Politics played the central role in my family's nightly dinner conversations. I don't recall ever disagreeing with my mother politically.
Our differences are so profound that we are tiptoeing around the subject, heeding the age-old advice never to discuss politics. It has gotten ugly. She calls me foolhardy, ignorant and a traitor to my gender. I tell her she is irrational, blind and stuck in the past.
I am an ardent Barack Obama backer. She is a passionate Hillary Clinton supporter. She is 67; I am 36.
My mother and I are members of a key demographic that both candidates are desperately courting in California -- Latinos who are likely voters. Obama needs all the help he can get, with Clinton currently holding a 2-to-1 lead among Latinos in the state. Clinton has high name recognition -- mainly due to Latinos' love of President Clinton -- while Obama is still a bit of a mystery.
Among California Democrats, Latinos are perhaps 20% of the electorate. Pollsters say a majority seem inclined to vote for Clinton, but I am hopeful that Obama's themes of unity and aspiration will resonate with immigrants like me.
Obama lacks experience, or so it's said. But what good is experience if it doesn't lend you wisdom? Clinton supported the disastrous foray into Iraq; Obama gave a rousing speech against it in 2002 and laid out the terrible consequences that have come to pass.
I try to win my mother and her Latina girlfriends over to the Obama camp. But it is difficult, risky. They take my lack of support for Clinton as a personal affront, a betrayal of sisterhood and a youthful folly. One of my mom's friends suggested threats might help: "Tell her you will stop baby-sitting the kids if she goes to one Obama fundraiser."
My family moved to this country from Mexico when I was 6. I've tried to sway my mom by using the "immigrants unite" card. Obama bravely supports granting driver's licenses to illegal immigrants (a stand my mother agrees with), while Clinton has backed away from the hot-button issue. "Doesn't it excite you to see a black man, whose paternal grandmother is still living on a farm in Kenya, reaching the highest level in political office?" I ask her.
No dice. Clinton has sparked a raging feminist flame in my mother that is much stronger than her identity as an immigrant.
My mother did not join her American sisters when they were burning bras during the height of the feminist movement. But, fiercely intelligent, she has always regretted that she never went to college because her father believed she had to prepare herself instead to be the perfect wife in Mexico City high society. She detests the fact that she didn't bring home a significant paycheck during her 37 years of marriage.
To my mother, Clinton embodies all the struggles women in her generation have faced. Clinton's intelligence, seasoned political skills and her life experience as a wife, mother and career woman have convinced my mother that she is the better candidate. "I had hoped that you would want to help break that glass ceiling, if not for your generation then for your daughter's," she said to me the other day. "You are not giving a chance to a woman who has fought against men all her life."
I admire Clinton; I do not see her as a fighter for the needs of today's women. To me she inescapably represents the generation whose mantra was "We can have it all."
That's not true. We can't raise kids, have a happy marriage and advance in a killer career at the same time. And I don't understand why abortion has been the most important issue for feminist leaders of Clinton's generation, while things like affordable, good-quality day care, equal pay, jobs that have flexible hours and real maternity-leave benefits were put on the back burner.
Another issue for my mother is one that may resonate with other Latinos. She views Obama's admitted drug use as a character flaw.
"A person who needs drugs to escape the realities of life is weak," she says.
I admire Obama's honesty.
My mother sees the election of a woman in this "Marlboro man" country as groundbreaking; I think we'd only be playing catch-up: Britain and Germany elected a woman as prime minister. Israel, Argentina, the Philippines, Chile, even Pakistan elected women, in some cases decades ago, to run the country.
What would be groundbreaking, I say, is electing a black man
But come Tuesday, my mother is hoping the divine will intervene in my decision.
"I hope that when you are in the booth, God will take your hand and guide you to vote the right way," she told me. Then she added dryly: "And when I come over to your house, please take down those Obama signs."
Not a chance.