Growing up, I looked up to mami's closest friends. They were full of interesting stories about escapades from their respective native countries. All of them somehow managed to work, take care of their families, and send something back to family members who hadn't immigrated. Some of them were even entrepreneurs, starting businesses at home, selling Avon products or empanadas. I looked up to these women. I called them tías or titis, and they showered me with affection. I could count on them giving me an extra serving of dessert, and as I got older, they offered advice on things I was embarrassed to ask my mom. I loved seeing mami and her amigas drink café and speak for hours. They laughed and seemed to fix the world with their wise words. I hoped to someday have this type of relationship with mis amigas, but I didn't know how it could happen since I felt we lacked the maturity I saw in my tías.
I loved seeing mami and her amigas drink café and speak for hours. They laughed and seemed to fix the world with their wise words.
But then it happened. Mis amigas and I grew bonds that felt a lot like those that mami and her amigas had. Mis amigas are my confidants, my noncertified therapists, and my besties. Not surprisingly, the nature of our relationships has changed throughout the years. When I was younger, my friends and I were "ride or die." We bonded in college, where we sought the warmth and reassurance given to us by the close-knit families many of us left behind to attend school. I realize this is a bit stereotypical, but we were usually the loudest in any given room. We were opinionated and stood out, so it didn't take long for us to gel and come together. Most of us were first in our households to go to college. We found common ground over social justice issues and the fact that we missed the tasty food cooked at home, like arroz con gandules and tostones.
With the energy of our youth, we were always up for going out, for helping each other move dorm rooms or apartments, or for whatever adventure was proposed. When we went out salsa and merengue dancing, no one left a girlfriend behind. We made sure one of us stayed with that one friend — we all have one — who had to dance until the lights came up. Then there was the friend who always seemed to pick the bad boyfriends. Sometimes she just needed counsel: "Leave that guy already. You know he's no good for you." Other times she needed help getting out of an abusive relationship. "Gracias, amigas," she told us as we hugged her and reassured her she would be OK.
When we went out salsa and merengue dancing, no one left a girlfriend behind. We made sure one of us stayed with that one friend — we all have one — who had to dance until the lights came up.
Slowly, the first of mis amigas got married and before I knew it, the rest followed suit. There were the obligatory weddings, the hideous bridesmaid dresses, and all the fun we had helping each other plan our respective futures. It didn't take long for the overachieving amiga to announce she was pregnant — maybe I'm a little jealous it wasn't me. We were all ecstatic for her. We bought that baby more stuff than they could ever wear or play with. Of course, the baby was given an azabache, a bracelet to protect against the evil eye.
After that first child, the baby fever spread among us. Our biological clocks were ticking louder than Marisa Tomei's character in My Cousin Vinny. As the rest of us followed suit, there was less dancing and more getting together to talk about the difference between breast and bottle feeding. When one of us was freaking out because she wasn't producing enough milk, we dragged our babies to her home to encourage and support her. We held baby clothes swaps or simply gifted the newest mom the clothes or furniture she needed from what we were no longer using.
When we get together now, we are the tías or titis to each other's children. The kids feel comfortable coming up to us asking for help opening something or to fix them a plate of food. I've helped wipe dirty faces, wash soiled hands, and console crying toddlers. My favorite activity is to get on the floor and play with the kids. I feel connected to mis amigas' children; I root and pray for them in the same way I pray for my daughter. I understand why my mom's friends loved me so much.
My favorite activity is to get on the floor and play with the kids. I feel connected to mis amigas' children; I root and pray for them in the same way I pray for my daughter.
As our children got older, we created a closed Facebook group to give each other parenting advice. Some of what has come up has been funny: "Help, my fifth grader smells!" Other posts have been more serious: "My child is being bullied at school. What should I do?" The educators and school administrators in the group immediately gave concrete advice, and the moms with similar prior experience offered counsel and solace to the impacted amiga. We also talk about the pros and cons of private versus public school. It's become an invaluable network of support and resources. But we still remember to have some "us" fun. We schedule a moms' night out or a "drunken brunch" so we can let our hair down and laugh and remember the times when we danced until our feet hurt so much, we had to take off our shoes and dance barefoot.
I lost my parents before I had my daughter, and my extended family live far away. In many aspects, I count on mis amigas to help me be a better parent. They've supported me when I've been hospitalized. They were my cheerleaders when I returned to school as an adult. And now that I'm navigating motherhood, they still have my back. Mis amigas are like mis hermanas, and I couldn't imagine life without them.