Saying goodbye to her family before moving from Puerto Rico to the continental States was one of the hardest things Suhey Torres has ever done.
“Back home, you don’t leave your family, ever,” Suhey said. But moving was the best option for her husband’s engineering career. “I was always adventurous, so it didn’t surprise my family, but they were devastated.”
Puerto Ricans place high value on family. Extended family often live under one roof and support each other in raising the next generation. Suhey lived with her parents and her grandmother, and her cousins are more like siblings.
“Nobody from my family has done anything like this. I’m the first one to raise kids on my own.” In moving first to California, and then Charleston, Suhey has had to adapt to living without traditional family support for the last 14 years and to rely much more on God. “I’ve become stronger in ways I can’t explain,” Suhey said.
Suhey has also had to learn to offer grace to people who don’t understand her heritage. She teaches her children about the racial tension she has experienced firsthand and continues to navigate it for herself. Multiple times she has been asked, “Do you have a green card?” even though Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory and Puerto Ricans have been US citizens since 1917. On other occasions, people see her daughter’s curly hair and without hesitation, ask, “Is your husband black?” not understanding the rich diversity of Puerto Rican heritage.
“I used to fake smile and ignore it,” Suhey said. “But recently, I’ve started to have intentional conversations with friends and strangers alike. I wish things were different, and that people would accept that we are all created by God, and he created us different.” These conversations can be exhausting for Suhey, but she finds strength in making God the center of their family. “I may worry a little bit about racial tension and how it may affect my kids, but I don’t let it make me lose sleep.”
At bedtime, Suhey tells her daughter, “You are strong, you are brave, you are beautiful. It’s more than just on the outside, it’s on the inside. You can do anything you put your head to.” Suhey uses these same words to motivate herself to stay strong.
After years of being a mom, and living far away from family, Suhey understands that although she may be physically tired, her mental strength has matured.
“I am stronger in my beliefs, and I know where my priorities lie. God and my family come first.”