My Father’s Surrogate Mother

By Erika Delgado – with the help of her parents, Maria Del Carmen and Salvador

I’m not religious. I define as agnostic, because I do not believe in ever telling someone what they have put their whole souls faith in is wrong. I was raised Catholic, still am very culturally Catholic.

I will wear my cruz above my heart,

I will wear a shirt with an over embellished image of La Virgin de Guadalupe,

I will pray when I am scared,

I will daze inside a church with 50k gold decorations and feel at peace,

But if I go to mass, I will feel like a fraud suffocating in what I was raised to believe was sin.

I am a sinner by nature, I exist only for myself when I am at my most selfish, but I wouldn’t be who I am today, without being raised catholic nor without my surrogate grandmother: La Virgin de Guadalupe.

When I am born, my father was late. My mom had to wait during her contractions for my father to get home, because my father was at a Guadalupanos meeting at church. He couldn’t call out, this was before the time of affordable cell phones, so my mom couldn’t irritate him to come take her. My birth was second thought to La Virgin. My whole life I have felt that I was competing against La Virgin for my father’s attention. It took me a while to accept her and how important she was to him. She wasn’t just the mother of Jesus, nor the virgin Mary that appeared to a poor nativo man in Mexico way too many years ago. La Virgin of Guadalupe was the nurturing mother my father always needed.

My father mostly lived with his biological grandma in Fresnio, Zacatecas during his youth. He says at first he lived with his 11 other siblings and his parents, but his mother was colder to him and once his grandmother got sick he slowly began to be there more often. To take care of her; he was ten. He took her to church, he worked all he could, he gave her his money, and once school got in the way of making more, he dropped out. He took care of her until he was 16, until she passed away. Then he moved to Mexico City.

He worked a handful of weird jobs, from helping construct elevators, to being a bookkeeper at a hospital. His many jobs were what kept his family having money in Fresnio, but it was not what kept my dad happy. One of the main reasons he moved to Mexico City, other than money, was because he would finally be near the mother he never really knew. The mother he prayed to when he was scared, lonely, desperate, and hopeless. Once in Mexico City, he visited el Basilica of Our Mother of Guadalupe bi-weekly. This was the only time he felt at peace, sitting there praying and watching all the different folk coming from all over the world just to see her and those that come on their knees in desperation, so they can get a second chance. This was my father’s second chance. Week by week he’d visit as much as he could, watch, and talk to her. La Virgin was my father’s only real friend, the only one who’d give up anything to take care of him, she was his surrogate mother when his biological one was nowhere to be seen.

To my father, La Virgin was the one who pushed him to be better and take more chances. He then traveled out to Mexicalli where he became a milkman. Waking up at 3am every morning so he could drop off the days milk to 100s of households. He worked all morning, slept all night. My dad’s whole life was built around two things: workmanship and La Virgin De Guadalupe. After a tour to Disneyland, something sparked in my dad.

The American Dream woke him up in Disneyland, and soon he was on his way to San Francisco. My mother was already there, she moved in 1968 after the Tlatelolco massacre, all her siblings were students. A few of my uncles had been protesting, so in fear they all moved from Tepatitlán de Morelos, Jalisco to the Mission District in San Francisco. My mother was only 14. For her this was the biggest culture shock of her life. She went from an over-religious small town where everyone knew her name to a city in it’s Free Love prime. Wherever she went she could smell the molta, wherever she went she prayed it would go away. My mother has always been very emotional, very much in touch with her feelings, and very much afraid of everything. She is still this way, with a kindness that overcrowds the negative criticism she was raised to believe. Both my parents will talk shit about my tattoos, both my parents love me with all their heart in their own ways. Even though soy una huevóna y tengo que ser mas mujer.

My parents met in the Mission, at a youth group in St Anthony of Padua Parish on Cesar Chavez St, San Francisco. They were in love the moment they met, according to them, but they also were already in relationships when they first met. Soon they were best friends, and sooner than that they had both broken up with their previous partners. Five months after they met, they were engaged. Instead of asking my mother to be his novia, my father asked her to be his wife. My mother was 19, and my father was 23. In 1974, they were married, they lived in the Mission, taking turns working and going to school. They didn’t have their first child until 1980, a year before that they had moved into the urban suburbs of South San Francisco. My father’s citizenship was on hold until my second brother was born, in 1985. My father was having a hard time getting a job, and they lived in fear of him being deported, so then my mom (her father was a citizen) filed for citizenship in 1983. She had no problems, but because the government wasn’t completely sure that they were actually in love, after over 10 years of being married, 2 kids and praying loudly to La Virgin, my dad got his papers

 

In 1992, I was born. This is where everything makes most sense. This is where all the memories are not just told to me in a rambly “no era no era quando, no no quien?” This is when I at least begin to become part of the memories and have more of them that are certain. My dad worked everyday until I was 12. My dad dropped me off at school, and usually my mother would pick me up. This is when we still all went to church together, my mother, my brothers, and I all sat together, my father always sat alone in the front. I always felt he was embarrassed by us.

I went to Catechism every week. I met some of my closest friends, I took in the bible the same way I took in in any piece of literature: easily. To me they were much more like fiction than anything else. Stories perfectly put together after generations, to tell morals and stories that inflicted fear in most pre-teens. I woke up at 3 in the morning on la dia de La Virgin de Guadalupe to go to mass, always in a daze. I felt like I came into the family just as my dad began to lose connection with siblings and mother. His mother never liked my mother, she never knew any of my siblings names. One time, I saw her at a reunion, and she asked “Who do you belong to?” I knew she was old, but that hurt. It hurts for your own grandmother to not know who you are, or even care about your mother. My maternal grandmother, stayed at my house for most my life, she was the one that gave me the love a grandmother should. I always thought my father’s mother hated me. She hated my mother and she hated me. So once my family tried to keep clear of this hatred, was when my father got more involved with the church and specifically the group called “Los Guadalupanos.” It’s kind of a club specifically devoted to La Virgin De Guadalupe, and where my father still spends most his time.

After it was confirmed under the eyes of God that I ERIKA CRYSTAL DELGADO ACEVES was Catholic, I decided that I really was not. For me going to mass was more a punishment. I didn’t want to be reminded of my competitor for my father’s love. There’s already over 100 images of la Virgin adorning the walls and corners of my childhood home.

When I was 12, my father didn’t come back from work at the time he usually would. I made a bed of misplaced pillows on my parent’s bedroom floor, waiting for him to come home. Instead, we got a call.

He had been in an accident. At the time, he was working as a welder in boats. At the time, he tripped and broke his skull of steaming hot pipe. He survived, physically, but before this we were financially fine. My dad was doing what he loved and grew up thinking he had to: making money for his family. After this accident, all of this was taken from him. All he had left was his family and La Virgin De Guadalupe. We had to pay for all the medical expenses out of our pocket, my mom stopped buying anything for herself, and most of the money went to food, medical expenses, and me. My eldest brother already had a family of his own, my middle brother, went to the local community college and worked to pay his own bills.

My father went from never being home, to never leaving the couch. His collection of Virgins spiraled out of control. He devoted more time to la Virgin, and trying to bust out of this post traumatic depression. More so denying that he was depressed at all, calling his psychiatrist un “pinche gringo pendejo” instead of going to his appointments. I was an emo kid, with too many issues, but too afraid to say anything.

I fell into my own depression. I fell down my own selfish hole. I have only recently begun to truly dig out. To dig out and ask my parents about their past. Sometimes when you’re going through too much you forget that everyone is also going through something, but it didn’t really kick in for me, until not only both my grandmothers passed, but also a best friend. This was my own wake up call. This was when I started to ask more questions, because I didn’t know where I would be in a year or if my parents would still be with me. My parents are old and stubborn. My dad will sneak money underneath my mom’s nose so he can add more Virgin of Guadalupes to our collection. To add more protection to our household. My mom and I humor him, but also respect that to my father La Virgin de Guadalupe is much more than a collectible, she is his mother.  

My parents raised me to treat others the way I want to be treated,

My parents raised me to never be anything I’m not,

My parents raised to never let anyone take advantage me,

My parents raised me to believe my dreams could be reality,

My parents raised me to be proud of my culture,

My parents raised me to love La Virgin of Guadalupe.

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