Love Letters to the Caregivers Who Shaped Our Lives
Thank You to Immigrant Care Workers, Like the Women in My Family
By Karla Coleman-Castillo
My daughter showed off a new skill the other day while I was eating lunch: She made a noise and when I looked over, she made chewing movements. She kept this up until I offered her some pureed strawberries. She’s eight months old and ready for more solid food than I am offering, frankly because I am terrified. So, while she enjoys her snack, I whip out my phone to text the experts: my mom, my tias (aunts), and my suegra (mother-in-law).
Although we don’t live near them, the women in my family are my village as I enter motherhood and raise my daughter. Ours is a large, tight-knit family of first-generation Mexican immigrants. In our culture, caregiving is communal and central to our day-to-day lives.
All of the women in my family are caregivers, be it unpaid labor at home or as workers on top of their roles as mothers. My tias work in early learning centers and as nannies. My mom spent a decade working with immigrant families with young children, then went on to complete her bachelor’s and teach bilingual pre-k. My suegra is a full-time caregiver to her youngest who requires round-the-clock medical care at home.
As we acknowledge Care Workers Recognition Month, I take a moment to honor immigrants like the women in my family, who keep families, communities, and our country running. Immigrant care workers play a vital role across health care, child care, elder care, and other care industries. They are also the cornerstones of their families and communities, providing guidance rooted in our culture and celebrating our heritage and native language. I am grateful every day for their work, both professional and personal, and I center them and their contributions with deep gratitude and pride.
How Did She Do It?
By Talia Grossman
About twenty-four and a half years ago, on December 1, 1998, my family’s life was forever changed. My brother, Jacob Harris Grossman, was born with what we would later find out to be Fanconi Anemia, a life-threatening genetic disease that leads to bone-marrow failure and other severe complications. Jacob was born with just about all of them—too many to list. Let’s just say, the only healthy thing was his hearing; that was perfect.
My mother, Rachel, has been a middle-school social worker for about thirty years, a job that requires caring for sixth through eighth-grade students that have various needs ranging from simple teenage drama to incredibly serious and complex issues like drugs and abuse. Day after day, Rachel would work a physically and mentally exhausting career and come home to another full-time job: caretaking duties. Up until the day he died, Jacob required round-the-clock care. My family did not have the funds to pay for constant nursing, nor did we have the help we were supposed to get through the medically fragile waiver of Medicaid. This is where my parents had to fill in the gap—a gap that is incredibly draining on any family.
My mother is constantly asked how she did this for twenty-two years.
She did it because she had to. She did it as a mother who loved her child more than anything. And for that, I am forever grateful. Her hard-working efforts gave me twenty-two amazing years with Jacob.
Garden of Love
By Joanne Maldonado
As the quintessential daddy’s girl and only child, I was always in awe of my father for the love and care he gave to my mother, who lived valiantly for over 50 years with multiple sclerosis. After retirement, he never had a hobby that took him outside of the home. Yet, he remained faithful to my mother’s care and helped her travel around the world—for the last time to her beloved United Kingdom in 2018 and to his homeland in South America in early 2019.
We lost my mother in February 2020 at age 77. Diego Maldonado lost his compass, his reason to get up every morning, and his beautiful nurse of a wife, Anne. I didn’t realize, until after she was gone, that they were both caregivers to each other. My father handled the shopping, the cooking, and took my mother to her appointments, which included her garden and art clubs. But my mother was on top of his health care by ordering his medicines and pushing him to his appointments and, of course, constantly taking his blood pressure. And for 47 years, that care also included tending to their half-acre garden together, with only a disagreement or two about where the new peonies would go
Diego is almost 86 years old now. He lives in the same home in Falls Church, VA, and wizzes through the garden on the scooter he bought my mother years ago. He watches all the daffodils that they planted together grow and all the azaleas display their bright colors, and he sits in his beautiful wooden gazebo remembering all of the family barbeques they hosted with music, dancing, and volleyball.
Now the caregiver is the one that I care for, as the tables have turned, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. And with my amazing cousin from Bolivia, Magaly, we care for my father with the same love he gave to my mother, with their garden of love as our background.
Generations of Care
By Whitney Pesek
For as long as I can remember, I knew I wanted to pursue a career that helped others. Growing up, I did not realize how much of an influence the women in my life had on shaping my drive and commitment.
My maternal grandmother, Josephine Delgado Moss, immigrated with her family to the United States from León, Guanajuato, Mexico, so her father could work for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. After growing up in a box car outside Cleveland, Ohio, she trained in the nurse cadet corps at the end of World War II. My grandmother started her medical career by working for 15 years at Deaconess Hospital in Cleveland’s first modern cardiac unit while also raising three children. After my grandfather passed away in middle age, she left to nurse for the Navajo Nation. Later, she started a home health agency which took her hundreds of miles across the reservation to see her patients. My grandmother lived in Nogales, Arizona for many years, and returned to Ohio when she retired.
My mother, Leslie Moss, also dedicated her career to caregiving. She was an early childhood caregiver and educator before preparing future early childhood educators through teaching courses at Ohio University. My mother was the founding director of the first Child Care Resource and Referral Agency in Appalachian, Ohio, to help families and early educators find the support they needed. This role also allowed her to advocate for child care and early learning at the state and national levels. Not only did my mother help care for other children, prepare future caregivers, and advocate for a better system and more investments, but she also raised two children and cared for my grandmother for several years at the end of her life.
I always knew that my grandma was a nurse and that my mom was a teacher, but it wasn’t until I was an adult that I truly grasped what it meant that the women in my family were caregivers both in and outside the home. This National Care Workers Recognition Month, I am proud to tell the story of two women in my life who showed me what it means to care for your own family and dedicate your career to the essential work of caregiving across your lifespan.
To All Those We Haven’t Named, I Celebrate Your Work Today
By Sarah Yergeau
Growing up our next-door neighbors were our best friends. It took just a minute to scramble through the “secret clubhouse” (really a garden with a large rock that doubled as a table for us) from Katie’s house to mine. Only a year apart, we spent the summers concocting stories about the annoying boys across the street, making friendship bracelets, and occasionally letting our younger siblings join snack time at the clubhouse “table.”
We were constantly bouncing between our two houses for meals, playdates, homework time, and so much more. Our parents, but our moms especially, were instrumental caregivers for all four kids. When my sister had an ear infection that required her to go to the emergency room, it was Katie’s parents who provided care for me in the early morning hours. At the time, that was my norm, and I didn’t think anything of the community they built.
Now, as a millennial with friends becoming parents, I see it for what it was: an incredibly special and somewhat rare community support network. One that pushed back on the individualistic tendencies of American society and instead acknowledged and honored the ways care work should be a communal responsibility.
It also makes me think of all the ways my friends are now cultivating community:
How Carrie’s mom watches her daughter on Mondays, and her mother-in-law takes Fridays. Both grandmothers get quality time with their granddaughter while enabling my friends to manage their jobs (and the cost of child care).
How Kelly has started taking care of her aging parents (making sure they get to appointments, doing laundry, and other essential household chores).
How my friend group all joins together to deliver meals (or in our modern age, Door Dash gift cards) when someone is sick or having a hard time.
All of those roles are ones that deserve to be celebrated. Every day, someone shows up for their small community in a myriad of ways that are not often formally recognized.
Today, I am stating loud and clear: Your work is appreciated and valued. To all those that we are not naming and who go unrecognized in state houses and the halls of Congress when care investments are considered, this blog of appreciation is for you. I won’t stop fighting until we build a system of care that is just and supports the work of every single caregiver.