A few weeks ago, the school principal approached me and told me that I had been selected to be the student of the month for our school district. It was pretty exciting news. The following week, I attended the official ceremony at the district office and received a certificate commemorating my accomplishments. My mother came with me. Throughout the evening, different adults in the room came up to her, congratulating her for my accomplishments, and timidly she smiled at them and shook their hands. It was a humbling scene to witness, considering the fact that if it hadn’t for this woman, I wouldn’t have been standing in that room, accepting the award.
Born to Pedro and Juana on the 19th day of January 1963 in the capital of El Salvador, my mother was named Marta and was not picked up from the hospital until 9 days after her birth. In the midst of growing tensions, poverty and violence, El Salvador was a ripe environment for child neglection. At such a young age, my mother had already been exposed to Juana’s stone, cold personality and Pedro’s common absences and womanizing.
By her late 20s, Marta was a single mother of two, trying so hard to function in an impoverished, war-torn country. She knew she could not care for my sisters in El Salvador and knew she had no future in trying to do so. A mother’s mission is to protect her children and she did what she had to in order to do just that. So she embarked on the long journey North and traveled to the free world: the United States. Distant relatives reminisce of how my sister had cried and cried for weeks after my mother’s departure. They would not reunite for another few years.
My mother reached San Francisco, California in the spring of 1989, not knowing any English. Her first job consisted of taking care of blonde, blue-eyed children for wealthy families. Eventually, she was reunited with my sisters and became more established by securing permanent jobs, despite the hardships that it brought. To achieve her version of the American Dream, my mother has suffered countless hardships and endured an unspeakable amount of racism, discrimination, and other forms of institutionalized oppression.
In an attempt to understand her better, I have uncovered parts of her story through interviews with older relatives, journals, documents, and pictures, all of which recount a survivor’s life. By writing about my mother, I feel closer to her, and I’ve realized that at the end of the day, her legacy, her sacrifices, and her suffering is what will push me to succeed. My family comes from the most impoverished and violent corners of El Salvador. Only a few decades ago, the mere possibility that anyone in our family could attend any university in the United States of America, the free world, seemed obscure, laughable even. Yet, there I stood that Wednesday: a successful, 4.0-GPA high school student being recognized by my principal, my teachers and the governing members of my school district for my academic and extracurricular accomplishments.
For my mother, especially, this realization was a jarring, and emotional experience: “Seeing you up there, and everything you’ve accomplished was something I never saw coming for this family.” I am a breathing product of my mother’s strength and resilience. No matter where I end up after high school, I know that I am capable of success. Any success I grow to attain in my future will be because of her and what she has instilled in me: courage, determination, and an insurmountable amount of stubbornness.