On every birthday, Mami kisses me on the cheek, hugs me tight, and lists the wishes she prays will come true. “I wish you good health, success, lots of money, and a husband that loves you and treats you with respect. And that will do anything for me, your mother.” Right. God forbid my future husband doesn’t treat my mother like he married her.
Overall, she has never approved of any man I’ve casually dated. Out of the four relationships I’ve had, she only liked my second boyfriend, Elijah. I loved him so I wanted her acceptance. He stood by my side with pride, brought me breakfast in bed, rubbed my feet, and took the initiative to introduce me to his parents. Mami also liked that he was trigeñito, which is uncommon within the Latino community. For instance my friend, Grace, has a mother that wanted her to date light-skinned men and would say to her “hay que mejorar la raza”. Needless to say, Grace’s mother is thrilled that her daughter’s fiancé is a light-skinned Cuban.
Then there are stories like Vanessa’s—she experienced backlash from her mother when she married an African American. “Being that we are of different races, she was concerned with how the world would treat me and our future children. It was a rough few years,” Vanessa admits. “Although I won’t say her concerns weren’t valid, my mom ultimately fell in love with her son-in-law because of the way he loves me and provides for his children.”
Fortunately, Mami has never been hung up on race. Her point of contention with my romantic interests has been about how they treat me and, of course, how much attention and respect they pay to her. The first day they met, Elijah took the time to engage her in conversation while I showered. He walked into the kitchen where Mami was cooking and began a conversation with her in his broken Spanish. He asked her questions about our family and the Dominican Republic. He willingly spoke about his intentions with her second daughter. After I’d dressed and walked into the kitchen to join them I could see that she was beaming.
“Me gusta mucho para ti,” she said, stroking Elijah’s arm. I never thought I’d see the day I’d be in a relationship with someone that she actually approved of. “Pero, es demasiado joven,” she whispered the minute he stepped out of the kitchen. Just like that she burst my bubble. As much as I hated to admit it, she was right. Elijah was only 21, while I was 26. She wanted me to get married and have children, something he wouldn’t want for years.
Still, it’s difficult to take her words of wisdom into account every time I venture into a new relationship. Yes, I want a man who is a responsible and committed partner, but does it matter if he doesn’t care to speak with my mother when he calls to talk to me? Does he have to sit down and ask how her day went or if her arthritis is acting up? That doesn’t necessarily rock my world; so, no, it really doesn’t matter. On my next birthday, when she holds me tight and wishes that my future husband will be so into her, I will say, ‘Mami, he’d be marrying me, not you.’ And hope she won’t hit me with her chancla.