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Three Honduran Mothers
Photo: Mothers Day
In honor of Mothers Day, that sacred day, I thought I would take this opportunity to discuss the Honduran mothers in my family, women with distinct characteristics that have led equally distinct lives.
My mother was born in the tiny village of Santa Lucia, nestled in the western mountains outside of the Honduran capital city of Tegucigalpa. The year was 1965, and even at that time the capital city, Honduras’ largest, was little more than a provincial, semi-industrialized settlement. Santa Lucia – situated along a narrow, two-lane, unpaved highway – had no doctors; even so, people rarely went the hospital anyway, and the sick were sent to a local woman who gave diagnoses and prescribed treatments. The quaint town, now a scenic destination for tourists, was in the 1960s a remote village tucked away from the relative bustle of Tegucigalpa. Back then, the town only had one main thoroughfare, a dirt road that winded through the mountains and connected Santa Lucia to the outside world. Cars would pass through the town only on occasion. Even today, Santa Lucia is a pond of hills, trees, white adobe homes and rust-colored shingles.
Life in Santa Lucia in the 1960s had changed little in the preceding century, and although the village was a major mining center, the difference between Santa Lucia and Tegucigalpa was comparable to the difference between New York City and Coalwood, West Virginia, around the same time. While Honduras once produced a massive amount of exportable goods such as coffee and fruits, corrupt monopolistic practices by such industries has maintained the nation’s reputation as a banana republic, nurturing socioeconomic strife and political unrest. Places as prosperous as Santa Lucia nonetheless lacked basic utilities: running water, electricity, telephones, reliable travel, and the like. The townspeople walked home at night with the aid of torches to avoid deadly snakes and predators. It was common for people, especially children, to wear shoes that wear too small, too big, or go without shoes altogether. With little or no toys, local children (including my grandmother) would find suitable rocks to treat as dolls, naming them and having them interact.
Despite the stereotype of patriarchal families within the Latino community (or perhaps, in spite of it), my Honduran lineage has been quite matriarchal since my great-grandmother was a young woman during the 1930s. My great-grandmother was a stern, commanding woman, as she needed to be in order to raise six sons and two daughters. Completely unaware of most the modern conveniences of the time, she spent her days – from before daybreak to about midnight – tending to the duties of the household: gathering ingredients, cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, sewing and stitching, to name but a few. My great-grandmother seems to have been a pragmatic woman who placed the duties of a matriarch and the obligations to her family above anything extracurricular. “I don’t remember her as the grandma who got ready and went to church,” my aunt Maria recently recalled. “There was just too much for her to do.”
As a girl, my own grandmother would help her mother around the house or help her older brothers in the field, running meals back and forth (tasks her three daughters would carry out decades later). When she was older and began to have children of her own, my grandmother would work beside her brothers or bake goods to sell. Yet even as a little girl, she always had an independent, aspirational streak about her, once telling her father that she would one day have a closet lined with shoes of every kind. She remembers with tearful pride the moment when, after working as a teacher in and around the city for a few years, her dad came to visit her and noticed the small collection of pumps she had amassed in her closet.
Still, even this bit of success was not enough for a woman as driven as my grandmother, and she decided to move to the United States, completely alone and without knowing a word of English. She found work on a line in a factory in Chicago, and she struggled to send as much money as she could manage back to her three daughters in Santa Lucia. Soon other family members began asking for money, and my grandmother worked harder still to provide for them, as well.
Several years later, my grandmother owned a sizable clothing store and her three daughters were receiving a solid education at one of Chicago’s private schools. Today, she’s traveled to faraway places dozens of times (seemingly out of the country every few weeks), and she’s actively involved in her community. Along with a huge collection of clothes in her closet, her house is filled with innumerable keepsakes and trinkets from across the globe.
My mother came to the United States when she was seven years old. Determined not to be ostracized as the foreign girl in school, she focused on mastering the English language and Americanizing, which she did in a short time. Now, she is a fully American woman, but with the fortitude of a Honduran mother. After serving in the U.S. Navy at Guantanamo Bay, she raised three children completely on her own (as her own mother had done). She moved her children from a troublesome neighborhood in Chicago to the relative safety of a Chicago suburb. All three of her children are now college educated, and her younger son is also a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps., having served a tour in Iraq. Her family is not only American, it’s an American success story.
The events retold above might seem disparate to some, but there is one clear strand that links the lives of these three women: a penchant for duty to family and a stubborn determination to successfully raise future generations. My great-grandmother showed my grandmother that a woman should be strong, and my grandmother, perhaps, showed my mother that a woman should also dream. Although my family has yet to become upper class, what we lack in material wealth we more than make up for in principle wealth. As a result, my mother and my grandmother – and from what I can gather, my great-grandmother, as well – possess a certain air of nobility, carrying themselves as reginal women raising future aristocrats. To this day, potential boyfriends and girlfriends are presented to my maternal grandmother for her approval, and candidates are prepped for the encounter by reviewing various dos and don’ts.
Even though I used to resent the pressure my mother and my grandmother placed on me to conform to certain expectations and social norms, I realize now that each reprimand is given with a wink: despite the importance of maintaining a respectable reputation, my mother and my grandmother alike impress upon me to be staunchly independent and unshakably true to myself. These values have served me well in recent years, as an intellectual and as a writer, the benefits of which are not regularly apparent. Whereas too many people feel the need to be constantly validated by the outside world, my mother and my grandmother have taught me that pride begins inside the individual.
So on this Mother’s Day, I raise my glass to the Honduran women – strong and pioneering – who have made me the man that I am today.
Today’s contributor is Hector Luis Alamo, Jr. Hector is a freelance writer and community activist of Honduran-Puerto Rican descent living in Chicago. He studied history at the University of Illinois-Chicago, where his departmental concentration was on ethnic relations in the United States. In 2007 he co-founded an online blog, YoungObservers, and has remained its main contributor. Since 2010 he’s been the Opinions editor for the Chicago Flame, and he also contributes periodically for Examiner.com as its Chicago City Buzz Examiner. He is currently working on his first book.