by Mary Lance
Our language is peppered with images of motherhood – mother ship, mother lode, Mother Nature and mother hen. Those terms conjure up feelings of being nurtured, secure and safe.
Since 1914, citizens of the United States have set aside the second Sunday in May to pause and recognize the contributions of mothers. In recognition of this day, four San Antonio women talk about their mothers and the mothering of their own children.
Dianne McAlister, development director of Daughters of Charity Services of San Antonio, remembers her mother’s dominant characteristic in one word – hospitality.
Sporting a frequent smile and laugh, the auburn-haired McAlister remembers that her mother made each of her children feel special. McAlister’s father was an employee of U.S. Military Base Exchanges which meant the family moved every two years throughout her childhood. But no matter, always the house was full – of family, friends, business associates and neighborhood children. And invariably there was food – home cooked and seemingly effortlessly.
As the middle child of seven, McAlister explains, “Each one of us was made to feel special by our mother – seven children – now how did she do that?”
It was her mother’s ability to make everyone feel uniquely loved that McAlister says she consciously passed on to her now two grown daughters Andrea and Erin. “Whenever they were leaving, to go to school, or an outing, or to visit their Dad from whom I was separated, I would tell them ‘remember, you are loved.’”
Love from mother to daughter to daughter.
The Rev. J. Brendonly Cunningham
“My mother had an inner strength,” says Brendonly Cunningham, a retired United Methodist minister who, as an African-American, grew up in segregated South Texas and eventually earned her Ph.D. from Austin Theological Seminary. “Trust in God” was her mother’s motto, who acted out the philosophy of “love is doing what is right with compassion.”
“Mother was soft spoken and quiet but with an inner fierceness,” continues Cunningham and then with a chuckle tells this story. “My first job was as a secretary at Prairie View A&M, and I’d get rides back home to Corpus Christi for weekends. But one weekend, my ride called to say they couldn’t take me back. Mother was so angry. She marched downtown to the car dealer and told him ‘we don’t have the money now, but when Bren gets paid she’ll start sending you $50 until the car is paid for.’” The dealer agreed.
“It was that kind of spirit that caused her, and then she taught us, to step out in faith,” says Cunningham, who notes she sees that same spirit, faith and trust in God having passed through her and then onto both her daughter Cané, and granddaughter, Jonté.
The essence of motherhood is love, says Cunningham. “But you begin with learning to love yourself” – a lesson she learned from a quiet but mightily determined mother.
Cunningham pauses during her interview to mention mothers who weren’t good mothers – for whatever reasons – and to say to the children of those mothers, she hopes they learned from their mother’s mistakes and have loving nurturing relations with their children. Unfortunately, Cunningham says some mothers just don’t know how to mother and she says she prays for them and their children.
Maria Trevino in 1968 co-founded with her husband the nationally recognized El Mirador Restaurant in San Antonio’s historic King William District.
Trevino, short hair freshly coiffed and with face made up just enough to make her eyes sparkle, looks 20 years younger than 100 years going on 101 as of next Sept. 29. When asked about what makes a good mother, the chipper centenarian says, “Teach your children to be honest, with other people and with themselves.”
Trevino, whose mother moved to Houston from Silao, Mexico, soon after the Mexican Revolution in 1916, recalls her mother’s often-repeated dictum “You lie to others, but when you look in the mirror you can’t lie to yourself.”
But it was Trevino’s aunt, with whom she came to live in San Antonio at age 14, that was the formative ‘mother’ for her. “It was a complete change, because my mother was not demonstrative,” explains Trevino. “My aunt was overtly loving to me – she told me ‘look how pretty you are.’ Oh I thought for the first time, I am somebody.”
Trevino passed that “I am somebody” on to her son, whose “somebody” credentials include being former principal at Brackenridge High School, former board chairman of the San Antonio School District, educational consultant to school districts throughout the United States, and senior lecturer and director of the Center for Educational Leadership at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
Her son remembers it wasn’t if he was going to college but rather, “when you graduate from college.”
To young mothers today Trevino advises first, “Enjoy life. And then “Sometimes when you want something, you have to fight for it, but you have to fight honestly and don’t give up.“
Maria del Rosario “Rosie” Castro
Maria del Rosario “Rosie” Castro, director of the Center for Academic Transitions at Palo Alto College says her mother, Victoria, was orphaned in Mexico at age 8 and subsequently sent to San Antonio to be reared by a cousin. By fourth grade Victoria dropped out of school. However, she became a lifelong self educator, reading voraciously in both English and Spanish and instilling in her daughter Rosie that same zeal always to be learning.
Castro had twin sons, but became a single mom when the boys were 8 years old. The love-of-learning tradition continued because Victoria helped Castro raise the boys.
The topic about stressing the vital role of education is important to this story, first because Castro, in low-income circumstances, earned her master’s degree from UTSA. Then mom Castro encouraged the twins to “fly high” and eventually earn their law degrees from Harvard.
Castro is a woman of accomplishments in her own right – a civil rights activist who is the Bexar County Chairwoman of La Raza Unida. She has consulted with dozens of San Antonio non-profits and corporations, and served as a member of numerous boards including currently the San Antonio Library Advisory Board.
However, Castro now has a new claim to fame – her son Julián is mayor of San Antonio, whose stated top priority is to increase San Antonio’s educational attainment from pre-school through college and on throughout life. Her son, Joaquin, is a state representative and vice chairperson of the Texas Higher Education Committee.
Thus, from mother to Rosie to sons – education is not an if, rather it is a must. Castro notes she recently bought a plaque which she says summarizes her mother’s, her and her sons’ philosophy – “you give your children roots firmly planted but with wings so they can fly.”
Mary Lance is a San Antonio based freelance writer, mother of two grown children and grandmother of five.