By Anyra Cano
For more than 20 years, my mother was a preschool teacher. She loved teaching, she especially enjoyed watching her students play in the drama station. She would watch the children act out what they observed at home. She could learn much about a child’s family in the way the children played and interacted with others.
I also grew up watching, that is watching my mom, from whom I learned so much. What I am today is due in large part to what I observed of my mom. She passed away 8 months ago, and while the grief journey has been a difficult one, I am constantly being reminded of all I learned from her. I want to share with you a little of who my mom is and some of the leadership lessons that I learned from her.
My mom was a very strong person, I do not recall her giving up, no matter the challenges she encountered. She was born in Sonora, Mexico and came to the USA at the beginning of her young adult life, when she married my father. She also became a mother of four children at a very young age.
When my mom came to this country, she had only a high school diploma (which was not accepted in USA), and did not speak any English. As a mother of four very young children, she knew that she needed to become educated in order to prepare herself to live in this country. So, she quickly enrolled and graduated from ESL and GED courses and later continued with college. She was so resourceful, she frequently asked questions and inquired about opportunities to grow.
There were times when my mom could not find childcare, instead of giving up she would take my siblings and I to the college with her and make it a fun, playful adventure for us, while we waited in the hallways. As we waited, we would pretend we were in college, we would look through college catalogs and dream of the classes we would each take. My favorite part of going to college as a small child was the library, helping her find resources and playing pretend librarians and students. She spoke about her education with great enthusiasm and joy, no matter the difficulty of the assignment.
I also remember the car she drove for college; the reverse did not work, so she would look for the furthest parking spaces where she could park without the need of reversing. My dad was the janitor of a local Baptist church, so money wasn’t abundant, but she persisted and found scholarships and grants. Many times, she was frowned upon, looked down on because of her accent and criticized for going to college having young children. No matter what, she knew what she wanted and what she needed to do. Eventually, she completed her college education in Early Childhood Education/Development, and taught Preschool for more than 20 years.
Another great thing about my mom, was how she encouraged other women to become educated. She guided and inspired many of her students’ moms to also get an education and they too became teachers.
Throughout my childhood my mom suffered with many health issues and faced difficult circumstances at home, yet she modeled for us perseverance and faith. I cannot remember my mom ever giving up on anything. She thought the best of herself, affirming that she could do anything, and go anywhere. If she did not know how to do something, she found a way to learn how to do whatever she put her mind to.
One of my mom’s greatest joys was serving at her church. She used all of her training and education in teaching, and used it for the benefit of the church. She would seek local resources to help fund the activities where she served. She did not allow her many health issues and disabilities stop her from serving.
After several major strokes and other life-threatening problems, she kept persevering and serving with the children at her church. In fact, in the summer of 2018, she directed and taught her church’s vacation bible school from a wheelchair. No matter the obstacles she remained faithful to her commitments.
My mom had all of the obstacles you can imagine for someone not to succeed in life, but those did not stop her. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13) was her life verse. It served as her motivation to persevere. Through this verse, she was reminded of the struggles that the apostle Paul had, and how he continued serving Christ. Through his many challenges, he was determined to draw strength from Christ to keep doing what God had called him to do.
My mom’s example taught me that leadership does not come without its challenges, opposition, sicknesses, criticism and other complications, but if we follow God’s will, we can persist.
Due to space constraints, I cannot share all about who my mom is and did, but my earliest and most significant leadership lessons were modeled by her. I have been watching her and learning how to become a leader. Even now, I try to look back to remember how she grieved my grandmother’s death, and learn how to live this journey as she did.
Today, we have many young ladies and girls watching us. Our nieces, daughters, granddaughters, and church children are learning from how we lead, face challenges, excel, and persevere. They observe how we interact with others and how we live out our faith.
One of the many blessings of CLLI is that, while I am no longer a child and my mom is no longer physically here for me to watch, I have other Latinas leaders whom I have the privilege to observe and learn from. Similar to what I found in my mom, CLLI is a network of Latina leaders who are ready to share their wisdom, encourage us to persist, pray for us, and guide us to resources that will help us grow.
I hope that one day the young women and girls who watch me will also be able to share the many ways I modeled leadership to them.
We are being watched; may we lead faithfully.
Anyra Cano (on the left), is the Academic Coordinator of the Christian Latina Leadership Institute, Youth Minister at Iglesia Bautista Victoria en Cristo in Fort Worth, TX and Coordinator for the Texas Baptist Women in Ministry.