My Mom: America citizen, immigrant, racism

With all the stories lately about racism, immigration and political refuges, I thought I’d tell this story.

My Mom was born. Okay here’s where the confusion starts, in either 1914 or 1917.

She always stated 1917 but after she died the truth came out it was 1914. The only thing we could ever figure out is that she didn’t want to be more than 4 years older than my Dad.

My Grandparents, Francisco and Filomena Abreu with their daughter Laurenda immigrated from the island of Madeira, to the United States around 1910. They settled in Rochester, New York. Here my Grandfather worked in a factory. They were proud to be Americans and named their first, born son Americo. Then came Frank, my Mom, Mary Augusta, but everyone called her Connie and then John.

Life was good to them, they had the American dream, until my Grandfather was electrocuted and died at work. My Grandmother knew that with 4 kids and one on the way she would not be able to provide for them even though the factory gave my Grandmother a small monthly settlement for the death. So, my Great Uncle John, booked passage from Madeira to the U.S. He came to help them pack up and move back to Madeira. All seven of them boarded a freighter back to Madeira, but by the time they arrive my Aunt Alda was born.

Growing up in Madeira wasn’t easy. My Mom only had a 6th grade education. She worked everyday embroidering and crocheting everything from tablecloths to making lace, that could be sold to wealthy tourists who sailed and vacationed in Madeira from England.

Political unrest came to Portugal and Madeira. The Communist party took over and ruled the little island for years. It tore families apart.

The Communist party decided that all American citizens who lived on the island of Madeira needed to leave. They were exiled. My Mom who in her early 20’s and her brothers were placed on a boat and sent back to the United States never to see their family again until the 1970’s. Only letters were allowed to enter the country and most of the time they were opened by the military. I can remember my Aunt Laurenda sneaking tiny things in envelopes for my Mom to give me as presents.

Mom and her brothers settled in New Bedford, Massachutes, where she worked the night shift making tires for Firestone. She didn’t drive nor did she speak English. She just went to work on the bus (even in winter) and church.

The youngest John, married and went to work in a textile factory and retired from there decades later.

Americo joined the Army and returned with PTSD. As hard as everyone tried to help him he returned to the U.S. and lived on the streets or in a tiny one-room apartment in Rochester, New York. Frank married and joined the Army.

After a few years, Frank’s wife Alice and her family wanted to move to California. My Mom went with them.

They settled in San Diego. My Mom and Frank’s wife Alice were able to get jobs cleaning and packing tuna fish for the local Tuna Company. They all lived together with Frank’s new son, in a small apartment just off of Rosecran in Point Loma.

It was about 1950 when they were able to bring their Mom back to America and all 5 of them lived in a small 2-bedroom house in Point Loma California.

My Mom was always volunteering in the Portuguese community and at church. This is where she met my Dad. My Dad was a tall handsome, Norwegian tuna fisherman on a Portuguese owned boat.

It just happened to be sponsoring the Portuguese Festa a huge community event.

Mom saw him at the Festa. A few days later she saw him enter the house across the street from where she lived. It was the home of the tuna ships captain.

The next day my Mom asked her neighbor and the ships captains’ wife, who is that man, he’s nice looking? Her reply well let’s have a party, so you can meet him.

They had a Father’s Day party. She didn’t speak English and he didn’t speak Portuguese, but they really hit it off .

My Uncle Frank did not like my Dad at all. He felt my Mom shouldn’t be seeing someone who wasn’t Portuguese. My Mom always felt Frank was angry because he was losing a maid/cook and someone who paid half the mortgage for a house he bought.

Some how my Dad even with a language barrier asked my Mom to marry him. In just a month my Mom and her mom, secretly made a wedding dress. Then on the evening of July 26th, 1954, she slipped on the wedding dress and put another dress over the top of it. She told the family she was going to the evening Novena at Saint Agnes. Her mom waved goodbye, knowing she wouldn’t be back.

At the church my Dad was waiting. They got in the car and drove to Yuma Arizona to get married.

As long as my Mom stayed in her Portuguese community and worked in the acceptable female Portuguese job she never really felt racism or real hate. But the moment she got married life changed.

My Uncle did not allow my Dad in his house for years. In order for my Mom to visit her mom, my Dad would drive over wait in the car and my Mom would go to the door. Frank’s wife Alice (and my Mom’s best friend) would make sure that my Grandmother was ready for the weekend visit.

I never met my grandmother I was only 9 months old when she died. She was only in her early 70’s but from the pictures I have, she looked 100. I guess that’s what a hard life looks like. She just wanted her family to have the American dream.

Growing up my mom who was a super strong woman shy’d away from some situations. It wasn’t until I was around 8 did I figure it out. As I said she had only 6th grade education and didn’t speak English. But after she married my Dad she taught herself to read and write English. She was good at it too, except for the accent. When I became old enough she started asking me to do a few things for her. She always asked me to talk with store clerks we she needed help. At first I would get so upset when she did this. After all I was a little kid. But I soon realized what she was doing.

Mom was tired of the racist and lack of tolerance for her accent. Many times I saw the rolling eyes of a clerk or the constant repetitive asking, “what did she say” as they looked at me. So to head this awkwardness off, as we walked up to the counter, it was, “Molina you do for me, you ask them”. I felt bad every time I had to ask the clerk for her.

My Mom never understood why so many Americas were uneducated. This fact became so obvious when it came time to pay for something. The bill would be $19.10. She’d give the clerk $20.10 wanting a dollar bill in return. Many clerks would argue with her and insist on giving her 90 cents in coins.

We’d walk out of the store and she’d say, I only have a 6th grade education. This is America, they should know more then me, they went to school. Molina you’re go to school and don’t be like that.

It’s now decades later. Mom and Dad have been gone a very long time, and it’s been a real struggle at times, but I’ve worked hard, budgeted, saved and with some planning I kinda have the American dream.

Let’s give others a chance to find there American dream of hope, safety, and prosperity.

Everyone is a little prejudice, everyone is a little racist, I think that’s part of being a human. We aren’t perfect. But with that being said everyone needs to respect all people and all viewpoints. This is the United States of America. We are the greatest melting pot of people in the world.

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