Julie M. has two mothers. More precisely, her mother has a partner whom Julie calls “Aunt.” The couple adopted Julie 12 years ago. The three Latinas and Lucky the dog are a nontraditional family that calls Watsonville home.
Mother's Day is heartfelt because this family was assembled through effort and sacrifice.
Nora M. adopted Julie when the girl, now a freshman at Watsonville High, was an abused 4-1/2-years old. Francisca "Chela" Escobedo, Nora's partner for 20 years, completes the loving family.
When asked what she wants people to know about being the daughter of two mothers, Julie said, “There's no difference. My friends with moms and dads are the same as us. Family is family. My friends accept me and my family totally.”
When Nora M. was a teenager living in Mexicali, she had a friend who was adopted. “I told her 'When I'm 34 if I haven't had a child, I'll adopt one'.”
That was a fateful declaration. True to her word, when Nora was 34 she adopted Julie at age 4 1/2. It could also be called a search and rescue mission, because Julie had been so abused that she was confined to bed.
Nora heard about the little girl from a relative and went directly to the mother, a woman Nora knew to be an addict. She took one look at Julie and said, “I'll take her.” The mother raised no objection.
Julie had confidence in Nora at first glance. They connected spontaneously. “I want to go with you. Take me to the beach!” she said, tugging on Nora's pants.
Ironically, the only man Nora ever dated as a young woman was Julie's stepfather, the man who beat the child so badly.
“He was sober when he told me, 'Julie wouldn't be in better hands with anyone else.' I insisted that they sign papers so Julie would be legally mine," Nora recalled. "It took 50 pages of documentation to get her acknowledged as my daughter in Mexico before bringing her here. I had to wear a dress and put on make up so they wouldn't know I was a lesbian, or they wouldn't have given me custody.”
Trite But True: They Met At A Gay Bar
Chela and Nora have been partners since 1991. They first saw each other at Franco's Club in Castroville, which they seem to think is ironic or corny.
Nora works as a certified nursing assistant serving seniors. Chela is on disability but has worked as a caregiver and electronics assembler. The couple has lived in a two-bedroom condo in central Watsonville for 13 years.
“We have highs and lows like all couples. We have sunny and cloudy days,” said Chela, who knew she was bisexual and started going with women when she was 19.
Nora was a regular kid who liked to play marbles and hide-and-seek. “But when I was 16, I saw a woman and thought, 'I'd like her to be mine.' She ended up being my first girlfriend," she said.
A woman with a marked ability to see the future, Nora is a bold personality noted for speaking frankly. She says friends like the way she is.
“I tell the truth, but with humor (I love puns). I just say it like it is," she said.
By contrast Chela appears softer and sweeter, more openly affectionate. She will take pains to be diplomatic. It's easy to see why they're attracted to each other.
Special days are prevalent in this family.
Nora and Chela have been together since the day they went to their first Juan Gabriel concert on June 1, 1991—also the singer's birthday. This is a benchmark because the popularizer of Mexican ranchera and mariachi music is widely known to be gay, much to the delight of the Latino LGBT community.
Julie was baptized on Nora's Saint's day and her First Communion was on Mother's Day. She was registered in Mexico on Nora's birthday in 1999.
The teenager is Chela's third child. She has two grown daughters and considers it a “wonderful privilege” to see her own features in them, but Julie has a special place in the family.
“She illuminated my life. She changed our lives," Chela said. "We spoiled her, and still do. Julie manipulates us! 'Oh, I'm so tired. Please make me something to eat,' and things like that. Nora is more strict than I am, so Julie always comes to me when Nora wants to make her obey the rules.”
Julie nodded in agreement, with a twinkle in her eyes.
Spoiled But Not Too Spoiled
A portion of this interview was conducted in the family's home, where photo albums and portraits are treated as sacred objects, documenting the long journey from finding and rescuing little Julie to the present time, where two women overcome more than average obstacles to support a lovely young woman as she grows into her potential.
Julie agrees that she's spoiled, but recognizes limits.
“I ran up a phone bill of $550.00 once and lost phone privileges for six months,” she said. For a young woman who makes herself available to friends whenever they need to talk, this was true punishment.
Chela clearly likes to tell the story of Julie's advent in her life. “With Julie, I embraced her with my whole heart. She wanted to tell me everything they'd done to hurt her and I said, 'Just forget it,' but she wanted me to hear, so we cried together. I didn't have possessions to give her, but I did have love.”
One of the sweetest memories Nora has is the first time Julie called her “Mommy.” Then they had to decide if Julie would call Chela “mother” or “aunt.”
“Julie used to call me mommy until my grandson said, 'She's not your mom. She's my grand-mom by blood.' Now I'm the aunt and Nora is mommy.”
Nora's life changed when she adopted Julie.
“I became more responsible. No one believed I'd adopt her," Nora said. "I had to take on my role as mother and give up attending all the concerts I loved. If a child had been born from my womb, she'd already know the right things. Because she'd learned bad language and vulgarity with her biological parents, I had to teach Julie how to be decent.”
She's well-adjusted now. Julie is playful and has the same ability to express herself as her mother does, the same capacity for tenderness her aunt has. And the teen is a cheerleader and a good student, “if I put my mind to it,” she said. She also has depth, more than many her age.
After five years of counseling, the 16-year-old feels she has recovered from being abused as a little girl. She loves animals and wants to become a vet.
“Julie is so friendly and mature,” her mother said proudly.
And for Mother's Day, the teen plans to treat her mothers the way she does every year: "I hug them and kiss them and tell them I love them."
A portion of this interview took place at the office of SOMOS LGBT on Main Street near Freedom Boulevard. SOMOS serves the Central Coast Latino LGBT community and sponsors the annual Watsonville Gay Pride in August. The three women meet weekly with others in a Spanish-speaking Grupo Amistad (Friendship Group). This very convivial and intelligent circle of support is accepting new members. The SOMOS contact number is 831-331-0166.