Maria Elena Rios

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Mother’s Day in the United States is an annual holiday celebrated on the second Sunday in May. Mother’s Day recognizes mothers, motherhood and maternal bonds in general, as well the positive contributions that they make to society. In Mexico, Mother’s Day was first imported from United States in 1922. Today “Día de las Madres” is a holiday celebrated annually on May 10 in Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Belize. In Bolivia, Mother’s Day is celebrated on May 27, on the date of a battle in which women participated. At Salud de Paloma, we honor motherhood every day of the year. Our Texas produced extra virgin olive oil was inspired as a tribute to our founder’s mother, Helen. In fact, it was named after her. “My mother, Elena Ríos, sang like a dove…like a paloma. She inspired me to explore new horizons and to work in creating stronger families and communities,” says Rosa Ríos Valdez, co-founder and president of Salud de Paloma. Story of My Mother by Rosa Rios Valdez Helen was raised in South Texas and only finished 9th grade. She married and moved to Mexico. Five years later my mother and father left Mexico to return to the United States with three young children, in search of a better future. Every day my father would go to work as a Bracero in the vegetable field. In 1958, with my mother’s help, my father got a job at Ol’Bossy Dairy in central Texas. The dairy provided employee housing and the promise to help my father become a permanent U.S. resident. My mother dreaded that one day my father would be deported to Mexico. Being fluent in English and Spanish, she would sit at the kitchen table preparing my Dad’s residency application and soliciting reference letters about his good character. Almost a year later, after many written appeals, my father got his permanent U.S. residency. We did not own a car. One fall morning, my mother dressed my 8-year-old brother for school. She put a hand written note into his shirt pocket and instructed him to get on the yellow school bus that stopped at our home. His instructions were to get off the bus with the younger children and to go to the school office and give someone the note. The note said: Please enroll my son in your school. I remember, that same morning the school principal drove my brother home. He spoke with my mother with great respect, and the next day my brother and sister were both enrolled in first grade at Jefferson Elementary. On another occasion, it was a crisp spring morning and after playing outside, I ran toward the front door and I found a hobo sitting on the porch. He had gotten off a nearby railroad boxcar and had walked to our home to ask for food. His face and hands were washed and he was sitting at a make shift table eating my breakfast. I didn’t understand why my mother would help dirty strangers. Year after year, through word of mouth, people would drive from several small towns out to our farmhouse to ask my mother for help. I remember seeing her sit alone at our family kitchen table working for others. She would read letters written in English, and she would prepare the appropriate responses. She would help people with job applications, social security, driver’s license and welfare applications. From the time I was a little girl until many years after I had finished collage, I watched Helen Rios take on the work of improving people’s lives. Today, I sit in front of my laptop late into the evenings and into the wee hours, writing letters of recommendation for job candidates, white papers that advocate for the rural poor, grant applications to benefit underserved markets, and proposals to form statewide coalitions. My mentor, Helen Rios passed away 24 years ago. The values at my work, BCL of Texas, are to lead, inspire and innovate. Every day through my work at BCL of Texas, the parent nonprofit of Salud de Paloma, I experience Helen’s sense of community and determination to improve people’s lives. I am my mother’s legacy.

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