Feature photo by Tambako
Let me defend myself. Yes, I live with my mom, but I left home early as a teenager and then came back after several years of freedom. One can only party so hard in a beer-soaked pad before an average-looking life, normal home and close family ties start to look enticing. Both my mother and I paying high rents to two different slum lords started to make less and less sense as I entered my mid-twenties and my mom set into her senior years. And, Latinos don’t believe in nursing homes or having old folks just living in some apartment all alone. Many of our elders enjoy their final moments in this world surrounded by the warmth of their family, in the comfort of their own home, reclining on plastic-covered couches while watching telenovelas–sometimes with little kids geeked on ultra-sweet Kool-Aid running circles around them. This is the natural order of things. It works for us –for the most part.
My mother has some health issues and knee problems, walks with a limp, is full of dirty jokes and culturally-insensitive remarks, and she often makes dramatic gestures towards the sky. I am a caring, level-headed, very liberal big dummy. Basically, we are a modern Latina Sanford & Son. I am going to take this idea to Hollywood soon. I am working on my elevator pitch at the moment, but I already have some choice dialog and quotes ready for scripting –straight from our daily mother-and-daughter moments.
My mother on loving thy neighbor:
Hearing the doorbell ring, I ask, “Who was that?”
“Some kids trying to sell something. I told them to get lost.”
“Kids? What were they selling?” I say.
“I don’t know, fake roses or something. Little gypsy kids.”
Exhaling deeply, I wonder aloud, “Mom, how did you know they were, um, ‘gypsies’?”
“I know a damn gypsy when I see one! I see them around all the time. They try to pass as Mexican or Tejano, but I can spot a gypsy. Quick, go check the back. They might be rummaging through our garbage.”
My mother on fashion:
“Oh so you went shoe shopping? What did you get?” Mom asks me as I walked in with shopping bags.
“Just some new shoes for work with some heel. I need more height for a better look with some of my slacks,” I said as I showed the shoes.
“Uh, whose daughter are you? You call that a heel? That’s barely a heel. Ay, Reyna! You and your sensible lesbian footwear.”
My mother on the sexual division of labor:
Talking about a bungled project at work over a cup of coffee, I recounted: “Yeah, so, that’s what happened. It’s all screwed up. But, there’s nothing we can do. My boss said I was going to just have to go in there, let them chew me out, and ‘take it like a man’ even though I had nothing to do with it.”
Mom quickly cut in: “Why do people always say that, ‘take it like a man’? I hate that expression. Men don’t know how to take jackshit. They can’t deal with everything women deal with. They would fall apart. Women do everything of worth, and they do it for less. And don’t get me started on pain. Try popping out a writhing, big-headed 12 pound baby and then talk to me about pain. I’ll tell you what men take, they take one dollar to your sixty cents. That’s what they take. Bastards.”
Those are real snippets of conversation between my mother and me. As much as I would love to, I cannot create dialog like this. Not everything she says lends itself to comedy, though. When I was a girl, she instructed me to never mock another person’s laugh or smile because happiness can be hard to come by in this world. She pushed me to be myself because no one else was going to do it for me. She let me know that the burden of thinking differently or being misunderstood will be challenging because people can be so stupid sometimes, but I will have to stay strong. She warned me not to pursue meaningless material goods just for the sake of having them. She encouraged me instead to pursue knowledge and be honest always because there is no fire, or robbery, or bullshit legal proceeding that can take what is in your heart or mind.
During a recent conversation, my mom recounted details from her experiences in grammar school. She was tossed into a mixed-grade classroom when she arrived in Chicago as a child and struggled to follow along. The nuns in her Catholic school would punish and hit students who spoke Spanish. So, she just didn’t speak at all, to anyone, for a very long time. They gave her special tests, thinking maybe she was deaf or otherwise mentally impaired. Soon enough, she started speaking English. Sometimes it seems like she started speaking and has never stopped. Anyone who has sat down with The Silver Fox knows how hard it is to get a word in edgewise. (One of my family’s many nicknames for her is The Silver Fox because of her silver hair and sometimes wily charisma.) But, I hope I get the chance to tell her soon that I am forever grateful she found her voice–and gave me mine. Happy Mother’s Day, Silver Fox.