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My Immigrant Mother: A Story of Courage


WORDS BY JOB GARCIA

PHOTOGRAPHY BY RAYNEUTRON


The winter of ’97 brought “El Niño,” the most powerful storm on record, to Los Angeles.

I was nine years old and remember one particular weekday afternoon during this storm when my beloved mother adamantly decided to go to work.

My mother, like a lot of Latinos, was a street vendor. She sold anything and everything: Salvadorean bread, choco-banano(chocolate covered bananas on a stick), charamuscas(Salvadorean frozen flavored juice), and Mexican food (primarily tamales).This is how she sustained her family.  

I begged her not to leave that day.

“I would love to stay, but I have to go to work,” she insisted, “Take good care of your brothers. I will be back in no time.”

I said goodbye with my head down.

The moment she left I ran to window and sat there anticipating her return. As the weather worsened, I was overcome a miserable anxiety coupled with astraphobia (an abnormal fear of thunder and lightning) and began to weep. My fear of the storm itself paled in comparison to the fear of losing my mother.

But do you know when she will return?” I asked. I assumed she knew the answer since she was an adult.

After a couple hours of waiting by the window, I ran upstairs to the manager’s apartment in an attempt to attain peace of mind. Defeated, I knocked on the door.

I nervously said hello and she asked how she could help me.

“My mom left to work a couple hours ago, she hasn’t come back,” I stuttered, “I’m worried about her!”

“Don’t worry!” she said, “Your mom is a strong woman. She’ll be alright.”

“But do you know when she will return?” I asked. I assumed she knew the answer since she was an adult.

“No, but just know that she will return,” she offered.

I thanked her and walked home, still not feeling that confident. I continued to wait impatiently by the window. The sun began to set and there still wasn’t a sign of my mom. Suddenly, in the far distance, I saw a woman pushing a stroller in the direction of our apartment building. My heart began to race.

It was her! Finally, my anxiety vanished. In that moment I realized my mother was the single most important person in my life. To this day, she is my superhero; her cape is her apron and her superpowers are resilience and fearlessness.

She illegally crossed the border and travelled the desert by foot.

My mother, like the majority of immigrants, came to the United States just over three decades ago in search of the American Dream: a prosperous life, not for herself but for her entire family, especially for her oldest son my older half brother Eduardo (whose father was an alcoholic and wanted nothing to do with him). She illegally crossed the border and travelled the desert by foot. Unlike the many undocumented immigrants from Latin America who died in an attempt to come to the United States, my mother, solely by God’s grace, made it safely to Los Angeles.

Shortly after her arrival, she began working as a housekeeper and nanny for a Jewish family, who helped her achieve her residency. She married my father just a few years after and had me in 1988. During this time, her oldest son was still in Mexico, but she was still sending him and her entire family all the financial assistance she could offer. She eventually saved up enough money to bring him to the states.

Just this past week, she officially became a citizen of the United States of America.

My mother left her native land not only because of economic hardship, but also because of emotional and physical abuse by the patriarch of her home, a severe alcoholic and a known adulterer. My mom escaped the brokenness of that life only to re-discover it in her marriage to my father. She refused to allow the difficult circumstances to dictate her children’s future. She fought back and for many years, not only as a street vendor but she also picked up a graveyard shift. She faithfully provided for her children and husband (when he was around) with home cooked meals and material necessities.

Today, thirty-one years later, my mother has achieved the American Dream—no, not the house with the white-picket fence in the suburbs—but the opportunity to witness her children receive degrees and become professionals. Just this past week, she officially became a citizen of the United States of America. It was momentous day for her and us because after many years of depriving herself to serve her family she finally did something for herself. I am tremendously proud to say that I am the son of Irma Garcia, a courageous mother and wife who loves her family unconditionally—the quintessential immigrant woman.

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