I turned thirteen the day we buried my mother. Although she’d only lived to forty years, she’d had a long life. Married at twenty-two, mother of seven by the time she was thirty and widowed at age thirty-six. My mother was one of nine children and one of the oldest of four girls born before any male siblings came along, so I think it was self-preservation that made her as strong a woman as she was. I don’t really know anything about her childhood, so I don’t know the difficulties she faced as a young Mexican woman in a predominantly white area, but I can imagine. I know one of the reasons she didn’t teach us Spanish is to spare us the prejudices she must have faced.
Although I wasn’t really close to my mother (I was still a child and the fifth of seven, so it really wasn’t possible, I don’t think) I think I became the stronger side of her. From what I know, we’re both stubborn, strong-willed, determined women. We’re temperamental, we love our family unconditionally and “we don’t let the bastards wear us down” (I saw that on a coffee mug once).
When my dad died, she grieved for a few days then pushed it aside. Because she had no education past high school, she had to work part time as a waitress in her uncle’s restaurant. When she wasn’t busy working, she’d curl up on her bed with a novel or on the sofa to watch TV. Every week or so we’d have a big family barbeque at my aunt’s house. I never once saw her complain or crumble under the pressure of having to single-handedly raise seven children under the age of 18. I’m sure she did, but she hid it so well that even now, I’m in awe of her.
After my neice had her son, my sister told her "We're a matriarchal family." I think she said this so her son will see that woman are equal. I don't think we'd have had that strength had it not been for my mom. I’m more than proud that I became her and that I’m teaching my daughters that same strength and determination. And even more thankful, we don’t clash.