Mother’s Day arrives during a moment of uncertainty, when San Antonio is slowly reopening to a reluctant public seeking safety. Many celebrations will be held virtually, with social distancing guidelines in place and people unwilling to risk spreading the coronavirus among loved ones.
Though made more difficult due to a lack of physical closeness, those celebrations will still go on. And in honor of the holiday, the Rivard Report offers three stories of sons and daughters inspired by their matriarchs.
Chef Alejandro “Alex” Paredes recently won yet further accolades for his Carnitas Lonja restaurant on South Roosevelt Avenue, named as a semifinalist for a Best Chef in Texas award by the James Beard Foundation.
Brother Javier Paredes has been a less visible part of the restaurant’s success, helping out with public relations even as he continues his own work as a development director for architecture and design firm Muñoz and Co.
Both have enjoyed success in their respective fields, Javier most recently having helped shepherd the San Pedro Creek Culture Park into existence, but both credit their mother for instilling tenacity and discipline in them from an early age.
“Basically, our whole lineage is a line of strong matriarchs,” Javier said, recounting that when his grandfather died at age 45, his grandmother Carmen Infante raised five children as a migrant worker, sharing duties with her mother, Olivia, who also lived in the typical middle-class Mexican household.
The family moved to Morelia in Michoacán, and their mother, Monica Daughtery (née Infante), became pregnant with Javier at age 15, and Alex came along 18 months later. Daughtery’s life basically stopped, Javier said, to raise her children, and their father left the family when Javier was 3. “So me and my brother, we kind of grew up in that same pattern with mom, grandma, and great-grandma” together in the home.
With her education stopping at high school, “my mom had to start working, figuring out how to just get through life,” Javier said, moving through a succession of jobs, including being a nanny and selling real estate. “It’s a child that has to become basically a warrior,” he said.
With grandma setting household rules, “mom was the person that was always motivating us to be adventurous and be risky.” And despite her own challenges, he said, she retained an “innocent, visionary, dreamy personality about life,” a worldview imprinted upon the two brothers.
They also learned ethics and morals from their mother, who taught them to be honest and always concerned with justice, and their aunt Tere Infante, Monica’s sister, helped them learn discipline. Their mother’s philosophy influenced both their careers, Javier said, with the San Pedro Creek Culture Park helping to bridge a longstanding cultural and economic divide in the city and Carnitas Lonja operating more as a “community-based restaurant” rather than simply a business.
“We’ve never been motivated for money. It’s more what we can do for other people. My brother is the same,” Alex said. “Any of the decisions in our lives, we always take the route of how we can help someone else. … Who’s gonna buy your carnitas if you’re not giving back to the community?”
The brothers had a chance to give back to their mother when Alex traveled to Mexico in 2012 to rescue Daughtery from a bad situation related to her work for a mining company, which had fallen victim to the dangerous politics of escalating drug wars. Alex brought their mother to San Antonio and helped her buy a house, where she still resides at age 53.
After a life as a nomad, she’s now settled and is “still that pillar of our family,” advising on important life decisions regarding marriage, parenthood, and business. “She’s almost like our chairman,” Javier said.
For Mother’s Day they plan a small family carne asada at Daughtery’s house, with Alex joining after his restaurant closes in the early afternoon. The challenges they all face now, with month-old baby Renzo born to Javier and wife Jacqueline Archer during a global pandemic, feel surmountable because of their mother’s influence, Javier said.
“Our mom’s superpower is the ability to rebuild and reinvent herself out of challenging times,” Javier said. “That taught me and my brother resilience.”
Bernadette Pena has long been inspired by strong women of color such as novelist Toni Morrison, ballerina Alicia Alonso, and pioneering skateboarder Peggy Oki. To honor these women, and influential Latinas in particular, Pena started two projects to help a new generation of young women learn about these heroes: Nuestra Gente (Our People) and Brava Mujer!
Pena invites girls to dress up as their heroes, whether it’s painter Frida Kahlo, entertainer Carmen Miranda, pop star Selena, or civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, for portraits that convey their contributions to history in images and capsule biographies.
Huerta in particular resonates with Pena, not only for her achievements but because she had to balance the risks of her activism with raising her 11 children. The struggles of Pena’s mother, Judith Menchaca, included escaping an abusive marriage of 17 years, then having to raise four kids alone. She took jobs as she could find them, then due to a work injury became a stay-at-home mom, with Pena’s grandmother Andrea Menchaca helping raise the kids.
“I come from a line of women that are very, very strong, and I really feel the only reason that she was able to build a new foundation was because of my grandmother,” Pena said. “My grandmother offered her the support that she needed, and that then created a ripple effect for us.”
Andrea was a very determined individual, Pena said, who instilled that quality in her and her sisters. No matter the challenge, “we were told that everything was going to be OK,” Pena said.
Eventually, Menchaca took a job at a local restaurant, which she then inherited, becoming owner of La Estrella with no prior experience running a business. She undertook several name and style changes for her restaurants but each time created not only a successful business but a community – even an extended family – around her, Pena said, with her singular ability to connect to people.
Pena has wondered how a woman in her 40s could face the challenge of building a whole new life for herself while raising children. When she asked her mother how she managed, she said her answer was “there’s not a choice, you’ve got to do it.”
Her mother’s sheer determination came into focus when Pena’s granddaughter was diagnosed with severe epilepsy, which has involved several brain surgeries and resultant complications. “My mom was the person that I really leaned on” to get through that difficult period, Pena said. “She would say, ‘Hey, you’ve got to do it. I mean if she needs surgery, it’s got to be done.’”
Even as she developed her Nuestra Gente and Brava Mujer! projects, her mother’s inspiration came into play. “She’s like, ‘Go out, be vulnerable, do it. What’s holding you back?’ … I’ve always pulled from her experience and from her energy, in anything I’ve ever had to tackle,” Pena said. “She’s always evolving, always moving forward, always doing.”
To illustrate her point, Pena said Menchaca had earned an associate degree in business from Palo Alto College and will continue pursuing her education at Texas A&M-San Antonio. “She sets a goal and she just gets to it.”
The distancing required for celebrating Mother’s Day hurts, Pena said. “It’s gonna be tough,” she said. “I imagine that it’ll be really emotional for individuals that are used to connecting with their loved ones and being in their presence, and not being able to do that.”
But they recently celebrated Menchaca’s birthday through a Zoom videoconference, and would use that tool again. “We have to keep one another safe,” Pena said.
Olivia Drummond already had one of the most important celebrations of her life canceled by the coronavirus. Graduating medical students celebrate “Match Day,” when students gather with family and friends to share the results of their residency applications and learn in which city they’ll begin their practices.
Drummond’s Match Day was set for March 20 in Houston, when she would learn she’d been paired with Tulane University in New Orleans. Instead of gathering with her graduating class at the University of Texas-Houston, she gathered her belongings and headed back home to San Antonio.
“At the time it felt terrible, because it’s like, ‘Oh, your Match Day is gone. Oh, your banquet is gone. Oh, your graduation is gone.’ But now looking back, I’m really glad” the events were canceled, in light of Houston becoming a pandemic hotspot soon after.
Drummond had her own Match Day dinner with parents Melanie and Kenneth, picking up Italian food curbside and opening the special Match Day email together. Though it wasn’t the big celebration they all expected, “I got to be with my parents and we had a nice meal,” she said.
Drummond has wanted to be a doctor since age 5 due to the influence of her mother, who at the time had embarked on what would become a 40-year career as an ICU nurse. Melanie Drummond and her husband both grew up poor in rural Mississippi and married young. While Kenneth went to work after high school, Melanie became the first in her family to go to college, to study nursing. She joined the Air Force, and the family relocated to San Antonio.
Melanie’s widowed mother, Annie Logan, had insisted that her daughter get an education to raise herself out of poverty. That influence communicated through Melanie to her husband, who after 10 years of working decided to follow her career track. “Watching my mom go through it [all] inspired him,” Drummond said, and he would go on to study nursing and become an ICU nurse alongside her.
Melanie left the military after four years and worked for various hospitals, including her current position at the Brooke Army Medical Center ICU. The example she set for her daughter was to be hard-working but to never lose her sense of generosity.
“It’s one of the reasons why she’s been a good nurse, because she’s got such a big heart,” Drummond said. “I see that in her life and in her work, and I want to aspire to be able to put other people before me,” which inspired her to go enter the health care profession.
Her mother’s ability to put others first was demonstrated by taking Logan into their home when they discovered she had Alzheimer’s disease. Drummond was in middle school at the time. “It certainly wasn’t like an easy thing to have someone with dementia come live with you,” but it “showed me how devoted she is to her family” and how hard Melanie worked “to get me to a place where I could go to college.”
Melanie worked an ICU shift late on Saturday, so Drummond said their Mother’s Day celebration would depend on how Mom felt when she woke up Sunday. They might visit a state park for some time in the outdoors, or just order curbside again. Despite being “not very good at internet shopping,” Drummond managed to find a few gifts, but her mother’s dedication is a gift she’ll treasure as she embarks on her medical career.