My mother is a lot of things. She is a Filipina. She is an American. She is kind. She is strong. She is gorgeous. She is funny. She is resilient. She is an immigrant. She is my greatest source of strength and inspiration.
As children of immigrants, sometimes we take for granted what our immigrant parents have done for us: the struggles they endured as outsiders in a country where conversations of ethnic diversity and “wokeness” have yet to become mainstream concepts. At the time my mom came to the United States, feminism had become a thing, but intersectional feminism that specifically addressed the plight of women of color was still largely in the shadows.
I am so lucky to be surrounded by so many strong Filipinas in my daily life. I work with them. I’m related to them. I’m friends with them. But the one that inspires me the most is my mother, the embodiment of resilience.
My mother was born in Project 4 in Quezon City, Manila, Philippines, the middle child of five children. She was raised by a single mother whose highest level of education was 6th grade but whose love and nurturing exceeded those of most humans on this planet. My mother and my aunts and uncle lived in substandard, but livable conditions, at one point, living in a 1-bedroom home with about eight other people. In 2010, I visited this home on a trip to the Philippines with my mom, and I couldn’t believe it. It was barely larger than my bedroom in cushy Orange County, California.
People have been migrating to the United States since this country was first established. It’s not that amazing of a phenomenon. But then again, it is. That a person can go from living in squalid conditions to becoming a working professional and raising a family in an entirely new country is still so unimaginable to me. You have all these roadblocks that could make that painstaking journey not worth it: financial issues, discrimination, inability to assimilate in the Western World, etc. But because of the all-star parenting
from their mother, my mom and her siblings were all able to graduate college, relocate to the United States and raise children who would also become college graduates and accomplished professionals. It certainly wasn’t easy for any of them, but they each decided that it was worth it. And I could thank my mother every single day for that brave decision and it still wouldn’t be enough.
Throughout my 24 years of living on this planet as my mother’s daughter, not once have I ever seen my mother lash out on my sister and me, although to have done so would have been warranted. She rarely ever raises her voice, preferring to have conversations rather than fights. She calmly approaches every rocky situation with pragmatism and speaks assertively when necessary but never pugnaciously. I have not been the easiest daughter to parent. I was too naive and ignorant to recognize that my mother gave all she could only for me to be so unappreciative.
But through it all, she was always there for me. I can never take away the years that I disregarded my mother’s love for me, her efforts to understand my mental disturbances and the unyielding care she has selflessly given me. I’ve always been close to my mother and, of course, love her to death. But there were times I was unreasonable. I can never take away the times I was rude to her when she asked me for help with her iPhone or got really annoyed at her for her calling me a million times when I was out late: things that would have been so simple for me to do for her to show her I care.
Recently, I had an existential crisis. One day when my mother visited me, I profusely apologized to her for the times I’ve not been so kind to her. I messily apologized for my actions that have worried her, the ill-mannered things I’ve said to her over the years, and the times I’ve neglected her feelings.
In a situation where she could’ve berated me, all she said was, “It’s OK. You’re my daughter and I love you. I just want you to be happy. It’s going to be OK and I’ll always be here for you.”
It takes an enormous amount of strength to be able to be gentle and kind, especially in situations where it’s easy to be smug and unforgiving. But because she’s who she is, she was supportive and tender. I know what unconditional love is because of my mother. No one has ever cared for me the way that she does, and given all that she has gone through, it would have been very easy for her to turn to pessimism. It would’ve been so easy and so warranted for her to resent those who have failed her time and time again.
But she’s not that way. Not in the slightest. She goes through the world with shining optimism and confidence that we should all strive for. She is the sole purveyor of honesty, positivity, and inspiration in my life. I am the luckiest daughter in the world to have a mother who chooses strength over withdrawal and optimism over negativity.
Growing up, my mother had a clear message for my sister and me: the only thing she ever expected from us was a college degree. After my graduation ceremony in 2016, my mother hugged me tight and told me how happy she was; I looked into her eyes and saw pure joy and pride. Though it was always in my sights to graduate from college, I was taken aback by her reaction. She’d always been proud of me, but this was the first time I actually understood that she was happy for me and for me only. It wasn’t that she could brag that her daughter graduated college, but it was because I’ve achieved something that will serve me and only me. Never for her own benefit, she wanted me to shine. She’s proud of me, and that fills me with everlasting joy.
Happy International Women’s Day to you and your mother and/or mother figures!