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"For nearly two decades, the San Antonio native (Ya’Ke) has been making films that grapple with race and social change"

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The herculean feats of motherhood that we never see

Mothers, oftentimes, go undervalued. Yes, we tell them we love them, maybe shower them with gifts, or take them on trips, but those recognitions are easy. The true acknowledgement of the sacrifices that mothers make, the herculean feats that mothers are truly made of – those are the things that we don’t see, or should I say, we refuse to see.


Every sleepless night a mother spends worrying about us, envisioning our futures, praying that we make it back home safe. The tears they cry, petitions they make to God, the gaping wounds life has given them that go unhealed, the secret desires they only whisper into their pillows, and the lives some of them leave behind in order to usher us into our futures—those are the the attributes that make mothers, mothers.


As I reflect on the life givers and soul cultivators that are our mothers, I can’t help but think of my own. A woman who in her imperfection, fought to make life perfect for her children. Three jobs. No husband. Sporadic help from the community. Love of self, denied in order to love us, fight for us, protect us at the cost of leaving herself vulnerable.


I can remember her walking out on jobs because they wouldn’t let her off for my sister’s game or my talent show. For her, being there for us was more important than a job—she could always get another gig—she only had a limited amount of time with us.


I remember the sleepless nights worrying about how the bills would get paid. Or ensuring that we didn’t go to bed hungry. I remember the old red hoopty that guzzled more water than gas, all of us pushing, watering, cooling down, hoping to God that we’d make it to our destination. I remember the musical chairs she’d play with bill collectors, wheeling and dealing so we could go on that field trip, attend that class, not be labeled as the “kids in need.” I remember sacrifice. Hard, back-breaking work that felt like it was leading nowhere. I remember hope, joy and laughter, faith that refused to be stifled. I remember Love. A love that found freedom when everything seemed to be caging it in. I remember my mother’s love.


I write this today, not just for my own mother, but to tell every mother that you are seen. Not only with my eyes, but with my spirit, my soul, my breath.Today I want you to know that I feel you. I feel your presence whenever I hear the silence of sleeping babies. I feel your soul-stirring angst whenever I hear sirens or a call to war, because I know that a son, a brother, a lover, a friend — someone that you’ve sheltered despite themselves — may be called up.I feel your joy whenever a child walks, coos, dances, makes a mess. I feel your disappointment that life didn’t always give you what you hoped it would, that oftentimes the love you gave was never returned, leaving you depleted, unprotected even.


Mother. Mama. Madre. Umi. Ina. I honor you.


Ammā. Maa. Eka. Mor. Uwa. Agitsi. I see you.


I speak all your names. In all the tongues that I can find and even those I don’t have language for. I honor your sacrifice. I recognize your courage. I sense your ever present tenderness, warmth and devotion.


If love is a weapon, you are the artillery sending it out into the world to conquer hate.


Ya’Ke Smith is a film professor and Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for the Moody College of Communication at the University of Texas at Austin. He wrote this column or The Dallas Morning News.

The herculean feats of motherhood that we never see