Toma Té: What mi mamá taught me about the importance of words

Photo courtesy of Tomás Mier

As protesters denounced Ben Shapiro’s hateful rhetoric on campus Thursday, I could only think of one thing: What would my mom say about it?

She’d probably say, “Que Dios le ablande el corazón.” (May God soften his heart.)

It seems to be her go-to phrase for these types of situations.

She understands that words — especially the kind that Shapiro spews on a daily basis — hurt people. She knows that words leave marks, and she understands how important and impactful they can be.

For me, the words “This is America. Speak English” still ring fresh in my mind from when the quarterback of my high school, Jake, asked my cousin and I to stop speaking Spanish — on Cinco de Mayo no less. Jake, in his camouflage cap and cargo shorts, approached mi prima and I for no apparent reason and all we could do was look up and say, “Excuse me?”

He repeated himself: “This is America. Speak English.”

I wasn’t over it then and I am still not over it. If it happens again, I will throw hands, because simply speaking in my native tongue in public is a form of resistance to those who oppose the presence of my parents in this country.

Unlike my mom, I become upset and react quickly. But enough about me.

If anyone knows what it means to face hate speech, it’s my mom. She’s an undocumented, Mexican domestic worker living in the United States. By all accounts, she’s low on the hierarchy of people who matter in America.

For people like conservative political pundits Milo Yiannopoulos, Ann Coulter, Tomi Lahren, Shapiro, President Donald Trump and quarterback Jake to name a few, she is simply “an illegal.” She is reduced to one of the 11 million “illegal aliens” living in this country.

Despite the dehumanizing words these people say about her, my mom would reply, “Que Dios los bendiga.” (May God bless them.) She shows no resentment or hatred toward them, and she simply wishes the best for esos racistas.

I can say this with certainty because I heard her say exactly that after an orange-haired man in a black suit stood in front of a crowd and announced he wanted to be president. Oh, and he also said that Mexicans are criminals and rapists and that maybe — just maybe — some were good people.

I know that she’d tell me, “déjalo,” (let it go) if I complained about Shapiro because it’s what she said tearfully when a department store employee humiliated her and told her, with a demeaning smirk, “I can’t verify that this ID is valid.” Nobody gets ID’d when making a return.

Ni modo, no pasa nada,” (It’s whatever, nothing’s wrong) is another a common phrase of hers. She said it while sobbing after she came home from an interview for a nanny position, when she was asked a question she feared every time she spoke to a potential employer: “Are you a citizen?”

My mom panicked, told the truth about her status and was told, “You’d be perfect for our children, but we can’t hire you if you’re not legal.”

I don’t just say this because she’s my mom, but if there is one woman qualified to care for a child, it’s my mom. She’s been caring for children — some whom I often felt jealous of because they saw her more than I did — for over 20 years. Mi mamá raises the kids she cares for as if they were her own. And while some call her “Nina” since it’s short for her name, Carolina, others call her mami.

Through it all, my mom has never wished harm upon hateful people and I admire her for that. Perhaps that’s what makes her such a great nanny — she only gives love. (I swear I was only threatened with la chancla once, and I deserved it too.)

My mom has never said that she hates Trump, and she definitely wouldn’t say she hates Shapiro. She’d watch people protest, and pray that no violence occurs. If there’s anyone who deserves to be angry at this country and her circumstances, it’s my Latina mother — but she’s not. She’s level-headed and kind, even if all of the odds are against her.

She’d listen to Shapiro’s speech, grimace and repeat “que Dios lo ayude.”

Shapiro may have left campus, but the students who agree with his stances and attended Thursday’s event are still here. Some of them may not agree with my parents’ decision to migrate here without papers or with immigrants speaking Spanish in public, but, taking after my mom, I’m not going to hate them for that.

Tomás Mier is a junior majoring in journalism. He is also the associate managing editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “Toma Té,” runs every other Friday.