June 12, 2020.
I can’t figure out what to write in the congratulations card. What do you write to your daughter who you have always admired, who took the torch, and carried it forward with strength and pride? I have celebrated her my entire life.
Pen in hand, I pause, and write-
“I’ve read your acceptance speech for about the umpteenth time. Each time I read it; I see more, I feel more, I understand more, I connect to you, my loving daughter … more … Finally writing a comment because before there were just absolutely NO words. Now as your mother I finally have just a few:
You blow me away! As your mom I raised you with the intention of strength, passion and love – (as the universal mother does). However, your fortitude … I NEVER expected to see manifest like this! I am honored to be your mom. Keep climbing and practicing extreme self-care as you do. I LOVE you! So, so proud!”
I close the card and smile.
My daughter is downstairs in the bathroom mirror. Her hair is a large afro. Instead of finding a headband to tie up her hair, she bends her head over the sink. Rubbing a cream in her hands, she grabs the ends of her afro, and uses a metal pick to extend her hair to the heavens.
She takes up space.
“Mom, how do I look?” She asks me, red lipstick applied without effort, a startling resemblance of myself when I was her age.
Oh, how the time passes with ease.
She was always wild. We could never figure out if it was my husband’s blood or my very own. Her brown eyes curiously stared at others when she spoke. She spent her youth in wonderlands, fighting dragons, waving at airplanes flying overhead, and writing stories in her journal. She knocked on the front door when the street light created shadows on our street.
“I’m home!” She yelled through the screen door. Her jeans decorated in brown stains and grass; t-shirt covered in adventure that only children know.
She reminds me of my grandmother, Almeda.
She asked us questions about faraway places, her little fingers tracing maps of foreign lands that we knew one day she would discover. We always knew.
When her father and I were newlyweds, we chose our house because of the architectural design. It was a brick house with lime green siding and a red door. A California ranch style home. String lights on the back patio and friends laughing around our kitchen table. This was the home I dreamed of since I was 27 years old. A garden in the backyard with fresh vegetables. In this home, my husband and I raised our children.
There was no need to think about safety, proximity to a well-funded school, grocery store locations, etc. We lived in a community. A place to call home.
It takes our police officers years of studying to enter the workforce. They must live in our community and their children attend our schools.
This was a new world.
Our daughter, like everyone else in America, received a quality education at a public school around the corner. She had teachers that were paid an abundant salary so they could rest well at night. Her teachers bought colored paper and had plenty of tissues, erasers, colored pencils, and calculators. Glue sticks galore. Textbooks published in color, without rips, tears, and mustache doodles. At the end of the school year, her school donated textbooks to the public library and she received a new set every year. At PTA meetings, teachers excitedly shared their visions for the school year. Guidance counselors named our children after stars in outer space.
Parents had careers that valued family, community, and quality of life. We treated people like people. Please come as you are.
We all showed up. We loved our community.
There was more than enough food in all of our homes. We shared without asking and bartered. Our doctors knew our names and heard us when discomfort was lodged in our bodies. The healthcare system was as easy to navigate as tying your shoelaces.
“Why wouldn’t someone have health insurance, mom? What kind of world did you live in?”
She was raised alongside my friend’s son. She spoke another language in their home next door, their faces covered in cilantro and crema. My daughter’s friend did not need a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) card, because it didn’t matter when he arrived or what age he was or where he was from. He arrived to open arms, was treated accordingly, and given every opportunity to succeed. He was treated as a human being and we called him our brother, our son.
I will tell my daughter how this was not always the case.
She will not understand.
She went to college, fell in love, but this was not romantic. She fell in love with a language. Her backpack weighed more than she did as she befriended people around the world. She laughed in backyards with children as she played red light green light and ate family dinners in their homes. She learned how to roll her r’s and swam in oceans with strangers that became family.
She returned with stories, maps of public transit, a collection of coins and colorful crumpled bills, with flowers overflowing from her shoes.
When she turned 25, she cut off all of her hair. I watched my daughter continuously rediscover and embrace herself, painting her own image, tearing down walls others created for her.
And at 27, she learned how to use her voice.
The car ride is quiet. She is poised, calm. I cannot tell if she’s nervous. Her father drives the car and we listen to our thoughts. He reaches over and squeezes her shoulder, his smile beaming in the rearview mirror. We lock eyes.
We arrive early. The room is full of colorful flags of the rainbow. Parents and siblings dressed in bright colors, holding hands with smiles and tears of joy. How lucky we are to represent this beautiful country and actually love what it stands for.
A woman at the podium taps the mic. “Good evening,” she begins. “Thank you for joining us tonight. We would like to start off with a word from the President of the United States.”
I watch as the same black girl that I watched grow up before my eyes appears. She stands in front of the podium. This woman was born in Chicago; a few years younger than me. Her black hair past her shoulders. When she smiles, she reminds me of her mother and father. Her sister sits among us in the crowd, beaming.
The President of the United States calls my daughter to the stand.
Both women extend their arms, hands interlocked in sisterhood. Our ancestors would be proud. A photo is taken. They take up space.
Later that week when I pick out a picture frame at my favorite small business, I will still have tears in my eyes.
As she concluded her speech, my daughter was officially the United States Ambassador to Mexico. She would live not too far from where I lived, when the world was a different place.
She rewrites her story however she sees fit.
As she assumes her new role, she does not demand people call her Ambassador. She knows she is more than a title.
And she knows her title is not as important as how she leads.
Her office does not need to be upstairs in the clouds. Put her on the first floor, alongside her peers. And please do not stand, waiting, when she enters the room. Take off your blazer. Relax. What is your story? She will remember your name.
She does not pride herself in representing our country on temporary assignments. Three years is not enough. The entire time she knows that her work is nothing without the local staff; beloved colleagues that welcome her into their homes, lives, and hearts. How many goodbyes do her friends utter; how many going away parties attended throughout their careers?
Her colleagues teach her things that cannot be learned in textbooks and online webinars. There is no need for pay disparity. She realizes that the organization is only as strong as their neighbors and communities.
She uses her voice. She will move mountains and break through barriers that come her way.
She arrives early at meetings with extra chairs. The mentors that will inspire and challenge her look like her. She uplifts, encourages, and recognizes the power behind her words.
And when she looks around, she realizes that she is finally represented in the room.
That night I fall asleep, knowing that I am not dreaming.
If one day my daughter decides to become an Ambassador, I will wish her the best of luck.