Growing up, my grandmothers were a source of calm, comfort, and reason. I was fortunate to be able to spend ample quality time with both my maternal and paternal grandmothers, and they made sure to pass down the wisdom they had acquired over the course of their lives. When they spoke, I listened, and I was raised to always respect them. After all, it was their immense sacrifices that have allowed me to live the incredibly fortunate life that I do. When I was embarrassed by my Mexican last name and hairy, dark skin, they would remind me of where I came from and why I was beautiful.
They were different women in every sense of the word, but the one thing that they had in common was a profound strength and perseverance.
Below, I look back on six things these extraordinary women taught me—and explain why I hope to pass these lessons down to my own daughter and future grandchildren.
1. A strong work ethic
My maternal grandmother, Guadalupe Ochoa, grew up as a field worker just like her parents before her. When she married my grandfather, they had nine children and migrated from Texas to Michigan for farm work. She and her children (my mom included) picked in the fields every day, from sunrise to sunset.
There were no spa days or sleeping in on the weekends. There was no notion of finding your passion or fulfillment. My grandmother cooked breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the entire family, completed household duties, and still put in a full day’s work in the fields. As a Mexican, she was seen as a second-class citizen, so she never had the opportunity to “live her best life” or explore what happiness meant to her. Yet, she never complained.
From her, I’ve learned to never in my life complain about hard work. I’m grateful that I get the opportunity to work without having to experience the brutal circumstances that field workers have to endure. I’m grateful that she paved the way for me to live a life where I am seen and respected. When I went to college to get a degree in Comparative Literature, my parents made it very clear to me that I was lucky to have the opportunity to not only go to college but also to attain a degree that would allow me to be introspective.
I have my grandmothers to thank for that.
2. How to have faith
My paternal grandmother, Consuelo Najera, once told me never to stress out about life, love, work, or money. She explained to me that there is a plan for everyone and if you trust it, then there is no need to feel anxious or stressed about how life unfolds. Life will unfold the way it’s supposed to and worrying will make absolutely no difference in the outcome.
I’m not very religious—I see myself as more spiritual—but this advice has gotten me through a lot of tough times and I have held her words close at heart. The older I become, the more I understand the value of what she meant. The things I stressed so much about when I was 25 seem like flecks of dust now that I’m older. All of the worrying and stress has not changed the way my life has unfolded. She was absolutely right.
Worrying about a past that doesn’t exist or a future that hasn’t happened yet takes you away from the present moment. It’s in the present moment where we find clarity.
3. Love takes work
My Grandma Consuelo was married to my grandfather for over 50 years. My grandparents loved each other deeply. They were always by each other’s side and never spent more than a few days apart from each other.
However, there were many times my grandma felt angry and frustrated with my grandfather and just wanted to walk (or run) away. She explained to me often that love is not always exciting and breathless and full of passion. True love is what happens when the flames have gone away and you’re left with your partner as life settles around you both.
Anyone can be “in love” but it takes real work to truly love another person and a strong commitment to make it last. Trust me when I say that her example of enduring love has made such an impact on the way I view marriage. I think we’re so easily influenced by Hollywood endings and happily ever afters, that when faced with real-life problems inside a marriage, it can feel easier to quit than to make it work. I feel fortunate to have seen an example of true marriage and all it encompasses—and to know that the fight is worth it.
4. Don’t be a shrinking violet
My Grandma Lupe had a very strong personality. She was outspoken, feisty, and was quick to anger if you made her upset. She never shied away from voicing her opinion or letting you know when she was dissatisfied. If she were born under different times and circumstances, I am 100 percent certain she would have founded and run a billion dollar company.
She once told me that bashful women are never taken seriously, and that being of Mexican descent would mean I would have to work that much harder to be seen and heard. She always encouraged me to be bold, kick-ass, and to never apologize for my intelligence, opinions, or if I’ve made a man feel inferior.
It has taken me a lot of time and growth to have the type of confidence she had, but whenever I’m feeling weak-minded or insecure, I remember her words of advice and the way she fearlessly faced her problems.
5. You are more important than you realize
Often times, domestic life can feel like an endless maze—dishes, laundry, diapers, cleaning, scheduling, work, cleaning, and more cleaning. Life can seem underwhelming and sometimes I feel like my value to the world is non-existent. However, my Grandma Consuelo (who is still alive) always reminds me that, as a wife and mother, I am an important cog in my family, if not the entire cog itself.
When my Grandma Lupe passed away, my mom’s side of the family drifted apart. Family gatherings around the holidays ceased and there was no real reason for the aunts, uncles, and cousins to get together anymore. Grandma Lupe was the anchor—the main connector. Without her, there is no foundation for the family. I now realize that I am becoming an anchor for my own growing family and that is the most important thing I can be.
6. Food will always bring family together
Both of my grandmothers loved to cook. In fact, my Grandma Consuelo still makes the best tamales and handmade tortillas in the world. Thankfully, they taught me all of their recipes, which I am still learning to perfect. My grandmothers loved spending time cooking big meals for the family—it was their way of showing love and appreciation.
Nothing made them happier than when everyone gathered around the table to eat the food they had worked so hard on. No Mexican restaurant on earth can hold a candle to my grandmothers’ posole, menudo, tamales, hand-made tortillas, chile, and tacos. I plan to pass these recipes down to my children and continue to hold onto the tradition of big family meals.
Because, like them, nothing makes me happier.