Mexican traditions, Mother's Day, Mothers

11 Things My Mom Taught Me Without Knowing

 

Lincoln quote on mothers

The other day I saw a contest, sponsored by the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference. For a chance to win a free pass, one could enter a 500-word essay on the topic, “What my mother taught me.” The deadline was within a couple of days, so I passed on the opportunity, but the topic stirred my thoughts.

I began to think about my first generation mother an orphan of Mexican parents who came to the U.S during the Mexican Revolution. She taught me a lifetime of lessons, many which she probably isn’t aware of.

So, in tribute to Mother’s Day and my mom, I have a few items to mention. Some of which you might find unusual, but in many Mexican households, not so uncommon.

My mom taught me to:

  1. Appreciate Mariachi music, the old classics, where buried pain could be unleashed in the drama of the song. She also taught me how to give a ‘grito,‘ a shout to punctuate the parts of the song that called for emphasis or which resonated with the listener.
  2. Value hard work. As young teens, all of us picked walnuts, tomatoes, or strawberries on weekends to earn money to survive. We heard many a story about her picking cotton until her arms and fingers bled, the scorching vineyards and lettuce fields. The moral of the story: You do what you got to do. She survived and we would too.
  3. Value education unless you want to live your life in the fields. This is almost a direct quote we heard many times. Mom was in her 40’s, a single parent of four kids, who worked full time and went to college at night during the late 60’s. By the early 70’s she earned two Bachelor’s degrees.
  4. Cook basic Mexican food and be creative with the welfare commodities. We learned how to make a guisado, beans de olla, tortillas (even though mine looked like the map of Texas), and nopales. We also made Spam and powdered eggs with chile, Mac and cheese, and grits.
  5. Use nature’s and grocery store remedies. For a cold, use Vapor Rub and put your socks on. For a tummy ache, use the Yerba Buena that grew under our front yard faucet. For nausea, drink 7Up. For a flu, use all three and bury yourself under the blankets.
  6. Duck, dive, and discipline. Mom had a baseball arm and threw her chancla (house slipper) when she’d had it with us. I swear that thing seemed like a magic boomerang. She didn’t spank us, at least not me and my sisters, but that threat of a nalgada kept us in line. Sometimes. All she had to do was flip her chancla off and we’d start running. Same thing as hearing her say, “Where’s my belt?” although she didn’t have one.
  7. Exercise starts at home. Mom won dance contests as a young woman. Trophies, cash money, and during WW II, she won a pig. Chicharrones for days! She still dances between her TV shows for exercise and cares for 30+ rose trees, fruit trees, and numerous potted plants.
  8. Self-defense. Mom was her older brothers sparring partner as a kid. I’ve seen her fight, many years ago and in self-defense, and she’s good. She often shadow boxed with us as kids. I do it with my own. It’s play boxing, never to draw blood, except this one time when my sisters jumped me for a jelly donut (true story).
  9. The value of family. As children, we regularly visited extended family, spending holidays and Sundays together. Now all my aunts and uncles on my mom’s side have passed on. Only she remains. My cousins and their children are still in her life.
  10. The enjoyment of books. I often remember her stories of reading up in her Elm tree in front of her house. After she was orphaned she’d spend hours away from her aunt and uncle, sitting on a tree branch reading a library book. Books filled our home early in our life. My first introduction to feminism, politics, Mexican and Chicano History came from her college texts.
  11. Faith. Growing up, I regularly saw my mom pray. We had a small altar under our staircase in our home. Glowing votives, saints, the works. She believed things would turn out, even when everything around us didn’t seem to be working out.

Happy Mother’s Day! Now, what did your mother teach you?

 

Chingona, Faith, Mother's Day, Parenting, Paris, Social Justice, Strong Women, Travel

Gifts My Mother Gave Me

Paris photobook-alvaradofrazier.com

Mother’s Day is fast approaching. When making my mom her gift (the photo book above) I thought about all the gifts she’s given to me. It’s not the knickknacks, stationery and candles but other gifts that have lasted a lifetime.


A few months ago, my 85-year-old mother announced to us kids, “I want to make a last trip to Paris. In springtime.” Emphasis on the word ‘last.’ 

Mom is legally blind, hard of hearing, diabetic and uses a cane-sometimes. She can’t go alone to Rite-Aid a few blocks from her house. Honestly, I didn’t want to go because she needs a lot of care-which she doesn’t recognize.

“Who’s going to go with me?”

No one volunteered; no one had the cash lying around to make a Paris trip.  
Mom can be buen chingona and when she wants what she wants she doesn’t give up. After her repeated requests, some days of guilt feelings, and knowing that this could indeed be the last trip, I used my miles and credit card to arrange the trip for the end of April. She was ecstatic. I was hesitant.

It was a journey filled with turbulence (re-directed flights, delays, personal mishaps), but we survived. More than that, we laughed, ate flaky pastries, drank lots of café crème, and best of all she told me stories I hadn’t heard before.

On the train to visit Monet’s Garden (Mom loves flowers), we struck up a conversation with a woman from Tennessee. She mentioned that the last time she was in France was in 1966, after her graduation. She looked at me and said, “Before you were born.” I let her think that.

Later, while having lunch, my mother commented on the woman’s mistake.

“You got that gift of youth from me,” she says.

Mom has always looked 15 years younger than her age. Medical personnel make her show her Medicare ID twice, verifying it with her California ID and then remark on her youthfulness.

She then proceeded to tell me about the time she dated a younger man, he was 28, and she was 51. Holy smokes, why didn’t I know that? 

When she married my dad, who she met at a dance on the Air Force base, she received a shock when they went to city hall for a marriage license. He pulled out a permission slip from his mother, he was 17 years old, and she was 25.

Mom loved visiting the cathedrals in Paris. Although I’m no longer Catholic, I took her to Mass at Notre Dame. She insisted on kneeling on the hard wood footrest during the appropriate times, even though I had to pull her up when it was time to stand. 

There are several side chapels at Notre Dame, one of them the Virgin of Guadalupe, her favorite. She lit a candle and knelt before the image for several minutes. 
Virgin of Guadalupe Notre Dame-alvaradofrazier

Afterwards, we talked about the small altars she constructed in every place we lived. I often saw her praying on her knees in the early morning

She said sometimes we were so poor she didn’t have 50 cents in her pocket (we were four kids, she was divorced) but something always came through. She’s a strong woman and she gave me the gift of faith.

After a trip through Musee d’Orsay, Mom commented on a painting, “One of my favorites.” She recalled first seeing the Renoir painting in her art book at community college. She received two B.A. degrees, which took eight years, while working full time, with four kids to support. She gave me the gift of perseverance and goal setting.

Our trip was almost over, and we had left shopping for souvenirs to the end. We started out early, the streets looked desolate, no crowds, and few cars. It was May 1. I had forgotten that May Day is a very big thing in most European countries and most stores would be closed. We were almost at our Metro stop when Mom noticed a crowd waving French flags and I noticed a huge police presence on a side street.

Of course, she wanted to see what was happening, up close. Crowds of people gathered for their May Day march. Chanting, flags, and orange smoke filled the air. We remained there for 20 minutes until it looked too crowded and dangerous to stay. Mom acquiesced to leaving after yelling “Viva Francia,” with an upheld fist. Oh-kay.
MayDay Paris-alvaradofrazier.com

While on the empty metro, Mom told me the story of her participation in marches. I already knew about her involvement in demonstrations with Cesar Chavez and our community to get more parks and recreation for families, because she took us along, but I didn’t know the whole story.

“The scariest march was against the Ku Klux Klan,” she said.

My head swiveled towards her at that remark. We didn’t live in the south we’re California people. She told me that the KKK came to our hometown in the ’70’s and planned a convention and showing of “Birth of A Nation,” at our largest venue. The info leaked out, and the “Committee Against Racism,” which Mom was a member, obtained a permit to protest in front of the venue.

“When I saw these men with steel pipes, baseball bats, bricks, I knew they would use them.” In the face of that, she remained with the protest. The protest turned violent between the protestors, KKK, and police. The KKK left and has never returned to this town. From her involvement in these protests, she gave me the gift of commitment to social justice.

On the last day of our trip, after whirlwind shopping, we paused to eat in Café Victor Hugo. She remembered he was the novelist of the Hunchback of Notre Dame. She recalled her favorite teacher, Mrs. Roddy from Nebraska. I asked what made her think of a teacher and where she was from after 75 years.

“Mrs. Roddy loved Nebraska and reading. Whenever I read out loud, she’d pat my shoulder and smile. She encouraged me to keep reading when I left grammar school. I’d visit her even when I was in Middle School. She was interested in what I was reading. I remember reading the Hunchback of Notre Dame.”

Mom has always been a voracious reader. I remember in fifth grade picking up her True Confession magazines, in sixth, reading her copy of Mandingo, and in eighth grade reading her college texts on sociology. 

We had a large supply of books throughout my childhood when she purchased, on a long payment plan, the Encyclopedia Britannica, Bible Stories, and the Children’s Classics.

Even though Mom is legally blind, she reads the headlines of her daily newspaper and reads large print books, slowly, but she finishes. She gave me the gift and love of reading. 
I’m glad I went on this trip with my mom. It did bring her aging into intimate view, which made me sad. But she gave me more happiness than she’ll ever know. Her long life has been meaningful, she’s passed on gifts that I hope I’ve passed down to my kids, and she’s given me priceless memories. 
Children of incarcerated, Female Offenders, Get on the Bus Program, Mother's Day, Parenting, Women in Prison

What I Learned in Prison: Women in Front & Behind Bars #9

correctionalnurse.net

Mother’s Day is coming soon. The date makes me remember the young women in our facility. They became more anxious the closer Mother’s Day came. Several of them had children and most would not see them on that day. 

                  Anger, depression, and isolation was usually the result for  these young mothers.

California has the largest female prison population in the United States, almost 7,000 women. Nearly 80% of them are parents. Statistics aren’t kept on children, but if we say each offender has two to three children it can be approximated that close to 15,000 children are without mothers. Of these approximately 25% are in foster care, with the majority remaining with grandmothers and relatives.* The numbers are much higher if jails are included.


According to the Women’s Prison & Home Association, Inc.:

                  Children of offenders are five times more likely than their peers to end up in prison themselves.  

“One in 10 will have been incarcerated before reaching adulthood.” Surely the statistics on parent-child bonding, trauma, detachment disorders, and depression are high for these children.

In California three prisons house women: Central California’s Women’s Facility in Chowchilla, CA,  Valley State Prison, also in Chowchilla-Northern California, and houses more than 5,350 women. The southern area facility, California Institute for Women in Corona, CA houses 1,600 women. Ventura Youth Correctional Facility also houses female offenders under 21 years old. This is in Camarillo, California and at one time had close to 400 young women. 


Research from the Bureau of Justice suggests: 

           …visitation significantly increases parent-child attachment,however more than half of incarcerated women are more than 100 miles away from their children. 

There are other states, like Ohio, Washington, Illinois, Indiana, New York and Albama, which do a far better job at visitation and family reunification. Countries such as Mexico and Germany have prison nurseries, enhanced visitation, and mother-child programs. 

Research shows that women and children in these programs do much better than without the mother-child contact. There are two programs in California that seek to assist reunification through visitation:

The “Get on the Bus” annual trip from Southern California. The trip takes place close to Mother’s and Father’s Day. They have been doing this volunteer work for 12 years when they made one trip, on one bus, with 17 children. It is a four hour drive from Los Angeles to Chowchilla. For ways to help children visit through this program, here is their website. You can help in any number of ways.

The Chowchilla Family Express travels once a week from different major cities. Several churches sponsor the trips providing for meals and expenses. This program is the funded by The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. When I went to the website I found, “(CFE)…is temporarily closed until the state contract is awarded.” 

All of this boils down to this: 

California has the most female offenders, with  a quarter of their children in foster care, who live far away without regular visitation.  


I know and I agree that these women are responsible for their own behavior and that punishment is part of the criminal justice system. So why should we care?

We should care because innocent children pay for the sins of their mothers. They will suffer through abandonment issues, detachment disorders, and various other traumas that affect their schooling, future relationships, and put them at risk for incarceration themselves. 

What can you do? 

  • Check to see if your state has any programs such as “Get on the Bus,” visitation. 
  • Lobby and press for more community based residential parenting programs. They are much cheaper than prisons. (There is one three miles away from me and we haven’t had any problems) . 
  • Get your church involved or create a school project that will raise money for reunification trips. 
  • If you have a transition house in your area, for female offenders or parolees, perhaps they can use children’s clothes or toys. 
  • Participate in Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree project. 
  • Donate to Girl Scouts Beyond Bars Program.
  • If you know someone who is high risk for incarceration, reach out to her or put her in contact with a community program that can intervene before she loses her children.


Every mother should be able to see their children on Mother’s Day.



*Women in Prison Project 2010