Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Life of a Poet & his Mamasita

Kids, Nene, of Life Whispers has been a member of Poets United for some time now. I  noticed that he writes from the heart, a quality I love, and seems to be a person who has known all of life, the joy and the sorrow, in generous measure. In one of his comments, he referred to the life journey his mother made as a single mother, traveling with her six children from Mexico to the States, to give her children a better life. Right away, I knew there was an amazing story there, so I asked him if he would like to share it. Today, kids, we will hear the story of Mamasita’s Journey, and also the story of the son who made that journey with her, who was always by her side. It is heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time. It is what life is about: the joy, the sorrow and the rich fullness of being a human on this planet.


Poets United: Nene, can you set the scene for us: where you live, who you share your life with?

Nene: I came to the United States of America in 1957 and am presently residing in South Bend, Indiana, where I’ve been a permanent resident since 1961. I live with my wife, Roberta, a wonderfully caring, understanding and extremely patient person, and two mini-poodles, Jules and Jaz, ten and 91/2 respectively.

Poets United: Nene, memories of your childhood and your mother permeate your writing.  I suspect there is an amazing story there. When you left a comment about your mother’s heroic journey from Mexico to the States to give you kids what she dreamed would be a better life, I so longed to hear her – and your – story.

Raquel Lopez~
young, beautiful, and full of dreams

Las Hermanas Tres

Nene: Mamasita (Raquel Lopez) was a professional artist, singer and performer in Mexico, along with two of her sisters, Tina and Graciela, performing as ‘Las Hermanas Tres’. They performed throughout Mexico during the late thirties and forties. 

I’ve included the only picture of my mother and biological father, just prior to him abandoning Mamasita and her five children at the time. (She had lost one child at birth and a daughter,Teresita, at two, from contaminated milk.) Never saw him, father, or heard from him.

Mamasita and Nene's father

She, at a later time, while in a very vulnerable state, was offered a chance to come to the U.S. for a greater dream life by a man, Brooks Pate, who saw her performing. Although renowned in her artistry, it was still quite a hardship to have five children staying alone in a hotel room, the oldest at the time being eight years old. This man, Brooks Pate, drove us all the way to Indianapolis. I recall a hard trip with one piece of bread in my front pocket of my shirt, lasting a minimum of twenty-four hours. Our long but song-filled journey took us to  where he worked, at Eli Lilly Corp.

He also had a large farm where we were forced into forced manual labor. Mamasita, not having a visa or papers, was told if she married him she could stay in the country and not be separated from her children. What resulted was an extremely abusive and painful experience, both for her and us children, who ended up being his tillers and toilers of  the farm. Dawn to dusk in lieu of school or play times.

We were continually threatened and beaten with a tree branch, a belt or shoe, if we erred in any way while planting seeds precisely one foot apart. No breaks, little water, one piece of bread for lunch (an occasional treat when Mamasita would bring out home-made tortillas while he was working at Eli Lilly). Finally and after having a child by him, and many beatings and abuse later, she was contacted by social services at the inception of ‘child labor laws’ and was able to get assistance from a catholic church which secretly moved us from Indy to South Bend, where there was this wonderful diocese called Notre Dame. He, the ugly mean man, was forced to leave, after raping my sister (at the time thirteen years young.) After another hard journey up to South Bend, he came up one time to visit the only child he had with Mamasita, my sweet brother Daniel, by then four years old.

One day he left with him and never brought my brother back. The police said they looked for him but at that time in history, early sixties, a single Mexican mother with no papers didn’t get much legal support. We did have a nice gentleman, Mr. Bill Ruitz, affiliated with Notre Dame, that tried to help us with the legalities at finding my kidnapped brother, but with no luck. After much unrelenting research and for many years, we finally found him and brought him to South Bend to visit. He was sixteen years old and he didn’t know us or we him and unfortunately he seemed, in my eyes, to have been a product of loneliness and sadness.  He left one day without telling us he was leaving. Mamasita cried alone for many days afterwards. 

Poets United: Nene, my heart is very full, as I sit here, for you, your siblings and your beautiful Mamasita, and for the long journey that you all made together through this life. Thank you for trusting me – us - with your story.

Nene: Throughout our growing up, and when she was not at work, the house we lived in was filled in the mornings with her lovely voice singing from kitchen to living room to bedroom. These days would also be filled with the waft of fresh cooking frijoles, aros con pollo y tortillas. Ah, the smell of this luxury was what made our short times spent with Mamasita so poignant. She not only fed us with the little we had access to,  supplemented by church charity and Army rations (yuk! Powdered everything).

Poets United: Mothers are like that, aren’t they? Somehow they find food and continue to sing for their children.

Nene: In reflection and nostalgia, those times were always filled with song and much love. These moments were slighted by her having to work two, sometimes three, jobs just to pay bills and feed six children. She had a child  by an attorney from Indianapolis. This new brother we named initially Dan ll, until he grew up and wanted to just be called Dan.

Raquel, her mother and a sister

Mamasita took classes on the side to learn English, and eventually was able to take her citizenship test and passed. Only, my young brother Dan, because he was under sixteen, was automatically and legally considered a citizen when Mamasita became one. The  rest of us had to individually go through the legal proceedings to become American citizens. My sister eventually became one via marriage, I’m guessing. We didn’t see her after the rape, because she ran away at fourteen, eventually marrying a sailor.

One of my older brothers never pursued his citizenship as he took his own path as a vagabond musician.

The rest of us, my oldest brother went on to some college named Harvard, and now runs his own Psychology Clinic in Michigan. My sister is a nurse and home maker. She’s given birth to seven children and is a foster parent to many. I’m a vagabond student of life after retiring from the corporate world. A younger brother recently passed away, alone in the streets of Arizona. He was also a vagabond musician, poet, a multicultural child, that lived life in anger, confusion and without abiding by rules and laws set by society. My youngest brother, Dan, (still searching for his identity) after a stint in the Army (82nd Airborne) and a College degree, resides in Indy with his wife and manages a retail store.

Poets United: Wow, Nene, I see how your mother’s gift of music and song runs through your family: musicians, poets and travelers, all. I am sad for the lost brother, who died alone. And the young sister, who ran away.

The beautiful Mamasita

Nene: Mamasita passed away five years ago on my birthday. She lived many lives through us, through her family in Mexico, who she only saw again but a couple of times.

She worked till retirement as an OBGYN Tech . All loved her because, in spite of all her trials and tribulations, she would try to make everyone around her laugh. She didn’t fool me, though, because I lived with her, and near her for all of her life and on many an occasion would catch her sitting alone with her elbows on her knees, hands up on her face as it leaned on them, trying to cover the tears. I at times from another room would hear her choking and wailing loudly, not thinking anyone was near. When she did notice a couple of times that I had seen her sitting alone crying, she would look up at me and say  ‘Nene, (mother‘s nick name to me meaning ‘the cutest baby ever’), life is so hard’. All I could do was squat down and embrace her, murmuring the words ’todo va estar bien, Mamasita’ (all will be ok). I would remind her how she raised all her children with love and the toils of life which is what’s Life.

I talk to her everyday, reminding her that Love sustained us. I think she knows that better than I, where she’s at now.

Poets United: Nene, what a heartbreaking, inspiring, incredible story. Your mother’s heart must have been as large as a mountain, to endure all that, and still be able to sing. As a mom, I can tell you, you were a wonderful, loving son to her, and I know how much that would have meant to her.

Nene: Here is a poem I would like to include, about my Mamasita.

When she sat alone
in that time and space
where only she filled
was it empty, was it dark

All I could see
were her empty eyes
she’d stare my way
I wouldn’t know if I
was a tree or me

I’d touch her hand
she’d look to see
and left me wondering
if she could feel my pulse
coming from my heart

So careful was I not
to let her see my tears
while remembering all
our loving years
maybe I should have

When her incarnate shell
finally gave way to the earth
my thoughts wandered
and I questioned

When and how was the
last time she saw me
did she last know
how much I love her
did she remember her son
holding her hand

Fuck you, Alzheimer’s

Poets United: So heart-rending, Nene. I am very sure, somewhere deep within, she knew you were there, and that you love her. When did you first begin to write, my friend?

Nene:  My journey in writing began when I was in High School, in a journal format, chronicling  our path toward being accepted as Mexican immigrants, attempting to assimilate during the late fifties/early sixties in an environment that was traversing through its identity crisis.

Later, after a stint in 1969 thru 1971, which I wish not to reflect upon, I went to college in Green Bay, Wisconsin, where I reluctantly and distractingly pursued studies in philosophy, sociology and psychology, (the three stooges’ courses), trying to understand the ‘why of me‘, the ‘where and how of me’ and the ‘who am I now’.  I started writing because I thought I knew so much more. I was becoming the next great thinker and writer, especially after a ‘joint’.

Poets United: Who would you say has influenced your work?

Nene: I was influenced by Shakespeare, Plato/Socrates, Ortega y Gassett, Miguel de Uno Muno, Pas, Kierkegaard, Sartre, Nietzsche, Ouspensky,  Emily, Shelley, Sagan, Poe, etc, etc, etc.

Poets United: Wowzers. A lofty league of poets! Any pals in the blogosphere you would like to give a nod to?

Nene: Contemporaries are mi amigas in : Sherri, Sherry, Kathleen, Shay, Shaista, Erin, Hannah, Kerry, Ella, etc, etc, etc….

Poets United: Thanks, Nene. We travel in the same circles. We’re so happy to have found you through Poets United. You have a second site, Opinion Politico. Can you tell us about this site?

Nene: 'Opinion Politico' is my take on  the politics of a country that I care for, and that has provided me with my family’s and my opportunities.

I have been a passionate and active proponent of women's rights because of Mamasita’s influence and how she and I co-existed in her struggles to attain all, nominal if that, the opportunities she fought for so hard. Her fight for her rights and liberties were woman based, minority based, civil based, human based. All, intertwined and inseparable. Therefore, my positions are not necessarily primarily politically based but issue based and always human rights based. Guess where all the others fall in. So my occasional input in this blog is well thought out but most importantly, timely, as to when I inject my 'opinion politico'. I know this blog doesn't have high traffic but I also know that it might affect someone sometime which might make a difference somewhere. 

Poets United: One never knows who might take away some words of hope, inspiration or encouragement. Nene, I suspect, given your mother’s gift, that there must be a connection between music and writing for you.

Nene: Music primarily is my single-most interest. I used to sing for a couple of local groups and then sang around town here on occasion with co-musicians when they were and are performing.

Poets United: Cool! Do you play an instrument? Do you still perform?

Nene: I play guitar, but don’t appear professionally right now.

Secondarily, all athletic events, mostly those I used to participate in before my two total hip replacements. I enjoy walking Jules and Jaz around our neighborhood.

Poets United: Yoiks! Hip replacements are not fun. Good for you, to keep walking. Have you traveled much?

Nene:  I’ve lived in Hawaii for a short stint in Oahu, have relatives in Colorado Springs and L.A., Va. Beach (sister).

Love Michigan’s beautiful terrain and lake fronts where my wife and I had a small boat stored just north of where I reside now and visit quite often. I have two brothers who live in Michigan. I have some friends in Tampa and Naples, Florida where I’ve also had the fun of visiting.

I am content where I am at this time, where I grew up in South Bend, Indiana. Most of Mamasita’s memories are here, along with my wife and two lovely mini poodles, Jules (male) and Jaz (female). I have come to terms with my spiritual contentment here and now.

Poets United: Nene, I so admire your empathy and compassion; they shine through your words. You write with such heart, and now I know where that big heart comes from: lots of love, and lots of pain.

Nene: My compassion is the result of our toils and trials coming here to the US, experiencing people, how they treated us, how they treat each other and how they treated mother, whose tears have embedded into my heart.

I recall one Christmas when we were sitting at home, a knock came at the door and when we opened it a priest and two elderly ladies were holding a large box with some smaller boxes and bags wrapped in Christmas paper were placed on our floor. My eyes opened wider than they had been for quite some time.

I grabbed the first wrapped package not knowing what it was and tore off the paper finding a small shirt.

I looked up at Mamasita who at the time was hugging the priest and then the two ladies. I asked ‘Mamasita, can I keep this?’ She said, ’si’. For a moment then and there, watching my other brothers and sister ruffle through the other wrapped packages, I was not sad and lonely. Why was Mamasita crying? I asked myself.

One of my first constructed poems/prose that was written intentionally, reflecting what my eyes had seen and my heart had felt was:       

Do not disdain portrayals of love
Nor feign affection
But receive with open arms and heart
Life’s every emanation
For loves they falter
And tend to fade away
Hearts they are broken
and are scorned and
cry from day to day
Do not fold within
Like a flower sleeping
At the end of its season
But like the flower
Always leave a little room
To begin again

Poets United: That is so  beautiful, Nene. “Always leave a little room to begin again”….yes! You have opened our hearts very wide today, with your story, mi amigo. I thank you. Any wrap-up words for Poets United?

Nene: My shout out is to all the wonderful writers/artists who I’ve recently had the privilege of collaborating, or with whom I’ve shared my little blurbs. I embrace with amor all of my amigas and amigos.

Gracias mi amiga.

 What is there left to say, kids? Not one word. My heart is full of Nene’s journey, and that of his beautiful Mamasita. Now I’m just waiting for the book.  


  1. You know brother, how much I appreciate your comments. Reading this interview was very very special. I wish you the very best and may your memories continue to inspire such passionate love of justice and humanity. another world is possible...the belief must live.

  2. Nene and Sherry Blue Sky, thank you both for bringing out this story. Nene, reading your story here in Africa and feeling the strength of your conviction and the suppleness of your heart, all I am left with is an appreciation of how far you have come from and despite the turmoils you have gone through, you let those ashes be the mould that helped form you.

  3. Nene and Sherry, how important it is to bring this story to light! I am so sorry n' sad for all you and your family endured! Your heart shines through everything you write, I now see why! You always leave a bit of room! Your Mamasita's spirit lives on in you! What a difficult journey~ She was a beautiful woman with a strong spirit! Your contributions to Woman's Rights is wonderful and keeps her spirit still alive~ I'm so happy to have met you! I hope you will write your memoir someday or your Mamasita' legacy deserves to be heard! I am happy to know you and your generous nature :D ATB
    Great job, both of you~

  4. A mother's influence long lives on. Sherry, thank you for this interview; and Nene, thank you for sharing your life with us here.

  5. Sherry - another incredible interview of an astounding poet and man ... Nene, what a journey your life has been ... literally. How generous you have been to share so much of it with us - your Mamasita's love and passion shine on in you; I'm sure she knew it was you holding her hand at the end, Alzheimer's be damned (one of the cruellest tricks the mind can play on one, in my view, and especially on those doing the care-giving; I often think they have it the worst). You have risen to reach every challenge and are living your life with strength and dignity - I am so glad Sherry interviewed you - it's been wonderful to meet you and your family. Now I will watch for more of your work. Peace.

  6. Nene, you are one of the quiet heroes who lives in my heart and inspires my life. Thank you for being willing to share your amazing story. I do hope you will write the book. I will buy the first copy:) Gracias, my amigo. It was a privilege to transcribe some of your journey.

  7. I was really touched by this heartwarming and full of spirit and hope. Sherry, thanks for sharing with us this wonderful writer. Nene, cheers and my hat off to you ~ All the best ~

    (aka Heaven)

  8. Thanks to Sherry not only for interviewing a special blog friend of mine, but for letting me know the interview was even here! What a story. What an extraordinarily strong and beautiful woman your mother must have been, Nene. I know she is proud of you. I don't believe that death is the end; she's still got her loving eyes on you, and you'll see her again.

  9. Gracias Sherry for showing interest and requesting my 'Mamasitas' story of her journey. This of course is but a brief overview of her trials and harried filled life.
    I welcome this opportunity to introduce a 'woman' whose strength is a common thread that I believe is an inherent make up of most maternal women that is left unsaid in a patriarchal canvas.
    This story is timely in that 'Mother's Day' is Sunday.
    Happy Mother's Day to all my amigas and please, please speak on about the inequities being promulgated in a circuitous and surreptitious manner by those who are trying to take us regressively backward in this political season.

    Con Amor, gracias to all of you 'strong' women.

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  11. Ack! I so wish I had thought to mention Mother's Day - I had a very distracted week. Thanks, Nene, for thinking of all women on this day, and for being such an enlightened man.


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