violent communities in the country; our high school had a 14 percent graduation rate. But we had a pillar called Doña Nora who was determined to help us succeed no matter what. Gracias Mami!
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