My foremothers paved the way

I recently lost my mother to cancer.

My experience of caring for her was something that I would not have believed. From the moment we were informed of her terminal illness, she was so accepting of it, saying simply that she had lived her life and she was ready to go. She said she was not afraid to die; her near-death experience had taught her it was nothing to fear.

I began to reflect on her life and what she had given to me. I thought about her mother and her grandmother. I realized that each one had paved the way that allowed me to be the woman I am today.

In Mexico almost a century ago, my great-grandmother somehow allowed my grandmother to get an education and become a schoolteacher. Although unmarried, my grandmother not only was educated, but traveled and taught in other parts of Mexico, very progressive for those days. She went one step further: she chose to marry a man of her own choice, a man who was not in her social class, an indigenous man from Zacatecas.

My mother was also a woman who had broken away from several social norms. She fell in love with an abusive man who was an alcoholic, a womanizer, who would beat her severely. After 11 years and against many odds, with four children in tow, she left him, never to return. It was an act of bravery very few women took in her generation, an act of bravery that gave me the opportunity to not repeat that cycle. An act of bravery that allowed my daughter to experience what a healthy relationship is.

My mother’s first child was born with Down syndrome. Instead of sending him away she accepted the challenge of raising him, and instead of treating him as someone with a disability, she raised him based on his abilities, again at a time when this was not the social norm. There was no one to tell her that this was the best way — quite the contrary: family members called her cruel and heartless. This decision too had a great impact for me, because it laid the foundation on which I would base my career. My children grew up accepting people who were different from them.

My mother’s bravery paved the way. While making sure we got our education, she too went back to school. She started with finishing elementary and junior high school, then she got her high school diploma, and at age 51 she got her bachelor’s degree. For her it was never too late to finish something that you want to do. It was a monumental task for her. This act of bravery gave me the confidence to finish my own schooling and the belief that as a woman I have the strength to go after any goal I set for myself, that it is never to late to achieve them.

My mother sacrificed a great many things but I can fully understand how satisfied she was with her life and how this allowed her to go in peace. My foremothers have been women who through their example have allowed the next generation to move forward. I see my daughter and she is the culmination of the path that we, her foremothers, have paved.

Rossana Cambron is a reader in Los Angeles.