To the government and most of the outside world, she’s known as Sara Ortiz. To me she is Mom. Sometimes she’s Mom Ortiz to distinguish her from my other Mom, the one who held the reins until it was Sara’s turn to inherit me. This rose, by whatever name she’s known, is just as sweet to me today as she was when we met some 20 years ago.
In the summer of ’98, I snapped a photo of a woman and her husband. My best friend and closest confidant at the time chuckled at the expression of the husband’s face in the photo. He said the expression seemed to say, “When can we go home?” Later, I took a part-time job at a local middle school, where it turns out the woman in photo also worked. We were teamed together with the Technology Teacher Leader and the rest is history.
Showing her the photo from the summer party, she smiled and told me that she knew who I was even then. I had been volunteering at the school that summer, and though I had never run into her, as the building’s union rep, it was her business to know who was in the building at all times. We grew very close in our working relationship, and it spilled outside of work, as she took me under her wing and helped shape the man I am today. (See? It’s HER fault.) She adopted me – and vice versa – and we haven’t been able to shake each other since. Neither of us has tried. Neither of us cares to.
Over the years, we have shared love, laughter, losses, and long talks. We’ve had meals and merriment, reflections and road trips, and other things that start with the same first letters. Most important, we have shared a relationship that transcends biological birthrights, geographical distance (she and Pop live in Vieques, Puerto Rico, where residents are still barely recovering from the disaster of Hurricane Maria), ethnic and educational backgrounds, and all the other differences that face individuals and groups in society. And I’m all the better for it. Thanks, Mom.
When I think of Women’s History Month and the many – the innumerable, countless many – women who have contributed to the betterment of society and art and business and life, Mom Ortiz rates high on the list. She has helped many students and teachers reach their potential simply by being there for them, by being a listening ear, by advising and admonishing as warranted, and by pushing those who needed a nudge in a direction. This first Jeune Femme Women’s History Month post is dedicated to her and her legacy with love (to the moon and back) and respect.