From Chicken Soup for the Latino Soul

The Bear

The other day on the radio, I heard a male talk-show host discussing the “awful” plight of Latinas: Their families don’t expect them to achieve and don’t have goals for their girls to do well in school and go on to college. He believed that all Latino families wanted their girls to start families and be good mothers, aspiring to nothing else. I had to smile—he was right in some ways, but he was also so wrong. He did not understand what our families want for us and why. He did not understand the strength and courage our culture provides for us and how. He did, however, lead me down memory lane to the day when I discovered what he did not know. . . .

She came into my room, gingerly holding a package in her hands, and sat on my bed, shedding quiet tears as I made my way around to her. Walking slowly to where she sat, I kept wondering, What can I say? What can I do? All the time I was thinking, If I am not strong now, I’ll never make it. This is my moment of truth. I need to be strong for both of us right now, or I will never get out of here. I will never have a chance to explore my potential.

For the past four years, since my dad had left, I had been looking after my little sister and my mom. She had suddenly been thrust into the role of breadwinner, and I into the role of caretaker. I had cooked, cleaned, babysat, baked goodies for bake sales, helped my little sister with homework and attended school functions. My mother would have preferred that I stay home with her and continue to support her in these roles, but I had made a firm decision to get a college education, and there was no turning back.

Holding back my own tears, I sat down beside her and put my arms around her shoulders. I told her everything would be fine, and that I would always be her daughter. I would still take care of her, but I needed to do this. She said, “I know. I love you, and I’m so proud of you. I know that going to college has been a dream of yours for years. I am going to miss you, but I want you to know that I love you, no matter what, and I understand why you have to go. I am so proud of you.”

At that moment, my mom tenderly handed me the package she held so delicately in her hands. I took the gift and opened it slowly, wondering what else she had gotten me after the towels, linens, calculator and dictionary. It was a raggedy, forlorn-looking Paddington Bear. The bear came with an oversized yellow hat, a blue overcoat and a tag that read, Please Look After This Bear. I burst into tears. My mother looked at me tenderly and said, “Please, look after this bear, take good care of it, and if the bear ever needs anything, let me know.” We both knew she was talking about me. We both knew she wanted me to take good care of myself as I ventured forth into unknown territory, as I took steps to become my own person—not by getting married as my mom had done, but by going to the university, as no one else in our family had ever done.

The bear would become a symbol of our bond, of our love and of our growth as mother and daughter. She would frequently call and ask me how “the bear” was doing. I kept the bear on my bed as a constant reminder of the love of a mother who did not understand all that was happening in her daughter’s life, but who, in her own way, was trying to be supportive of her ambitious daughter’s dreams.

As a Latina, I grew up in a world of very different expectations. I was expected to be the stereotype the radio talk-show host was speaking about: I was supposed to be a good wife and mother someday, the keeper of family traditions, the holder of the beliefs and values that were an integral part of our family heritage and culture. I was expected to learn how to cook and to support my husband’s efforts to care for the family. No one expected me to want something else for myself.

I, on the other hand, had different expectations. I had dreams that went beyond what my family, my community and my culture had in mind for their daughters. I wanted to get a college education and have a career.

Reconciling dreams with cultural and familial expectations can be very difficult. When we decide to pursue a different path, it is a break with tradition, belief and values. Our culture does not always expect women to go out and seek their place in the world. It can be especially hard for our mothers because they may see our breaking the mold as a comparison of a life not lived, opportunities not taken, dreams not fulfilled. We, as Latinas, need to be careful that we do not reject the way of life our mothers chose—and instead, honor and respect them for the women they chose to be, for the foundation they laid for us to build our dreams upon.

Yes, it took me a while to appreciate all my mom has done for me and the sacrifices she has made, but I know she had the courage to do what she did because she, like me, is a strong Latina—a Latina who has taken all that is good about her life and her culture and channeled that energy into loving and supporting her family.

I still have my Paddington Bear gracing my bedroom. It is a constant reminder to me of a mother’s love that has given me roots and given me wings. Roots that anchored me throughout all of life’s challenges. Wings that allowed me to soar and to freely dream of becoming the woman I could become.

My mother’s support taught me that our cultural legacy gives us the courage to become the individuals we were meant to be and to inspire others to do the same.

The man talking on the radio that day about the “poor Latinas”? He obviously never met me or my mother!

Zulmara Cline

You are currently enjoying a preview of this book.

Sign up here to get a Chicken Soup for the Soul story emailed to you every day for free!

Please note: Our premium story access has been discontinued (see more info).

view counter

More stories from our partners