My mother is an immigrant from Argentina. She came with my father to Chicago, Illinois in the 1950’s, when they were only in their early 20’s. I remember my mother telling me how shocked she was when she first arrived, got on a bus, and watched as African Americans were told to sit in the back. Although she felt this measure of privilege right away, she knew that as an immigrant she too would have to fight for her own rightful place in society. She also knew that the path to freedom would take a long, long time.
My parents were poor, with no concept of where they would find work or make a home. They had left their families behind, to start their own, only to endure the brutal, freezing winters in Chicago. They weren’t used to the harsh weather and missed the tropical climate in Buenos Aires. They missed their old life.
At the time, my mother didn’t speak any English, but my father was bilingual, having been raised in a British Catholic boarding school, orphaned from the time he could walk. Ironically, my mom was the first to find a job, as a secretary for the International Rotary Club in Evanston, Illinois. Back then, women were secretaries. She knew if she wanted to do something outside the home, she had to learn English. She was intimidated by this difficult task, but word by word she mastered the language, practicing at home with my father until she got it right.
She was the breadwinner in the family until my father found work. When he did, she gave birth to my brother in a modest home in Evanston. They didn’t have adequate heat, and the weather took its toll on their mental states. They never warmed up to the windy city, and began to search for a new home. My mother followed my father as they bounced back and forth from Chicago to Argentina, Columbia to California—where they finally landed and planted roots in Los Angeles. Soon my father found work, and my mother stayed with my older brother, sister, and me in La Habra, California.
In our home, my mother had a voice. She was my father’s equal. She showed me how to lead through her love, devotion and persistent actions. She cooked, cleaned, and created a warm home steeped in Latin traditions, (cooking Argentine meals, drinking Yerba Mate, dancing the tango, playing Truco), but she also taught me the path to freedom. She would say, “Money is security and independence.” And with those words, my mother laid the foundation, providing us with a safe and loving home while hoping for a better life.
As we got older, she decided she wanted her own business. She loved antiques and put her passion into collecting beautiful things from her parts of the world. She sold them in a little shop on Whittier Blvd. in Whittier, slowly making her name known in the community. This was her dream, and no one could take it away from her. She had a voice in the world, a purpose, and after so many years of moving around, she had found a sense of place.
Isn’t that the ultimate freedom? To find where your heart belongs, earn a good living on your own terms, and live in peace, free to lead an independent and honest life.