I met Previsteria Sanchez and her daughter Alba Feliz on a cold, windy spring morning in Dorchester, MA.
Previsteria (Previ) was sitting in her wheelchair when Alba quickly wheeled her into the room. They were not shy, had lots of energy, and were eager to talk and help me tell their story.
I learned that Previ was the second of eight children from a poor family in the Dominican Republic. She moved to the capital Santo Domingo at age 14 to get work as a maid. She was not treated well but despite her poor treatment developed a legendary worth ethic. Alba described how her mother often rose at 3 am so she would have time to take care of her family and do chores before working all day.
One day, Previ’s husband Roqué left for the United States, leaving Previ and a young Alba to fend for themselves. Alba told me, “It was very sad. She was a hard worker and I think it helped her with the emptiness in her life. But she was also such a role model for me. She turned negative things and made them positive for me. She showed me how to be consistent. To follow your dreams. To work hard.”
When Previ was 41 she suffered a terrible stroke. Alba recalled that she was only 14 at the time – the same age as her mother when she moved to Santo Domingo by herself – and life changed completely. “Coming from a third world country was difficult. I had to do everything for my mother. There is no Medicare, no social security, no healthcare really. I would say I had no adolescent experience. But I became stronger from that.”
Alba was quick to point out how much she loves and admires her mother. How she learned her positive, determined ethic from Previ. Their connection is powerful and easy to see. They communicate gracefully eloquently with body language, words and expression. I asked Alba about what’s changed now that Previ has dementia and she laughed, “Nothing has changed. She is my mother. I love her and I will always take care of her.”