My name is Rosa and as a sign of my love I humbly want to share my mom’s story with you because in the end, it’s our story. My mom’s name is Maria and she’s 79 years old and she’s my best friend, my biggest supporter and my strength and she’s a guerrera.
Her story begins in a small town in Nuevo Leon, Mexico in 1940. She was raised by her maternal grandparents when her mother refused to keep her just days after she was born. You see, her husband was affluent and abandoned my grandmother (my mother’s mom) even though he took a second, older daughter with him. His family never accepted my grandmother because she came from a poor family. My mom never had the chance to meet her father but would meet her sister fifty years later.
Love and joy in poverty
My mom tells me stories of living in complete poverty in a house with dirt floors and barely any furniture, no plumbing, and no electricity. Her grandmother would prepare her a mug of chocolate caliente and a concha as a treat when she would get home after school. She was only able to finish sixth grade because they had no money to pay for more education. At twelve years old, she would braid pita – also known as maguey/agave – and worked the plant until she got the fibers to braid them. She would sell these braids to earn a few pesos to buy material for dresses. My mom loved to dance and on special occasions she would get a dress made and go dancing with her girlfriends. She recalls living a loving and happy childhood regardless of poverty. She might not have had the love of her parents but the love her grandparents, aunts, uncles, and neighbors made up for it and more.
USA: Racism and allies
At sixteen years old she met my father. He was twenty-six, but she knew he was her future husband. They ran away to get married soon-after and had their first daughter at the age of nineteen. My dad worked as a ranch hand in West Texas while my mom stayed in Mexico. At the time, my dad was working for a lady named Dorothy and he soon became her right hand. Dorothy helped my mom and sister get a visa to join my dad. After my mom reunited with my dad in the U.S., Dorothy helped them get legal U.S. residency. My family didn’t get here illegally but back then it didn’t make a difference. You would see the “No dogs or Mexicans allowed” signs everywhere. My mom tells a story of Dorothy and my dad stopping at a diner in Odessa, Texas on their way to her ranch in Sierra Blanca and the owners not letting my dad sit in the dining area. Dorothy fought them, but they only agreed to give him a place in the kitchen and she sat there with him. Even back then we had trailblazers fighting for equality. To this day my mom misses Dorothy and appreciates the strength she always showed.
Working the Texas fields
Between the years of 1959 and 1963, my mom had five children: Martha the oldest, Bertha, Jose, Gregorio, and Guadalupe. Then at one point, my dad decided that it was better for the family to move them back to Mexico since he was tired of jumping from ranch to ranch. In 1968 she had another son, Jesus. During this period, they were constantly moving back and forth between Texas and Mexico not really having a true home. In 1975 she was pregnant with me, Rosa, and she decided to put her foot down and forced my dad to settle down. While pregnant, she worked picking corn heads in the corn fields of North Texas along with her children and husband. She recalls being very pregnant and standing knee-deep in mud having to work through the large corn stalks to feed her children. They lived in dirty barracks that had trash full of maggots, flies, and rats next to the buildings, but they needed the work. Without education, you were forced to work in sub-par conditions making $2.75/hr. The day she went into labor she again put her foot down again and refused to have me in North Texas. So, my mom, dad, and youngest brother drove all night until they arrived in Del Rio, Texas and I was born an hour after they arrived.
After I was born my dad returned to work with my older brothers and sisters in North Texas who had stayed behind because someone needed to keep working. We continued going to los trabajos during my first three years until our lives changed completely. September 1978 marked our lives forever. You see, a drunk driver struck my two older brothers. Jose, who was 17, and Gregorio, who was 16, both died on impact. The drunk was a Saudi Arabian soldier who was stationed at the Laughlin Airforce Base in Del Rio. He wasn’t supposed to go out drinking- and much less have a car – yet he got away with both and he got away with killing two innocent boys. He was sent back to his country and my brothers never received justice. Needless to say, it tore our family apart. My father was never the same yet my mom (through all her pain) accepted that it was God’s plan and if He had wanted them to live they would have. She found strength in her faith and in knowing that they died on impact and didn’t suffer through the brutal injuries. With pain and heartache life went on. She had five other children to care for.
Losing my father
“Cuando no llueve, nos llovizna…” as the saying goes. In 1980 my dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer and my mom was there to take care of him. With treatment, he was able to go into remission but in 1986 he died of a heart attack. I didn’t know it then but losing my brothers and my father had changed me forever. Being the baby of the family I was very attached to my mom and, out of all my siblings, I’m the one that has always been there with her. I guess I didn’t want to lose her too.
A future together
During every up and down one thing was constant, my mom always pushed my brother and I to go to school. She wanted us to have an education and not have to work as they did. She wanted something better for us. She wanted us to take advantage of the opportunities our older brothers never had. Years passed, and my sisters got married had their own families and my brother graduated from college and got married and had his own family. As for me, I was still living with my mom. When I graduated from high school I couldn’t leave my mom alone – I had to work to support us. Even though I was accepted to a university, I took the long road and enrolled in community college so I could work and study. In 2000 my sister Guadalupe and her family decided to move to Austin, Texas and my mom and I decided to follow them and packed up and started our new adventure.
I didn’t have a job when we moved but I had my mom’s encouragement and in less than a week I was employed! Four years later I purchased my own home, and a year later I graduated college. It took me a long time to graduate and there were moments when I wanted to quit but my mom always pushed me and I wanted to make her proud, so I kept going. Everything was great for a long time but sometimes God sends us challenges, not to cause us pain but to show us that even through the darkest days we are not alone.
In 2016 my mom was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer and it had already metastasized to her spine. My sister Guadalupe and I took her to the biopsy appointment and that day we broke down and cried, we knew it was bad. When the Oncologist told us it was Stage IV and already in her bones, we cried again. My mom through tears told the doctor she didn’t want to leave me alone. At that moment she was afraid for herself but was more worried about leaving me. After we finished crying she said that as long as we were by her side she would have the strength to fight this monster. Her prognosis wasn’t hopeful. A woman her age with aggressive cancer: the odds were against her. I just don’t think cancer knew how strong she is. The Oncologist talked about giving her a good quality of life, hinting that she would not make it through the next twelve months. During every visit, my mom would tell her that God was with her and whatever had to happen would happen. In other words: we have no control over life so roll with the punches and have a positive outlook.
Fighting for healthcare and the power of citizenship
That same year that my mom was diagnosed with cancer, Trump became president. His agenda as a candidate and then president was always anti-immigrants, anti-Mexicans and we knew we needed to act. Our fear was that my mom, who had been a legal resident for almost 60 years, would be left without Medicare and Medicaid because we were sure Trump would attack our community and try to eliminate assistance programs for non-citizens. Without this assistance, she would not be able to afford her treatments and she wouldn’t have a fighting chance to beat cancer. We downloaded literature and forms from USCIS.gov and found that because of her age and because she was receiving Medicaid she also qualified for a fee waiver. We filled out all the forms and made sure everything was accurate and by December we submitted the application. We might have been lucky or maybe we had perfect timing, but her case was quickly approved and she became an official US Citizen in July 2017. She was so proud of herself for accomplishing this! In November 2018 she cast her first vote and in March 2020 she will proudly cast her vote in the Primaries for the first Mexican-American presidential candidate. God willing.
With the help of God, and maybe a couple of little angels, she’s beating those odds. Although Stage IV cancer cannot be cured, she is still here being my best friend.