Lessons from my dad about how to be an immigrant mother
Mario Fernández, my dad, arrived in Venezuela when he was 17 years old from Galicia, northern Spain. His journey in the 3rd class of a transatlantic ship wasn't very different to the one thousands of Europeans made during the last century to the Americas. Some arrived to Ellis Island, others, like him and his family, ventured farther south escaping from the ravages of the wars that had plagued the old continent.
The United States likes to see itself as "the land of opportunity", but during a good part of the XX century this was true for the whole American Continent, from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego.
Mario made a nice life in Caracas first from himself, then for us. After some months laying bricks –tough job for a teenager who until recently was on his way to be the one of youngest college graduated majoring in Philosophy in Spain- he landed a position as helper to the school bus driver in a catholic High School.
Soon after that, he was teaching kids just a few years younger than him. One of them, still one of his best friends until the day he died, in the eve of Father's Day last year.
My dad loved Venezuela with all his heart. So much that he refused to leave, even when all of three of his children had emigrated, escaping the high crime rates and rampant abuses of very corrupt governments. He dedicated his life to the education of the Venezuelan youth and received several awards for it.
More than 700 of those students are still members of the Facebook page we set up for him when he got sick. He heard from all of them regularly, some asking for advice, some to say happy birthday, Merry Christmas or tell him news about their lives, a new child, a great job.
While some of his cousins and fellow immigrant friends fought to imprint into their children their identity as Spaniards, Italians, Portuguese, my dad always allowed us to be 100% Venezuelans. He never got offended, well hardly ever, when we told the usual Galician jokes (in Latin America, Galicians are the butt of the joke, like Irish and Polish are here). He was even amused when I decided to root against Spain in the soccer World Cup (A major deal, as you can imagine.)
In my house, we ate arepas for breakfast, hallacas for Christmas and took car trips around the country whenever we could. He wanted us to be proud of our homeland.
It wasn't that he forgot about Galicia. At family reunions we would listen to Galician music, very close to Scottish and Irish due to their shared Celtic ancestors, speak gallego (a dialect thought to be the origin of Spanish and Portuguese) and hear, over and over again, stories, old and new, about Spain.
We learnt that working hard paid off, that sacrifice was part of parenting and that family is family no matter how far you may be. I have a deep love for Galicia and its people. I marvel at the culture, the scenery, the food. I am proud of my heritage –pressure free. It is a love that coexists peacefully with my love to Venezuela.
When I was pregnant with my first child, I realized that I was going to be the mother of an American. Following my dad's example, I decided to -after eight years- embrace this country with all my heart. I started the process to be a legal resident, until then I had refused, holding on to my status of foreign worker as a shield against "becoming a real gringa."
I stopped being an outsider and started to get involved with my community and the country itself. Tried to understand people a little better, try to help a lot more.
I teach my children to be proud of their homeland. We travel with them often, talk about the achievements of American citizens and try to instill in them the best values of this culture.
In our home, we celebrate the 4th of July and Thanksgiving. We get visits from Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy, but also from el Ratón Miguelito, el niño Jesús y los Reyes Magos.
My kids consider themselves lucky of having such a rich cultural heritage. They have Jewish, Celtic, Wuayú (a indigenous group between Venezuela and Colombia), Vasque, Catalonian and African blood and they know about it and love every part of it without conflict -- pressure free. Gracias papá. I miss you so much!
What great lessons are you thankful to your dad for?