She stopped working to live ; she started living to work. The sunrise was her best friend for years; they woke up together. She blended vegetable soup in the pot to bring home. Mama cleaned and cooked for three houses, but only owned one. She lifted heavy boxes, swept and mopped floors, did laundry, and took care of kids. There was no such thing as a break. She guaranteed my siblings and I everything we needed. She raised the four of us without help from any of our fathers.
The sun was always at its maximum in Sao Filipe, Fogo, Cape Verde. The weather was warm, and that was home for my mother. Escola Materna was a Catholic middle school that she attended and where she spent most of her time with her sister. Her mother would be at the side of the road selling candies until around five p.m. My mother and her friends would play segunda-terca, a game involving jumping and using a very long elastic, and many others games throughout the day. They shared meals that each one brought from home. The day one of the nuns cut my mother’s hair off was very upsetting; she didn’t like anyone to do her hair. Tears could not stop rolling down her cheeks. Years later, my mom still keeps her hair very short.
After moving back to Cape Verde from Angola when she was 15, my mother had to leave behind her dream of being a writer and a tennis player to start working. She was one of the most sought-after housemaids. She cleaned and cooked for some rich German family to help Grandma build her house.
It was very difficult for my mom when Grandma died. My mom was two months pregnant with me.
“I didn’t know I was pregnant, but your Grandma knew,” my mom told me. As if Grandma felt, days before she passed, she told Mama that she had taken care of my siblings but would not take care of the next one (me). There were moments that her tears were like anchors sinking her into the deepest oceans. She felt abandoned and lost and the sunlight didn’t seem that bright anymore. After I was born, my mother decided to name me Cecilia—after my grandmother—but my father thought the name was ugly. (So do I.)
Grandma taught her how to work hard to achieve her goals, and how to love and respect others, and these lessons helped her get through life’s challenges. She thinks every day about passing these same values on to her kids, teaching us to be strong and honest, and to not let any struggle cause our dreams to collapse.
The first years in America, my mother lived as an undocumented immigrant. She got married five years ago, and today she has her legal documents and that was the spark for a new sunrise. My mother worked in nursing homes, cleaning and taking care of elderly people.”They are my family!” she once said before she had a chance to bring her kids to the United States. There is a lot of love in her relationship with the patients. To overcome the challenges in her life, she had to be strong and firm.
My mother’s definition of success is about the strength by which you live your life. Her resilience has been an inspiration for me to be diligent and make her proud.
I will be the first in my family to graduate from high school and go to college. “I can’t wait for your graduation,” she told me. Hopefully she will not cry.
Written by the graduating class of 2018 from the Boston International Newcomers Academy (BINcA), this collection of personal essays explores ideas of success across generations and continents. Foreword written by Poet Laureate of the City of Boston Danielle Legros Georges.View In Store Read more from this book »