National Hispanic Heritage Month: A Story of Family, Culture, and Courage

It started as a day like any other, but I knew that day my life would change forever. I remember it as if it was just yesterday. I could feel the fear of leaving everything behind, everything I knew. I looked at Mami, and I could see the sadness in her eyes, but I could also see her courage. My mom, my sister, and I left Mexico when I was 12 years old for safety reasons after an agonizing separation between my parents that would leave her with no choice. I knew we would be safer away, but it did not ease the pain. 

I did not really realize how much I would truly lose. It did not take long; I felt like an árbol desarraigado, an uprooted tree. It suddenly hit me. I had not just left my toys, friends, home, and access to what we needed materialistically speaking. It was as if I had left my language and my culture behind. I had to function in a world I did not know, in a language I could not understand, and in a place where I did not always feel welcomed. Most importantly, I had left my grandparents and the rest of our familia behind. I felt completely lost, and for many nights I dreamed of those Saturdays with my abuelitos eating delicious food prepared by my mom and my abuelita while we listened to my abuelito recite a poema or read a book. Abuelita made the best frijoles de la olla and homemade queso and tortillas. After dinner, the whole house would be filled with the smell of freshly ground café. I loved to watch Mami enjoy her parents while drinking a tacita de café; it was as if those visits soothed her soul. I missed my abuelitos, their sweet smell, kisses, and hugs, and I still do. I could almost hear the laughter of my primos playing silly games and feel the special hugs and soft kisses from my tías and tíos when they would come to visit. I knew if this was hard for me, it had to be crushing my mami, yet she remained positive, strong, and encouraging.

Mami went from working in an office to working with her hands, long hours, and many times two jobs to make ends meet. She had lost more than me, but her smile was never erased. I still do not understand how she never seemed to break down. She always encouraged my sister and me to get an education. At times, her educational expectations seemed unrealistic and felt so unfair when the language was a huge barrier. “Usa un diccionario” she would say, and although I had asked for a computer, she gave me what she could, a thick paperback dictionary that she expected me to use to translate my assignments. When I graduated, I gave her my honors cord. It belonged to her. I could not have made it without her encouragement. 

I am so glad Mami never gave up on herself, my sister, or me. I am grateful that she continued to find the positive in everything and made sure we learned about new traditions and a new language but kept ours alive. She encouraged me to love the beautiful country that had given us another opportunity and reminded me not to forget where I had come from and to be proud of my heritage. Mami taught me to seek God, to trust Him with all my corazón, and to forgive others for my own peace. She did that with kind words of encouragement and with her own actions. 

Mami continues encouraging her familia to seek God, celebrate our heritage, and be proud of our beautiful language. She loves telling her grandchildren stories about how Día de Muertos and Navidad were celebrated back home. She enjoys having us all participate in those celebrations and other special tradiciones. She also enjoys helping the grandkids read and write in Spanish and fall in love with their heritage and our wonderful food. I think that is her favorite way to show her love. On our birthdays, she makes our favorite traditional dishes, like pozole, mole, and tamales. When I am having a bad week, I can almost guarantee that she will make some special traditional food and one of her many salsas to lift up my spirits! To cheer me up, Mami makes flan. Smooth like her hands, sweet like her amor, and beautiful like her soul. I feel her love in every bite.

1. Florencia Sámano (Mami), her parents, and siblings. Florencia is the little girl in the white dress on the front left.
2. Florencia Sámano's parents
3. Florencia Sámano and her brother at Mami's graduation.
4. Lucía's sister (Yesenia), Florencia, and Lucía.
5. Florencia Sámano with all of her grandchildren at her granddaughter’s quinceañera.
6. Florencia Sámano and Lucía on Lucía's wedding day.
7. Florencia Sámano and Lucía. photo by Matt Cornelius
8. Lucía in her traditional handmade Chiapaneco dress, a gift from her mami.


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