Mami Dances Now
In many ways it would have been easier for her to remain, sewing and doing piece work in Mexico City, surrounded by siblings, cousins and friends while he left to pick cherries and asparagus, rather than to set out together.
With the United States map open before him and eyes closed, Rebecca's husband's finger landed on Houston, and so they set out with their four-year-old son. Signs in Houston's Barrio Segundo saying "discoteca", "fruteria", "taqueria", smells of familiar spices, and sounds of Spanish greeted them. But sensing that her neighbors who had come years earlier looked down on new arrivals, Rebecca did not feel welcome.
Though isolated and lonely, Rebecca anticipated her second child with joy. Within a year of coming to this country, she gave birth to a daughter. Happiness turned to shock and dismay when she saw the scaly red blotches covering her baby's body. "Ichthyosis," the doctor diagnosed, an incurable skin disease. People in the supermarket would recoil. Rebecca blamed herself.
Adding to her grief, many weeks her husband could not find work. When he did, some employers did not pay what they owed.
Rebecca grew increasingly overwhelmed and nervous. She had the "operation for no more babies" and gained 50 pounds. Her self-esteem sank. Her son started school, and she spent her days at home with the baby, bored and lethargic, crying much of the time. She would frequently shriek at the children and even hit them.
A door opens
One day as she walked by, shoulders stooped and eyes averted, Rebecca stopped in at the Chicano Family Center. She was soon coming regularly to speak with the psychologist and then joined classes on parenting and health and nutrition. To complete the Salud course, Rebecca had to invite three women for a noontime fiesta. This was the first time in seven years since coming to the United States that she asked someone to her apartment.
Buoyed by this success, the friendliness and support of the staff, Rebecca began to take charge of her future, to study and get certified as a Texas Department of Health breast feeding instructor, to volunteer at her children's school, to enroll in Center English classes and to plan on obtaining her GED, high school equivalency degree, there. Rebecca is busy, often spending six or seven hours a day at the Center. She is having fun.
Animated and upbeat, she now motivates others. As part of Chicano Family Center's program Madres Apoyando a Madres, Mothers Supporting Mothers, holding her head upright and looking directly into their eyes, she encourages other moms to follow her example, to get out of the house, make friends and gain new skills.
My mother tells me I am beautiful
Knowing that others' faith in her sparked her own renewed optimism and self-confidence, Rebecca now nurtures her children with her belief in them. She learned from the psychologist to trust in her abilities as a mother and to accept her daughter's skin condition. Rebecca is now patient and talks quietly with her children. She helps as they do homework, happy and confident they will go beyond the six grades to which she was limited. Evenings, the children turn up the radio and excitedly call, "Mami, come dance".
Rebecca glows with pride that her son gets high grades and draws so well he gained admission to the magnet middle school for architecture. Her daughter is six now and doing well in first grade. When kids tease her about her skin she responds, "My mother tells me I am beautiful" and she knows it is so.
Still life is hard
They live upstairs in a dilapidated duplex that rents for $155 a month. The bathtub, sink and toilet are all broken. Twice the children's bikes were stolen from the stairwell. Their daughter often goes without needed dermatological care because although they are certainly poor enough to qualify for Medicaid, the husband's irregular jobs mean they lack the papers to verify income. Their son is eleven, weighs 170 pounds and shows other signs of stress. Both the family's dogs recently died; the daughter cries for one and the son for the other. And Rebecca adds, "A cat ate our little bird."
While challenges remain, Rebecca's transformed spirit helps her stand up to them as she builds a new life. Determined and calm she explains, "I try for my kids, I try for a good life." Her deep brown eyes shining, she adds, "All I want to do I will be able to do."
Community Family Centers
formerly Chicano Family Center
East End, Houston
- Strengthens low-income families through counseling, education and social services.
- Services include individual and group counseling, prevention programs for substance abuse, HIV, and pregnancy, literacy classes, health and parenting education. Recent programs train mothers to support other mothers.
- Thirty year old agency. Predominantly serves indigent Hispanic population.