My mom’s birthday was exactly one week ago, on August 7th. On this exact day eleven years ago, my mom, my younger sister, and I were on a hot bus somewhere near the border of Texas. Behind us was Mexico with all of our memories and in front of us was the promise of opportunity along with the border patrol officer who would determine whether the documents in my mother’s hands were good enough to let us try. We passed his inspection and my mom cheered in her seat filling the air with both joy and relief. ¡El mejor regalo!, she kept repeating with a smile.
My mom was saying goodbye to the safety of the home she had grown up in, the relatives who cherished her, and the country she claimed as her own, yet gaining entrance into the U.S was “the best present” she could have received because it meant gaining independence, ensuring sustenance and a prosperous future for my sister and me, and escaping the limits that confined her, a single mother, in Mexico.
I opened up my Watson application by describing a plastic snow globe that my mom has kept for many years. It is as tall as my hand and has large pieces of glitter that bounce up with the slightest touch. There is a thin slot underneath its oval base where my mom inserted a small rectangular picture to fill the emptiness. In the picture you can see my mom, my sister Xiomi, and I crouching over a round wooden table that is holding my mom’s favorite heavily frosted carrot cake next to a red lighter. This picture was taken by a disposable camera that I set on a timer on August 7th, 2005, exactly one year after our arrival to the United States.
My mom, who is 36, is on the left looking straight at the camera. Her eyes appear tired after what was probably a long day at work, but her smile brings a glow to the rest of her face. In the middle is my younger sister who is eight. Her smile from ear to ear is as bright as the shirt she is wearing in her favorite color. I am to her right sporting long unkempt bangs on both sides of my face, which are common for most twelve year olds, and I have the biggest smile of the three.
In this picture, we were surviving.
Survival meant day-to-day hardship, difficult choices, and constant negotiations. Not to mention, that my mom carried a lot of guilt over her decision, which I was unaware of until only recently. She says everyone tried to stop her. You’ll be alone, her family would tell her and they would plead, We want to see las niñas grow up. My mom says even I tried to deter her, although I do not remember. She says I would cry and ask why.
I once asked my mom about the snow globe and the picture inside it and she told me that when we first arrived in the U.S that’s how she wanted to have us, como en una bolita de nieve, inside a snow globe so she could protect us. What this taught me, is that while we were alone and uncertain about what each day would bring, our survival was also dependent upon finding sources of happiness and strength. A photograph, a snow globe, a birthday cake, and my sister and me–all of these brought my mom joy and allowed her to survive each day.
As for me, my success and my spirit have flourished out of the battleground that has been my mom’s life. Our story is the backbone for my Watson project and I feel very fortunate to be on this journey and meeting women, who like my mother, have never given up surviving.