Mariachi and Mom
This article was published in PS Magazine in the November/December 2015 issue, Pages 22-23.
After my mother passed away in 2010, my family gathered at a Mexican restaurant in San Antonio, Texas to take comfort in the ballads sung by the mariachi band there. Twelve years earlier we had done the same, coming together here after losing Dad. How comforting it was to hear my eldest sister’s rich and soothing voice again, singing along in Spanish, not missing a beat. Of all of us, she had been most immersed in this family tradition. Born last, I am a latecomer to this ritual, and so I tend to fake my way through, brushing off how I butcher the language. While my tongue may struggle, my heart is all in. Through tears, squeezed hands, and a Margarita or two, we pour our grief into the music, reveling in a pastime only our family can truly understand. Born on the border in Laredo and nurtured by a string of Mexican nannies, my mother spoke Spanish before she spoke English, and this music formed the soundtrack for her life there. As an Air Force fly boy before WWII, my father met Mom in Laredo, where they danced together to these soulful tunes. While not a drop of Hispanic blood runs through our veins, these treasured pieces of the culture do.
As human beings, we weave meaning into our experiences and interactions. They frame who we’ve been, who we are, and what we’ll become. These stories become a part of our DNA, our sense of self. At The Eden Alternative, we teach that identity, connectedness, and meaning are crucial aspects of well-being, and that, throughout our lives, they must be nurtured and celebrated. Honoring our heritage provides a powerful vehicle for this expression, highlighting how we are each unique and yet intimately connected… a part of something bigger than ourselves. Elders play a special role in holding dear the legacy that is our heritage. In this fast-paced world where it’s easy to lose our way, the stories of our ancestors are both grounding and reassuring. When elders gift us with knowledge of our heritage, the circle of care also becomes complete. While we care for them as their abilities change, they give us care in return, by reminding us who we are and where we come from. The Eden Alternative defines this as care partnership, where opportunities to give as well as receive are alive in every moment, provided we tune in and tap them.
Looking back, my mother’s gift as my care partner was to teach me to be deeply curious about the heritage of others. With only a high school education, she made learning about people a scholarly endeavor with an open heart and mind. Welcoming diversity and celebrating our differences is the most valued gift she offered me. It has helped me engage easily with people of different backgrounds and to appreciate the inherent beauty of unique values and traditions. Today, I live in the Northeast, where each day there are new and interesting expressions of cultural identity for me to explore. And with open heart and mind, I dive in, while the distant strains of mariachi stir within my soul.