She was 18 years old when she took a job as a maid. Knowing just a few english words, she cleaned houses, served dinner, and wrote orders for the milk man. She caught a bus from the poorest part of East Los Angeles to the richest part of West Los Angeles. When my father's family immigrated to the United States from Mexico, my aunt took the first job she found and worked her way through fear, humiliation, and prejudice to ensure her siblings survived in a new country, but took particular care of my dad. In many ways, Carmela became the most he knew of what it meant to be American. The Beach Boys, bologna, and swimming trunks.
Over the years, my aunt loved me and my siblings with such dedication and care. When my family couldn't afford food, she gave what she had. And she continued giving without questions or expectation of return.
My aunt Carmela became the glue that bonded my father's side of the family, but never wanted accolades or recognition for her sacrifices. Last week we hosted hosted a surprise dinner in her honor. We made a Mexican dinner, listened to The Beach Boys, and played board games while incessantly yelling at each other. And we took the chance to say thank you.
We are who we have become because she sacrificed so much of her life to support ours.