My Salvadoran Mother Chose a Life of Sacrifice to Give Her Children the American Dream: Nancy Kelsey
CLEVELAND, Ohio — Every Mother’s Day reminds me of the sacrifices our families’ matriarchs make for their children.
When my mother came to this country from El Salvador, she left everything she knew behind. In theory, I understand. But imagining myself in his place is much harder to imagine. I will probably never really be able to understand how difficult his life was there. Above all, I will never understand how leaving her family behind – traveling alone to a new life in a country, where the customs and the language were unfamiliar to her – was a more attractive option than staying.
When my mother left her hometown of Santa Ana, it was in a state of disarray, decades in the making. Dragged into a civil war by the same dichotomies the country struggles with today, she and many other families of Indigenous descent settled into generational poverty. Decades before, for example, workers of predominantly Indigenous background had learned that challenging the status quo would bring unimaginable reprisals.
Indigenous workers stood up for their rights and were brutally punished by the Salvadoran government for it. Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in what is called Matanza, or slaughter. Some estimates say 4% of the population was lost. And that was long before the Salvadoran Civil War, which is more familiar to Americans today.
I’m sure many people reading this article can relate to the frustration of working as hard as possible and not seeing their situation improve. Likewise, I know that no matter how hard my mother worked in El Salvador, the better life she wanted for herself never materialized. My mother is the second oldest of eight. She worked long days and saved enough, not only for herself, but for her mother to support her younger siblings in a job she held in San Salvador. She would come home on the weekends, but I think not seeing her family daily made it easier for her to choose to move to the United States.
If she hadn’t sacrificed many things that most of us consider daily comforts, my life wouldn’t be what it is today. Mom never bought herself new clothes. She made sure we were fed before feeding. She did her best with what she had to work with, so that we didn’t feel poor.
My mother saved for the things that mattered, namely our education. Raised Catholic herself in a country where education was more of a luxury than a right, especially for the socio-economically disadvantaged, she made it a priority to send us to Catholic schools. We attended a few Catholic schools in the Slavic village, where my mother held bingos, sold raffle tickets and other items to help offset school fees.
Between her day jobs and her odd jobs, she found the time to carry out these school-related functions, while remaining our omnipresent mother. She accompanied us all the way to school on the RTA buses and was there to pick us up for the ride home afterwards. She took us to swimming and karate lessons at the Michael J. Zone Recreation Center. When my brother John wanted to join the Boy Scouts, our mother did. When I wanted a quinceañera, a Sweet 15, a birthday party, Mom threw a beautiful party, full of memories that will last a lifetime.
My mother even sacrificed her tongue for us. Growing up, we didn’t speak Spanish. Mama said she lived discrimination because of her accent and wanted to make sure her children didn’t speak with an accent. We had to learn to speak Spanish by listening and learning from our loved ones, but eventually Mom gave in and started teaching us Spanish by paying us stipends to read Spanish library books aloud to her.
I was the first born American of my cousins, and I wasn’t always as grateful when I was younger than I should have been for my mother’s sacrifices, often comparing myself to those who had the wealthiest means and resenting the little I felt I had. For the rest of my life, I will try to atone for this in my mother’s eyes.
Although we didn’t get much, I wish I was more grateful and less snotty about what little we had. Looking back, our lives were rich in so many other ways, and it set the stage for the American Dream my mother worked so hard to give us. My brother and I were blessed to have attended some phenomenal colleges – I went west to Creighton University and my brother packed his bags east for Dartmouth College.
With our mother’s encouragement, love and support, we had the freedom to pursue our passions and go to the schools we wanted to attend, no matter how hard it was for her to let us each go. more than 12 hours in opposite directions. of Cleveland. Even when I had internships on the east and west coasts, Mom always made time to visit me and we talked daily.
So, to all the mothers whose stories are filled with acts of selfless love, I say “thank you.”
And to my mom, words can never express my gratitude for the love you have shown me. Gracias por todo que has sacrificed por me. Gracias por todo que continuas a hacer por nosotros. Te quiero muchisimo.
Originally from Clevelander in the Slavic Village neighborhood, Nancy Kelsey began her career in journalism before working in communications. Her greatest loves are her husband, her family, her dogs, volunteering, traveling, writing, learning about other cultures and sharing her own. You can reach her at [email protected].