When she returned home to the U.S., my mom packed away my things and spent that year avoiding birthday parties for her friends’ children. It was too much, she would later tell me -- “But I did what I had to do.”
My mother’s life is defined by this phrase. Her courage was rooted in her responsibility to sustain the future of her family with each paycheck she sent home.
Tenement Museum Intern Marianne De Padua and her Family
In 1986, my mother was a frail and naïve 26-year-old woman who came to America for the first time seeking a better life. She worked long hours as a nurse between two hospitals and lived in a small apartment on the outskirts of Atlantic City, New Jersey.
For years I never understood her absence. She was still a stranger to me even after my father’s visa was approved and we moved to America to live with her and my new baby sister. Through my young eyes, mom worked from dawn until well into the night. When she was home, she was tired and always cooking a week’s worth of food. My mother always seemed angry.
At 22 years old, I am in awe of the strength it must have taken for my mother to leave her country and her family. My resentment towards her has turned into immense gratitude for giving me a life of limitless opportunities. Like most immigrant family stories, ours is one of sacrifice and unwavering faith in the American dream. Because of my mother, we are all living her dream.
Marianne De Padua is an intern with the Public Affairs Department at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. She is currently a senior majoring in Journalism and Media Studies at Rutgers University. Marianne hopes to pursue a career in public relations, working for non-profit organizations or museums in New York City.