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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Women are no longer forced to take one path in life over another.
They can marry or stay single. They can have careers or stay home and raise a family. They can travel the world, own a business, purchase property, serve in the military, hold public office and do just about anything they choose. Gone are many of the legal and social roadblocks women encountered just a few decades ago.
In honor of Mother’s Day, these are the stories of three remarkable women who have affected their communities and triumphed over personal obstacles to become successful. They also happen to be mothers.
Antonia Roybal-Mack, 38, always knew her future included two things: helping others and having a family of her own.
She’s accomplished both.
The Mora native and University of New Mexico Law School graduate now owns her own law firm, Roybal-Mack & Cordova P.C., and is a mother to three children with her husband, Terry Mack. She started her firm with a $20,000 loan from her parents and has turned it into a million dollar-plus company.
The New Mexico Women’s Bar Association named Roybal-Mack the 2016 recipient of the Henrietta Pettijohn Award.
Pettijohn – born in Columbia, Missouri, in the late 19th century – was the first woman to be admitted to the Bar of the Supreme Court in the Territory of New Mexico. The award recognizes attorneys who have advanced the causes of women in the legal profession.
Roybal-Mack has gone out of her way to help both New Mexicans and impoverished people in other parts of the world. COVID-19 has presented more opportunities for her generosity. Her law firm offers free forms that would allow quarantined nurses and other front-line health workers a way to give power of attorney to family members who were caring for their children during the pandemic. They also set up a free online resource for those seeking a divorce.
“It’s like TurboTax for divorce,” she said. “It’s a free website for people to use.”
Roybal-Mack, whose daughter suffers from hearing loss related to Down syndrome, serves on the board of the Presbyterian Ear Institute.
Several years ago, Roybal-Mack bonded with a group of nurses in Belize who are running a day school for children with disabilities.
When COVID-19 began to hit communities around the globe, Roybal-Mack immediately sent the nurses a large shipment of personal protective equipment, but the borders were closed and the items got stuck in Mexico. She called the nurses and asked how she could help. They told her they needed food, that hunger was a larger concern than the virus for most people. The majority of people in the town where the school is rely on tourism for an income.
Roybal-Mack was able to raise money on Facebook with donations from her friends. She also sold masks locally and raised $6,000 that she sent to the women so they could buy food for the families of their students.
“They have zero ability to earn money,” she said. “Because of the pandemic, the children are at home, but their families do not have food.”
Her twins turned 8 on Thursday. She said having children has brought a lot of joy to her life.
“They are so fun,” she said. “I love my kids to death, and the amusement of tiny children.”
Shayai Lucero had a plan for her life, but many know what becomes of best-laid plans – they rarely go as planned.
Lucero, 45, was born in Albuquerque but raised on the Acoma and Laguna pueblos, from which her parents hailed. She lives on Laguna Pueblo with her husband and two children.
Lucero, who was named Miss Indian World in 1997, said that before she had children, she had what she thought was a clear path forward in her life. She was a self-professed science nerd growing up and even earned admission to Massachusetts Institute of Technology, her dream school, but she opted to stay closer to home, partly because her mother was having health problems.
“Initially, I planned and wanted to go to medical school,” she said. “But I had found out I was pregnant.”
Although it could be done, Lucero said she knew the grueling demands of medical school were not ideal for raising a child.
“I did not want to be raising a child while I was going to medical school,” she said. “You only have so much time with them (children) when they are young, and I didn’t want to miss out.”
She earned a bachelor’s degree in biology and minor in chemistry from the University of New Mexico in 2008. She also is an expert on traditional Pueblo medicinal plants, having started learning about them when she was 13. While at UNM, she earned a certificate in curanderismo medicine as well.
After graduating, she thought she would go into research or get a job working on environmental issues.
What she ended up doing was buying a flower shop.
“My cousin told me about a flower shop that was for sale on the Laguna Pueblo,” she said. “I said, naively, ‘How hard can it be?’ ”
Very hard, it turns out.
She faced her first obstacle when trying to raise capital for her business.
“I could not use my house as collateral for a loan,” she said. “Even though I own my house, the land is in trust with the tribe. I almost gave up.”
The Loan Fund, a nonprofit organization in Albuquerque, took a chance and allowed her to use her vehicle, jewelry and furniture as collateral. She opened Earth & Sky Floral Designs in 2008.
Lucero knew nothing about floral design or owning a business, but luckily, a certified floral designer hired by the previous owner agreed to stay on after Lucero purchased the shop. Lucero also discovered she has a knack for marketing.
Lucero has received several honors and recognition for her work. The National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development included her in its “40 Under 40” list of successful Native Americans. In 2019, the FBI commissioned her to create a wreath that was laid at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in honor of National Indian Heritage Month.
Amanda O’Brien was a 16-year-old high school dropout living in Los Angeles when she decided to move in with her boyfriend.
It was a decision that almost ended her life.
O’Brien’s mother was an alcoholic, and by the time O’Brien became a teen, her mom was rarely around. She and her boyfriend were part of a group of teenagers with little to no parental supervision. He already had a 1-year-old daughter, Jessica, when they began what O’Brien calls a totally co-dependent relationship that included verbal and physical abuse. The couple had their own child when O’Brien was 18. A year later, she’d had enough.
“Me and my teenage brain thought I could deal with a drug addict but not an alcoholic,” she said. “I tried to save him from himself, and when I was done, when I wanted to leave, he attempted to kill me.”
O’Brien’s boyfriend went to prison.
Nobody expected O’Brien’s next move. She started a legal battle to adopt her ex-boyfriend’s first daughter.
“I was the only mother she had ever known,” she said. “… I had promised I would never leave her and I would keep her safe.”
The legal battle would drag on for years. O’Brien had to represent herself because she had no money. She said the courts and other officials didn’t want to give her a chance because she had no education, no money and no family support. She refused to give up the fight.
“I told the courts if they had something better for her, I would walk away,” she said. “I knew I was her best shot.”
Her tenacity paid off. The adoption was final Nov. 18, 2001.
Faith has played a big role in O’Brien’s life. She married her current husband, David, a year after the adoption. The two met while on a mission trip building houses in Mexico. David had two children from a previous marriage. The couple now live in Corrales and between them have six kids, ages 13 to 28.
O’Brien said she moved past her rough start in life and along the way forgave her ex-boyfriend. The two reconciled as friends last year after their daughter, now 28, gave birth to her first child. O’Brien’s ex-boyfriend relapsed three months later and died last July.
Her anger toward him had shifted to gratitude.
“It was actually a blessing and opened so many doors for me,” she said. “He broke that dysfunctional relationship we had. It made me fearless.”
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