“I remember my mother’s prayers and they have always followed me. They have clung to me all my life.” —Abraham Lincoln
The quote above speaks to me because every time I say goodbye to my mom, in person or on the phone, the last thing she always says to me is “que mi dios me lo bendiga,” a popular phrase for many Latin Americans who identify with the Catholic faith. I used to roll my eyes during our goodbyes or simply ignore it as a child, but I have come to appreciate it as a genuine reminder that she is always thinking about my younger brother and me.
As the son of parents who emigrated from Colombia to America, some of my fondest memories as a child are of our family gatherings – both big and small, in Colombia and the United States. Such visits allowed me not only to see where my parents grew up and what they had experienced in their childhood, but also how central of a role family played in both of their upbringings.
Each gathering with family in Colombia was truly special. The hospitality and warmth with which my family was received truly reflects the Colombian culture and brings to life the cliché saying, “mi casa es su casa.”
Multiple people I had never met before hosted huge parties (multiple times), inviting all their family members, just to celebrate having the opportunity to host us. We were greeted with smiles, hugs, and kisses on the cheek from everyone – something that took some getting used to. Our faces were then stuffed with empanadas, arepas, tostones, and pernil. Meals were followed with a night full of dancing to salsa, cumbia, and vallenato. My brother and I usually played soccer, marbles, sapo, or trompo outside with cousins and other kids in the neighborhood.
Whenever my mother speaks of her childhood, she frequently highlights family gatherings and all the trouble she would get into with her closest cousins. It was her special connection with our extended family that she seems to have carried with her to America, fostering a similar culture in our family despite being separated from her own.
Instilling the importance and value of family in my brother and me at a young age, she would always remind us that “family comes first and your family will always be there for you.”
“It was her special connection with our extended family that she seems to have carried with her to America, fostering a similar culture in our family despite being separated from her own.”
Whether it was these words or the culture I come from, I always was – and proudly remain – a HUGE “mama’s boy.” Resting my head on her shoulder as a young child and pretending to read a book or play Gameboy, I would sneakily try to listen to her phone conversations, curious to know who she was talking to and what they were saying (shhh…don’t tell!).
In the kitchen, while watching her cook a countless number of times (my favorites being sancocho – or “hearty chicken stew – empanadas, beans, lentils and arepas), I awaited any opportunity I could find to show her that I could be of assistance. “Need more Sazón, mommy?” “I can get that!” (Thank you, mom, for inspiring me to actually enjoy cooking!)
And at nighttime – after requesting her to tuck me in due to my fear of the dark and perfectly logical paranoia that monsters would emerge from my closet – I would place my arm over her so that I would wake up if she tried to escape (a clever tactic, if I do say so myself).
Although I once feared being apart from my mother as a child, I now take comfort in knowing that she is with me wherever I go, because she is very much a part of who I am – just as her family is a very much a part of her.
While she may not see her extended family in Colombia as often as she would like to, each time we return for a visit, it is as if nothing has changed. The love and respect is as strong as ever – and that is a beautiful thing.
I am often reminded of my mother’s influence on me whenever people tell me that I resemble her in not only in appearance, but in character as well – and to me, that is the greatest compliment I can ever receive.
Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers out there!
About the Author:
Esven Carreño is currently an MBA candidate at the D’Amore-McKim School of Business at Northeastern University working at United Technologies Aerospace Systems in the Military Programs division. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he loves New York City and exploring all it has to offer in terms of cuisine, museums, and the ad-hoc live musical performances in the subway. He has an insatiable appetite for travel, having traveled to Latin America, Europe, and Africa; he hopes to visit Asia in the near future. In his free time he enjoys playing soccer, going for a run, hiking, and trying new recipes in the kitchen.