I watched the movie, "Spanglish" again last night. I have seen this film 8-10 times and I still cry every time I watch the final scene between Flor and her daughter Cristina. If you haven't seen the film it is a gem. A beautiful, heartbreaking, and funny look at mother/daughter relationships, cross-cultural communication, the hidden lives of hard-working immigrants, and the giant socio-economic divide between the rich and poor. Here is the trailer:
In the final scene Cristina is angry with her mother because of a decision Flor makes to protect and preserve her daughter from being completely swallowed up by white, American, upper middle class culture. They are standing in the middle of the street and Cristina is yelling at her mother. She tells her that she is "unfair" and that she is"ruining her life." Flor looks almost as if she had been slapped. She tells Cristina, "I am sorry to make you face the central question of your life at such a young age. Is what you want out of life to be so very different from me?"
My daughter, Micah, is only a year old, but I am already afraid of conversations like this one that we will eventually have. I had them with my mother and I'm sure she had them with hers. The mother/daughter relationship gets pretty tricky to navigate around eleven or twelve and doesn't seem to get easy again until 25 or so. When I was a teenager I thought that I wasn't anything like my mother and that I would never want to be. I know I said things that hurt her deeply. And I am afraid of the day when Micah will start to say those words to me. The only thing that gives me hope is knowing how much I value my Mom now and how close we have become, so I know it's possible to get through. But as difficult as I anticipate those days will be, I cannot imagine the way the pain is magnified for immigrant Moms who are not only losing their daughters to teenage angst, but also losing them, in a sense, to America.
When the mother daughter cord is already stretched it's tightest, I can't imagine adding the tension of language and cultural differences, the tension of the upside-down power structure when a child must be the translator and cultural broker for a parent. And how does the immigrant mother connect with her daughter when she has never attended an American school, when she cannot communicate with or is afraid to communicate with teachers, and often must work long hours in a low paying job that is physically demanding and mentally numbing? What does she do when she can't ever be sure if her daughter is fully explaining things? When her daughter laughs at the mother's attempts at English or social participation? When the daughter has so many extra reasons to see herself as wanting to be so different from her mother because they live in two completely different worlds.
I think immigrant Moms, and especially single immigrant Moms, must be commended for their ability to make it through the teenage years and maintain a strong connection to their daughters. They deserve our recognition and support. I could learn a lot from the women who are walking those paths. I think we all could.
If you haven't seen "Spanglish" put it on your list of must sees. But have the tissues ready.