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A Letter to My First-Generation American Children

A Bend local opens up about her mother's struggles in immigrating to the U.S., learned through reading a letter opened after her mom's death

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Ada Eunice Luna Smith was sent to the United States by her parents when she was less than 12 years old. She traveled with her older brother, who she recalled she barely knew. “He and his family were strangers to me,” she wrote in a letter to her three daughters.

Smith wrote the letter last year after a prolonged battle with colon cancer. When doctors found the cancer, it had already progressed to Stage 4. She passed away in April, and her middle daughter and Bend local, Michelle Mora, opened up about the impact the letter had on her once she recognized the true extent of her immigrant mother’s struggles trying to make a life for herself in the United States.




I made so many sacrifices that I’m sure my children do not understand. All the time I was undocumented and I had no one... no sisters, mom, dad or relatives to ask for help. I could not come back to Mexico because I was afraid that I would not come back to the USA. I made sacrifices in order to give my children a better life than the life they would have had if I had stayed in Mexico, the land of not so many opportunities," Smith wrote the in the letter.

Mora spent some time with the Source, describing how she's now working through her grief, and processing the recent outpouring of support—by way of protests—for people of color in the U.S.

Ada Smith, who traveled to America at age 12 in order to pursue her personal American dream. - MICHELLE MORA
  • Michelle Mora
  • Ada Smith, who traveled to America at age 12 in order to pursue her personal American dream.

Source Weekly: Do you feel the U.S. has allotted you the opportunities your mother was seeking for her children at the time she immigrated?

Michelle Mora: I didn’t live her life in Mexico, that’s for sure. I lived there for six months and it wasn’t ideal. She worked very hard to give us decent lives, her hard work allowed us to go to college. We all did the things that she wasn’t able to do, because all she was able to do was work.

As her mom's letter described:


Before Michelle was born I was married to Jose Maria Mora Ruiz. I found out that he was a drug addict and I decided to leave him as I did not want Michelle in that type of environment. I continued struggling during the last few months of my pregnancy. I was in the street with my unborn child and my first born. I stayed a few days with a friend I met through work, then ended up at a shelter in San Francisco. I hit bottom at that time as I had to take a taxi to the hospital and leave my oldest daughter with strangers while I gave birth.”


SW: Tell me a little about your relationship with your mother.

MM: My mom and I were never super close, which had a lot to do with her working three jobs. We were pretty much the exact opposite of a traditional Mexican family. At one point I went close to five years without talking to her, and it wasn’t until I found out she had cancer that we rekindled our relationship.

As the letter read:


Today, March 22, 2018, I had my Oncology appointment. Since last December my cancer cells increased from 4.6 to 12.2. The oncologist is scheduling a CT Scan from my chest all the way to my abdomen to see where the tumor is regrowing. Worst case scenario, he is recommending another surgery to remove it, as well as more chemotherapy. I will refuse either option.


SW: When did you first read the letter that she left you, and what feelings did it inspire?

MM: She gave me and my sisters the letter last year, and we kept it until she finally passed away in April. As a kid, you don’t really know the depth of your parents’ struggles. I remember her being gone all of the time; I was left alone with people that I didn’t necessarily trust. I was uncomfortable at the time, and I didn’t understand why my mother was neglecting me. At least, that’s how it felt. But looking back I understand that it was all in our best interest. Every single move she made was made so that my sisters and I could have a better life.

Smith's letter mentioned that:


Girls, my wish for you is that all three of you keep in close communication with one another. I also wish that you try to invest in a house, and keep it no matter what so when you get to be my age you will not be homeless. I do not want you to be sad for me. Remember the good times we spent together, do not think of the bad ones.

Ada Smith and her three daughters. - MICHELLE MORA
  • Michelle Mora
  • Ada Smith and her three daughters.

S: What are the most important lessons that your mom taught you?

MM: She has made me a strong person. I feel like thanks to her I’m very determined. I think that me and my sisters are willing to push and do whatever we can, like work and go to school. Seeing her struggles with coming to America and all throughout her life ultimately shaped me into a very compassionate person. I want my mother to know that all of her hard work wasn’t in vain. Whatever I do I base it off of making her proud of me.


I have to say that I am so proud of you Michelle, my girl, for taking risks in life and business. Always take care of yourself, make sure that you are okay before you take care of others, remember that you can only depend on yourself. Love yourself always and remember that you have a beautiful heart. I wish for my girls that you find your other half that will love you for what you are, do not change for any man. Do it for yourselves. Love yourselves. Life is too short, enjoy every minute of it, the good times and the bad ones, too. Everything you go through is a lesson. If life gives you lemons, make margaritas.”



About The Author

Cayla Clark

Cayla graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting, soon after realizing that playwriting is not a viable career option. Fortunately, this led her to journalism, and she is thrilled to be part of such a unique and fun-loving team. Upcoming local events? Send them her way!

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