My Mother, My Hero

By Vanessa Meraz

Mi madre es mi héroe—she inspires me more than any woman I have ever known. She gave me wings to fly—but in this America, for that to happen, she had to sacrifice her own. 

My parents and I immigrated to Oklahoma from Mexico 20 years ago. They raised me in a predominantly white space where our differences could not be more blatant. I grew up in a low-income household surrounded by wealthy neighborhoods, where I was exposed to inequality every day. 

Nevertheless, my mother raised me never to feel shame in my upbringing. She taught me how important it was to work for what I wanted. She wanted to give me the world, but she did something better: she taught me how to get it on my own. Some of the most vivid memories I have from high school are when my mom and my tias would bring me along to clean houses with them. We would dust and scrub the lavish homes of los ricos and split the earnings evenly. I always gave most of my cut to my mother, but she never failed to give it right back. She wanted me to understand that I deserved to be paid fairly for my work—a luxury that her employers had never extended to her. 

Today, I am privileged to have a meaningful job that values my work. I would quite literally not be where I am now if not for the enormous love of my parents. They left everything behind and came to this country motivated by the selfless desire to give me a life where I could aspire beyond survival toward success. But why do my mother's wings have to be cut off for mine to exist? My job provides me with access to a range of basic human needs, including health care. My mother works harder than anyone I know and does so without health care, without the opportunity to fulfill her potential through education, and without the freedom to move freely within the country or travel outside of it to see her family in Mexico. She bravely loves and guides her children without the security of knowing that she will not be separated from us should she get pulled over for a traffic violation tomorrow. 

My parents have lived in this country for two decades and have struggled to make ends meet for the vast majority of that time. Today, working hard in order to achieve the American dream simply isn’t a reality for everyone. I refuse to believe that my mother, who has been overworked and underpaid her entire life, just needs to "work harder" to make her dreams come true. Despite the obstacles, immigrants like my mother have contributed greatly to this country and will continue to do so. 

My mother and all immigrant women like her deserve the opportunity to thrive. Our outdated immigration system creates barriers to legalization for millions of immigrants like her. There is currently no path for my mother to become a citizen of the nation she calls home. Justice calls for the support of immigration solutions such as a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, including many undocumented women who are strengthening our future through often overlooked but vital domestic work, such as caring for our country’s children and elderly. Justice requires the elimination of racist policies such as the public charge rule, which makes it harder for low- and moderate-income immigrants to obtain a green card. Justice demands that we stop ripping mothers away from their families via mass ICE raids and separations at the southern border.

My mother gave up everything so that I could have the freedom to chase my dreams. While she is proud of the educational and professional opportunities that her sacrifices have enabled in the lives of her children, these sacrifices should not include her basic human dignity.

I am proud and grateful to come from a long line of hard-working immigrant women. As I continue to fight against injustice, discrimination, and oppression, I will never forget to consider immigrant women like my mother. This Women's History Month, I call on all of us to think of the immigrant women—documented or not—who have given so much to this country and challenge us to reciprocate their love.