Dear immigrant and muslim mamas: your sacrifices & struggles don’t go unnoticed

I’ve never called mi mama my hero. That role has always been reserved for papa. He’s always been more outspoken, more ambitious, more determined to survive in America. It took mami longer to adjust, longer to learn English, longer to feel at home here. I now realize I’ve attributed my successes to papa because his are the strengths and values our society idolizes: he remade his life in a foreign country at thirty-eight and never once looked back. Mami–on the other hand–well, she’s struggled. And she refuses to hide it. Mami wears her struggles on her fractured spine–a result of a workplace injury she never reported for fear of being deported. She wears exhaustion on her feet, worn down from eighteen years of twelve hour workdays. She wears loneliness as a garment, refusing to throw or give away the clothes that migrated with her twenty years ago. It has taken me too long to recognize these as her strengths. It has taken me too long to realize that refusing to let go, that insisting on looking back, has always been an act of bravery.

For immigrant mamas like mine, Mother’s Day feels especially hard this year. After living in the United States for twenty years, this January, mi mama enrolled in English as Second Language classes. She goes every day without fail. I can tell she’s more afraid, more aware and alert of the dangers facing women like her in this country. I know she’s not the only one who feels a little less appreciated this Mother’s Day, less welcome in the country she has fought so hard to love. Immigrant and Muslim mamas are under attack by an administration that wants to deport and ban them from this country and from neighbors who see their differences as reasons to demonize and dehumanize them.

This is why Forward Together’s Mamas Day project is so timely and necessary. For the sixth year in a row, they’re collaborating with artists and grassroots groups to collect and deliver 15,000 cards to immigrant and Muslim mamas across the country, affirming that all mamas deserve to be celebrated and honored. For mothers separated from their families by borders and oceans, for mothers locked up in detention centers, for mothers made to feel inferior and unwanted by xenophobic and racist policies and actions, these cards are more than just a nice sentiment. They’re a reminder that their sacrifices and struggles do not go unnoticed.

My immigrant mama has been mistreated, harassed, and discriminated against so many times that she began to internalize it. She apologizes for her imperfect English. When in public, she speaks only when spoken to. She worries for herself and for her family and has nightmares about her deportation and our separation. Even when she doesn’t say it, I can tell she feels isolated and alone in this country. Loss has defined the last twenty years of her life. And before now, I have never once acknowledged her wounds or accepted the invitation to understand her pain. My Mamas Day card will be both an apology and a love letter for the strongest warrior I know.

It’ll say: It’s harder than ever to be an immigrant mama. Eres mi heroe. 

Header image via Forward Together.

Durham, NC

Barbara is a doctoral student at The University of North Carolina interested in im/migration and migrant activism and organizing.

Barbara is a doctoral student at The University of North Carolina interested in im/migration and migrant activism and organizing.

Read more about Barbara

Join the Conversation