Growing up, I always knew that my mom was not like other moms. In some ways, she was defiantly, undeniably Latina: packing me bean and cheese burritos for lunch (the kind that got cold and smelly by lunchtime so that I had the full child-of-immigrants experience), painting our house bright colors that would only ever be found in Mexico, centering that familiar wooden bowl of fruit on our dining room table that only seemed to appear in other Latinx homes. But in a lot of ways, she was someone completely her own, atypical to what other Latina moms were supposed to be.
Unlike the few that I saw in pop culture or literature, she didn’t curse in Spanish, throw the chancla when she got upset, or need me to translate important documents for her from a young age. In fact, except to my grandparents, she barely spoke Spanish at all in the house, which perhaps affected me the most. Even with my immigrant, Spanish-speaking dad, I didn’t get enough immersion in the language and failed to become fluent, affecting how I was treated at family parties, events with other Latinx kids, and my own home. Having a mom who was just as “American” as I would grow up to be, changed me, knowing that in another way, an addition to the list of things that made me me, I wasn’t like everyone else.
Truthfully, I resented her, and myself, for being so American, so assimilated. What’s wrong with us? I would think, even though I now know that the stereotypical Latina mother can be toxic, distant, and at times, even abusive. In contrast, I lived a relatively sheltered life. We weren’t like the few Latinxs we saw in media at the time, mostly on the Disney Channel, who spoke with accents like my dad and who had immigrated here from another country, most often Mexico. The culture was visible, however imperfect, but not that of me or my mom experiences. It should’ve made me feel less alone, knowing that she was just like me, but she had the advantage of lacking a language barrier, and it wasn’t exactly something I wished was a reality in the first place.
And yet, despite what I felt, I couldn’t deny everything that tied us together. What connected us so tightly that even now, people notice we have the same laugh, the same way of speaking on the phone so that even our family members have to check who’s speaking when one of us answers. It was obvious, how much we loved each other and how much time we spent together, driving me home from school or one of my many extracurricular activities she put me in. But back then, I hated those similarities, how I inherited her shyness and meekness to the point that people often didn’t notice when I was in a room or listen when I spoke. Like most of us, I wanted to be someone different growing up, or at least someone with more stereotypically Latinx parents so I didn’t feel so whitewashed and instead felt like I belonged.
For many people of color, we know that’s the worst label we can be branded with, whether by our families, our peers, or other members of our communities: American. White. Gringo. Assimilated. Whether or not it’s true, it hurts to be told you’re not enough. That your identity isn’t a claim to anything. Honestly, I’d argue that it’s often who the person is outside of their culture that makes them interesting because it’s not a personality that’s informed only by their homeland or culture. But when you’re growing up in a country that can often misrepresent you and people from your home country, I know it can be the one thing you can hold onto that feels safe and make sense. But even when that didn’t cut it, ironically enough it was my mom that I went to for safety and guidance.
In that way, I have to give my mom credit for how she never stopped trying. Not only to connect me to my culture—signing me up for folklorico dance classes, cooking Mexican food, having me spend time with my Mexican relatives—but also to me as her only daughter. While we enjoyed going out to shop or visiting the library and stationery shops, we found common ground in crafting. Often we took inspiration from Pinterest to learn new creative skills, from how to work a hot glue gun to sewing patches on my jeans, from making an apron to crocheting dolls and clothes. In my senior year of high school, we even took up bookbinding so I could write and create a book for my capstone project, and I can’t even count the number of times she saved me during a class assignment. Throughout each craft, it was eye-opening to learn from her, how much she knew and still knows, and to take on a kind of legacy in creating beautiful things.
Looking back, it was probably the most Latina thing she could’ve done for me as a mom and as a woman. We are known for making something out of nothing, beauty out of even the smallest resources, creativity in the darkest moments. She too grew up watching her mother, a seamstress, create things to survive. Where would the world be without our creativity? Without our mothers? Now that I’m older, I appreciate more what she sacrificed to make a different life than the one she had, what mountains she moved to raise me in a home where I would never doubt that my mom loved me. So unlike the loving but emotionally distant mother she grew up knowing in her childhood. I admire her success in breaking that cycle, becoming a mother on her own terms, and raising a daughter that loves her mother right back openly, without shame.
I’m lucky to have a mother for a best friend because just knowing people my age, mother-daughter and mother-child relationships can be incredibly complicated and torn, or even nonexistent. I have the immense privilege of being so connected to and open with my mother, to the point that she’s the person I go to with any problem or accomplishment. She’s my favorite person in the world. She might not have been the person I wished for in childhood, the kind I was convinced I needed in order to feel like I belonged, the face of what it means to be a typical “Latina mom”. But as I grow older and celebrate her for the person she is — and try to know the person she was before she became my mom — I now realize how much I have to be grateful for and how I got was way better than anything I could’ve imagined. How lucky to be a daughter who loves her mother right back.