HAVANA TIMES — If I set out to write about illustrious mothers, the list would be endless. At any rate, today I would like to pay tribute to these progenitors of flesh-and-blood beings, those marvelous women who stand by their children during misfortunes, and throughout their lives.
Jose Marti’s mother, Leonor Pérez Cabrera, always feared for her son’s life and never did approve of his actions but, even though she suffered over her son, she never once turned her back on him. He wrote her a moving farewell letter from a Dominican beach, after signing the Montecristi Manifesto.
“Today, March 25, on the eve of a long journey, I find myself thinking of you. I think about you all the time. You are in pain, angry over your love, the sacrifice of my life. Why was I born of you, with a love of sacrifice? I have no words. The duty of a man awaits him where he is most useful.”
“But with me, always, in my growing and necessary agony, is the memory of my mother.”
That mother was also worthy of such a loving and self-sacrificing son, having loved him immensely also. She gave clear proof of this in a letter addressed to Spain’s governor in Cuba on August 5, 1870, asking for clemency, when Marti was unjustly imprisoned at the young age of 16.
“Before you, most excellent Sir, stands part of that distraught family, who kneels at your feet and sheds tears to beseech that you forgive that poor soul who cannot help himself, nor, in this wretched situation, turn his eyes towards his poor mother and inconsolable sisters…”
The love of both were equal, symbols of mutual fidelity.
Irena Sendler was a young Polish nurse and social worker, known as the “Mother of the Holocaust Children”, who helped save the lives of more than 2,500 Jewish children during the Second World War. This courageous woman was moved by overcrowding among Jewish families and managed to secure a job at the sanitation office that was combatting contagious diseases at the time. This allowed her to offer the Jewish families that were retained there support. She would convince the parents to hand their children over to her and would take them out of the facility in large numbers, as though they were victims of typhus fever, inside sacks of potatoes, tool boxes, merchandise cargos and even coffins. A 5-month-old girl was drugged and placed inside a coffin with holes. Her mother placed a silver spoon bearing her nickname and date of birth inside. The child was raised by one of Irene’s collaborators.
Sendler had the idea of putting together an archive with the names of the children and their new identities, so that they would regain their identities and be reunited with their families in the future. Captured and tortured by the Gestapo, she did not reveal the fate of the children, nor the families who had adopted them. With help, she managed to escape and continued to work under a false identity. She died in 2007, at 98. She, who worked for the safety of the children of others, never though her unconditional devotion would go down in history and transform her into an eternal mother. She spent years receiving children and helping them survive.
My grandmother Teresa is someone whose true dimensions I was unaware of for some time. A woman with a strong character, not given to showing much sensitivity, she sometimes struck me as extremely cheap, bordering on avaricious. However, she would also often take me to restaurants and show me around some of Old Havana’s historic sites.
In defiance of conventions, she married a man from a different class at a young age, a man who left his family to live in poverty next to her. She had four children, whom she had to raise on her own after my grandfather was hospitalized for typhus. She took care of my grandfather until his death. Then, putting all pride aside, she had to ask the nuns not to pull my mother and aunt out of school, as she could no longer afford to pay for their education. She told her other children, the boys, to try and finish their studies at public schools and to find jobs. As a widow, she had to make and sell hats to support her family. She never remarried.
These are the stories of true heroines who do not cease to surprise us, stories that teach us that the strength of spirit of mothers can be a source of true inspiration for their children.