Photo courtesy of Lizz Huerta
Hector and Evelyn Huerta
When I was a kid, our house in Chula Vista was a stop along the way to the American Dream. Miles from the border, close and distant relatives and friends of friends from my father Hector’s village in Mexico would knock on our door. There was always a meal to share, gossip to chew on and songs to be sung. Most were moving even further north, to L.A. and beyond. Dad would insist to my sisters and me that we greet each guest with love.
There were times when people stayed with us, sometimes overnight, sometimes for months. We had a spare room in the back of the house, a thin-walled corner where a cot was set up. I remember a cousin of my father’s stayed with us for what seemed like eternity. She had a little girl. I overheard whispers that she was hiding, getting away from a bad relationship in Mexico, someone who wanted to hurt her. Once a man slept in our garden shed for months.
As my sisters and I grew up, we too gathered strays. Friends of ours knew our home was a sanctuary—a safe place where everyone who passed through the door was family. One girl in particular was practically raised by our parents. She stayed with us for months at a time, went on vacation with us, and had chores she did. She was the fourth daughter and shared a room with our youngest sister.
Our mom, Evelyn, was and still is all love; an immigrant like my dad but who arrived as an infant from Puerto Rico. Her love manifests in giving too, a quality that my sisters and I have all inherited. We make meals for people we know need feeding, offer up spare rooms in our home and we give as much as we can and sometimes more.
It wasn’t always perfect. People took advantage of my parents’ generosity. My father hired a half-brother once and supported him for years. One day my dad discovered his half-brother had been stealing from him, vast amounts of equipment and material. I remember the cloud of betrayal on my dad’s face and my realization that, more than anything, he was hurt.
I can’t imagine what it was like for my grandparents when they immigrated. New language, new culture and the insidious hate that the newly arrived have to bear from those who want them gone. So they planted seeds of giving. The simple philosophy that if you have food, feed someone. If you have a home, offer shelter. If you have emotional energy, listen to someone who is hurting.
My parents are grandparents are now enthralled with their grandbabies. The inherited gift of generosity is moving down the bloodline. Both my sisters have infants, only two months apart. My youngest sister, “T,” struggled to produce enough breast milk, so my other sister “D” started breastfeeding both babies. The babies hold hands and kick each other playfully while they nurse. I see there is a bond there. “T” eventually started producing enough milk, and now she breastfeeds both babies.
It’s what we do, we give and give.