By: Gabriela Yareliz

Reading Ashley Graham’s memoir made it clear to me that her mom was a critical part of not only her life, but also her success. If I were to write a book on my life, I know my mom would very much be in the dead center of my story.

My mom is the bravest and strongest person I know. She defied all odds and grew up in poverty in a small Caribbean mountain town, raised by her grandmother. It was a tough and strict upbringing, filled with family, dramatic dynamics and a lot of choices to be made.

At every turning point or fork in the road, it’s like she always made the best choice, even if it was tough or the most inconvenient in the moment. She thought ahead. She was wise. She made a lot of sacrifices along the way; always working hard and with integrity, leaping forward.

If I were to tell you her story in detail, you might agree with me that her childhood alone would have been enough for her to be traumatized. Poverty, broken families, lacking basic things we today take for granted, leave children with wounds. And while it may have left a mark on her, it left scars because she healed.

Sometimes, she would share stories with us about her childhood, and they were just so sad. She would tell it normally (often with no complaints), and we (the listeners) would all have somber faces, blinking back tears.

But my mom wasn’t a child left wounded to bleed out by her past. Instead, I see her as a strong, thin, tan little girl with big dark brown eyes that look black (like my own– who do you think I got them from?). I see her sitting at the top of a long flight of concrete stairs, missing a railing, on a warm summer night in Puerto Rico, looking at the stars, trusting a God she could not see. I see a girl who would sing, and sneak away to bathe in the river with long tangled hair. I see a young woman who would miss class to take care of her baby cousins, showering them with the love she might not have received, even though she more than deserved it.

That young woman finished at the top of her class, and she went to college. She married her best friend and high school sweetheart and took a risk to have the adventure of a lifetime. She moved to a country where she didn’t know the language or dynamics. She sat for hours writing notes in phonetics and then looking up terms in her textbooks. She learned the language, she graduated and became a young professional, and she had me.

I came to her classes with her and would be sprawled out on a blanket playing or napping while she did study groups. We became best friends.

Her character is a piece of our tough but loving grandmother, a piece of our sweet and faith-filled aunt and a piece of that little girl who would bathe in the overflowing river.

She is like an anchor. Her presence is felt, and it keeps you safe. She cares a lot about what really matters. She is the most un-materialistic person I know. She still appreciates a good sunset or star-filled sky. When she is excited, her eyes light up, and she squeals with delight. You can hear her from far away. She still sings and takes incredible risks for those she loves.

She is the most amazing listener, and she is so patient. She never turns me away. She always stays.

My mom raised me and my two brothers, by herself. And if there was anyone who saw her sacrifices and heart, it was me.

Thank you, ma, for your love, your inspiration, your faith and for your selflessness. Without you, I am not sure where we would be– where I would be. Thank you for being my friend and for teaching me the most important things in life. Thank you for always directing my gaze to God, first. In your love, I have seen His hand in my life. Your love literally saved me. My life could have been so different, but God gave me you.

Happy Mother’s Day. For us it’s every day. Thank you for letting me learn from you and for letting me be your partner in so many things, throughout the years. You are an amazing woman, and those of us who know you are blessed.

You are always my best friend. We have weathered many storms together. And lucky me, because when I look in the mirror, I catch a glimpse of that little girl in Jayuya, looking up at the stars, knowing God was watching over her. It’s an honor and gift to be a part of you.

Published by Gabriela Yareliz

Gabriela is a writer, editor and attorney. She loves the art of storytelling, and she is based in NYC.

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