"Behind every child who believes in themselves is a parent who believed in them first"
Being Human First, means above all else to honor our own experiences.
On January 19, 2021, I found out my mother was in the hospital with covid-19. Not long before that my father had been taken into the hospital as well for complications with covid-19. Unlike my mother, my father was able to return home and has been resting in the home he’s shared with my mother for the last 30+ years. As soon as I got off the phone with my brother I immediately felt a sense of dread. Yet, even with the news, I realized I still had several appointments to finish at work. I honestly do not know how I got through them and I don’t even remember. All I know is that I immediately went into autopilot. It wasn’t until Friday, January 22nd that I finally called my mom to talk to her. I didn’t know what to expect or even what to say. I felt scared, worried, and sad just having to call my mom in the hospital. When she answered I could barely recognize her voice, but I noticed the fear in her tone. Almost instantly the first thing I said was, “Mami te quiero mucho, lo sabes verdad?” (Mommy I love you very much, you know, that right?). Almost immediately I could hear the sadness in her voice. I had never heard my mom sound scared. I’ve heard her sound worried, sad, or stressed. Fear, however, was not something I associated with her. My mom came to this country when she was 13 years old with her older sister. She’s the 2nd of 12 children from a poor family in Guatemala. Like many other immigrants my mom came to the U.S with the hope of having a better life, but even more importantly to help her family back home. I remember growing up and hearing her talk about how she wanted to be a hairdresser in Guatemala but her family was too poor to pay for her schooling. Instead, she sold fruit on the streets to help raise money for her family. When she came to the U.S she knew no English and had never been away from her family. Yet, she worked, sent back money, and built a life here.
I don’t know much about the period between her arrival and meeting my dad since my mom rarely spoke about her experiences. What I do know is that as soon as she married my dad she began building her home. My dad was an alcoholic during the early years of their relationship and he is also 10 years younger than my mother. Somehow my mom was able to help my dad stop drinking and together they purchased a home after living in my aunt’s van for almost a year. This is the same home they still live in and the home I was raised in. I remember hating the green external color growing up. During most of my childhood, my parents continued to be relatively poor, both working low paying jobs to pay the bills. My dad worked at a machine shop for Boeing and my mother worked for a book company putting together the pages in the book covers. When I started high school in Inglewood I realized that I wanted to go to college and felt that the school in my neighborhood wouldn’t give me the best opportunity so I asked my father to help me get into a school in the neighborhood where he worked. He initially resisted stating that it was a white neighborhood and I would be mistreated. Still, I pushed and he eventually gave in. My parents always valued education even though they didn’t even finish middle school. While at this new high school I thrived and in my sophomore year, my father quit his job. He started to visit a friend that was fixing appliances and this became a regular thing. Eventually, my dad’s friend taught him how to also fix things and we spend almost 4 evenings a week there. I hated it. I would get bored and wanted to go home, not understanding that my father was trying to build a better life for us. My mom would often remind me that I had to trust him. Eventually, my dad became really good at fixing things and he built a business. We finally began to have money for luxuries and nice things. I remember one of the biggest things my dad did was fix our home and painted the outside a nicer color. I can still remember my mom’s smile and happiness the day everything was done. My parents became a team and wherever my dad went, my mom was close behind. This of course meant that as the oldest I was in charge of caring for my younger brothers. I won’t go into details, but like many other Latinx kids who are firstborn know, being parentified is nothing to laugh at. I can’t say it was a completely negative experience since I was able to help my parents and I learned to be responsible. Yet, I can still think of how much I missed my parents and how much I wished they were home. They did what they had to and I am eternally grateful.
My parents also helped me through college, although my decision to leave for the Bay Area did not sit well with my mom at all. She was so upset and felt that I was abandoning the family. I think in a lot of ways I got her spirit. Like her, I left home because I wanted to help them and make them proud. Of course, the difference was that I left with the privilege of being the first member of my family in the U.S to go to college. I didn’t do great in school and struggled with adjusting. Yet, every time I called home my mother would remind me that I could do anything. Eventually, I went home and my parents helped me while I started at a different school. I stayed there a year then missed the Bay Area and went back to San Francisco. I met my partner here and found my passion for child development. I remember spending so many nights talking to my mom about not knowing what to do with my life. She of course wanted me to be a doctor, yet early on I realized it wasn’t what I wanted. Eventually, when I figured it out she was supportive and proud. When I finished school, I worked as a teacher and after a few years decided to go to grad school. My parents were so proud when I told them I wanted to be a therapist. They knew little of the career aspect, but they knew it meant I would help people. I only applied to one school (Cal State Long Beach) and on the day of my interview, my parents went with me dressed like they were going to church. They sat in the waiting room with at least 7 people waiting for interviews and dressed in nice clothing. For those of you wondering, yes, I happened to be the only one there with his parents coming along. I left that interview feeling unsuccessful and sad thinking I messed up. I went back to San Francisco and my parents came to visit a week later. While having dinner with them and my partner I got the call that I was accepted. I was one of the 25 out of 300 applicants. I cried, my parents cried and we laughed. I moved back to L.A with my partner and made it through grad school with a 3.9 GPA, an $18,000-dollar stipend I was awarded, and a job.
After a year my partner and I missed San Francisco and we moved back. My parents were sad but supportive. I remember saying goodbye and feeling so sad. This time was different because during the time I was in grad school it had been a few years since I had come out to them. Initially, my mother would pretend I never told her, but that slowly changed. She never 100% accepted it, but she did remind me constantly that she loved me and I felt it. I’ve been in the Bay Area now for 4 years since finishing grad school. I talked to my mom every day. She’s been the first person I called every time I got a raise, a new job, started PsychoSocial, got a speaking engagement, or won an award. She is also the first person I called whenever I feel sad, scared, or worried. The last time I saw her was February 2020 when I drove down to fly out of LAX to my cousin’s wedding. I came back gave her, my dad, and family hugs then came back to the Bay Area. March 2020 changed the world with COVID-19 and the Shelter in place. It’s now January 2021. We have a new president, we continue to live through a pandemic, and I’ve officially spent 9 months out of my first year at Kaiser working from home. It’s also been almost one year since I’ve seen my parents. I’ve kept myself home and have tried my best to be socially responsible.
On Friday, January 22, 2021, I posted a video on Instagram. I think it was the culmination of things that finally pierced through and erupted into what I can only describe as intense vulnerability. I’m scared. I’m heartbroken. Not just for my parents, but for everyone going through something similar. I realized that I had been denying my humanity for so long because I was busy helping others. It wasn’t until I finished an interview that morning that I realized I was hurting too. Immediately after the video was posted I had an outpour of messages. They were filled with love, kindness, and hope. I felt so drained that day, but reading these messages helped. As I sit here typing I keep thinking about what a strong and powerful woman my mom is. When I was growing up I remember hearing so many people say “your mom is mean” or “Your mom is such a bitch.” I often agreed. I still do, but now it’s in a different context. She’s a powerful, brave, and kind woman who had to grow up fast and learn to survive. She’s a fighter, no sugar coating, faithful, warm, caring, badass human. This is perhaps why when I heard fear in her voice I couldn’t handle it. The realization that she’s human. The thought that she won’t always be here and the immense feeling of sadness for not being able to hold her.
I want to continue reminding myself that I am and will always be human first. Remember to remind yourself as well. Hold the ones you love when you can. Above all tell them you love them. Tell them what they mean to you. Like I told my mom on Friday “Sabes que eres la persona mas importante en mi vida verdad?” (You know you’re the most important person in my life right?). I don’t know the future and I can only keep hope alive. As I sit here crying thinking of her in the hospital I can’t help but also feel a little peace knowing she responded “yo se mijo” (I know baby). Thank you everyone for your support and love. I hope I will be sharing good news with all of you. Remember that COVID-19 is no joke. We all have someone we love who can be vulnerable or at higher risk. Take care of yourselves and your loved ones.