Mis Ángeles: How My 60-Year-Old Immigrant Mom Is Excelling In Quarantine

(Photo by Erick Galindo/Illustration by Chava Sanchez)

It sounds like there's a small-scale war in the kitchen. That's how most days in the Galindo household start. On this 90-degree day, my 60-year-old mother and 70-year-old father have decided to deep clean the windows and doors. My father, Manuel, is outside spraying things with the water hose and my mother, Elvia, is inside struggling with the blinds.

"Manuel!," Elvia screams. "I need your help with the blinds!"

She's kneeling on a tall chair, sweat and sunlight in her eyes, wrestling the strings of these things. She pulls the cord this way, that way, and the blinds go up but fall back down. Elvia almost breaks down in the struggle, "Why can't I do this?! I should be able to do this?!"

Elvia turns to me for help and I let her down. I don't understand this technology any more than she does.

"Call your dad," she says, "or check the YouTube to see how to do it. You should really move this computer off the table. No one uses it. And what are you eating? Don't make a mess. There is half a pepino if you want to eat it with sal y limon." Then she yanks the cord again, fighting to win this battle with everything she's got — I guess that includes YouTube now?

***

I shouldn't be surprised that my mother has finally discovered things like YouTube, Facebook and Pinterest. Nor by the fact that she wants AirPods for Mother's Day. But it's the pace at which she has become a high-volume user of tech during this pandemic that throws me.

As my family's personal tech support, I'm the one who's been a key witness to my mother's transformation from someone who never had her phone on her to what she used to call a "boba," her choice term (it means silly fool in Spanish) for people who stare at their screens.

I admit, I was worried when I got a Facebook friend request from an Elvia Galindo, with a stylish photo of moms and pops at some quinceañera. I even rushed from the backyard to the front of the house to confirm this was really happening, passing my sister in the hall who just shook her head at me and said, "I told them not to do it. I told them it was a bad idea."

The thought of my mom getting hacked or subject to some online fraud jumped immediately to my mind. Then I thought about how I'd be inundated with technology questions. But Elvia has quickly caught on. And she's not a boba, she's actually using the technology to thrive during the quarantine, just like she thrived without technology before it.

***

I'm in constant awe of my mother's indestructible spirit. Growing up in abject poverty on a Mexican farm will make you unbreakable. But only someone who knows her as well as I do can see the tiny cracks that appeared in the early days of the pandemic.

She slept in a lot, which was unprecedented. She lost a credit card during a period of panic grocery shopping, which had also never happened before. And she was quiet, another thing that rarely occurs.

But when I got sick early in the quarantine, Elvia snapped into her typical heroics and unleashed a barrage of home remedies probably not seen since her days growing up on a Sinaloa rancho, where she became her family's primary bread-winner at age 11. She dropped out of school and sold sandwiches at a corner store owned by a family friend.

Members of my family all stepped up to take care of me when I was sick with what seemed like coronavirus symptoms. But my mother was relentless. She would do things like throw on some gloves and mask to sneak into the guest house, where I was in self-isolation, to deep clean the whole thing while I was showering.

Since then, she's constantly found new ways to excel at life as we now know it.

(Photo by Erick Galindo)

With her gym shut down because of the pandemic, she began using Youtube fitness videos to work out daily in the living room. When her church stopped services, she got into Facebook for the live streams. For her prayer group, she downloaded the Zoom app on her phone.

When the days got longer, she started major projects around the house, like re-varnishing the kitchen cabinets or reorganizing the shed. She even started recreating dishes from our favorite restaurants that have shut down to make us feel better — but also to show off that she can make them better.

She jogs. She walks the dogs. She does Netflix and Amazon Prime. She FaceTimes with my cousins in Mexico. And all that while still being the undisputed queen of the Galindo household, where three generations of Galindos live and now work from home.

For the better part of my life, my mom's work has been mom and her office has been home. So when my father, me, and everyone else here was sent home to work, all we were doing was taking up her office space.

***

Working from home is no picnic but at least we can be comfortable. At least for me, work has slowed some, enough for me to rest and relax a lot more than usual.

But for Elvia, her work has continued. The only difference is that her ability to find breaks and self-care have been taken away. Somehow, that's made her creativity shine as she finds ways to do even more during the quarantine.

Lately, she's been teaching my 13-year-old niece Dynah her recipes. And she tells her stories about growing up in Obispo, this little ranch town outside Culiacán. "I still remember walking from the river with a bucket of water on my head," she told Dynah as they made tortillas. "My mom would wake us up early to go get water because we didn't have running water in those days."

Those days were the 1960s, just to show you how poor and rural my mother's upbringing was. And now she wants AirPods for Mother's Day.

And I think there is some symbolism in the fact that this year Día de la Madre - Latin America's version which is always May 10 - and American Mother's Day, always the first weekend of May, land on the same day.

Because Elvia Galindo, mother of five and grandmother of four, who was born destitute on a small Sinaloa ranch, is now a paradigm of an American matriarch in the 21st century and still a badass Latina with mad YouTube skills.

She even knows how to work the blinds now. I expect she'll teach me soon.


About the Mis Ángeles column: Erick Galindo is chronicling life in Los Angeles for LAist. He took on this role after serving as our immigrant communities reporter. Erick came to us last year from LA Taco, where he was the managing editor.

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