Today, Thursday, March 12 is the birthday of a very special and important person in my life. Her name is Sofia Ceja and she is the second mother that God put in my life. Sofy, as I have always called her, began to babysit me when I was 7 months old. My parents lived on 49th Street and Compton Avenue in South Central L.A. when I was born and the need for a babysitter was soon resolved when Sofy, from Guadalajara, Jalisco agreed to watch me alongside her then youngest son Jose Ramon Ceja. Jose, or Ray, as we call him is 11 months and two weeks older than I am so she had no problem taking me under her wing.
Little did anyone know that the babysitting arrangement was more than an agreement of convenience for both families. Sofy didn’t just watch a kid while my mom and dad went off to work; she raised another child. The same rules and attention that Sofy gave her children, she shared with me. If I was sick, mom couldn’t take me home and I slept over so she could watch me. When it came time to go to school, she would walk Ray and I to Hooper Elementary School and would be waiting for us when the bell rang. Sofy would pick me up from the nurse’s office when I was sick and would punish me when I misbehaved. She would have me read in Spanish before starting my regular homework.
Ray and I went to the same elementary school, junior high and high school and the whole time, we would walk to Sofy’s house after school where I would wait for my parents. When friends at school asked how Ray and I knew each other, we would say that we were cousins. But the truth is that we are more like brothers because that is how Sofy raised us. When Sofy called her parents and siblings back in Guadalajara, she would tell them I was her son. As a true reflection of the kind-hearted parents that raised Sofy and her siblings, her family accepted that I was the child that destiny put in her life.
Sofia Ceja raised me like her own son and hence gave me eight siblings that shaped my life in ways that a single column could never capture. Through discipline Sofy kept us on the straight and narrow. Through love and respect she made me, and my younger brothers who came years later, part of her family. So to Sofy, I want to say thank you for everything; thank you for the sleepless nights making sure I was okay, thank you for laying down the law when I was out of line but more than anything thank you for the unconditional love. Happy birthday, Sofy. I love you.