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40 years ago, this Whittier mother lost a newborn son; her journey to healing is focus of book – Whittier Daily News


Leticia Cervantes-Lopez is best known locally as a former drama teacher at Whittier Union High School District, as well as a folklorico teacher. But she is sharing a different side of herself in her memoir, “Muñecas” — dolls in Spanish — which she released in June.

Her story — told against the backdrop of growing up in East L.A. — is rooted in the grief of her newborn son’s death, which became a catalyst for helping others deal with such loss.

In 1982, while living in East L.A. and still going to college, Cervantes-Lopez gave birth to her second son.

But after two weeks at home, the baby’s skin was turning blue, a condition doctors initially told her had been caused by the baby being born with the umbilical chord around his neck and should subside, she said.

But as Cervantes-Lopez described it, she was “freaking out.” Alarmed, she went back to the hospital and doctors discovered the newborn had a heart problem, she said.

“Children’s Hospital (Los Angeles) takes over and then within 12 hours they told me — your son’s gonna die,” she said. “His heart and his lungs were compromised. There’s no way he’s gonna make it beyond the second week. So, they told me, ‘If you want to leave him here, we’ll call you when it’s over. So of course, Mexicans, we don’t leave our kids, so I said ‘no I’m not leaving my child behind.’”

She lived with her son in the hospital for almost eight months, Cervantes-Lopez said. She hardly slept, and stayed by his side. In the hospital, she also found herself helping other parents who didn’t know what was happening because of language barriers. Cervantes-Lopez would help translate from English to Spanish for the families to help others who were feeling as helpless as she was.

Meanwhile, she started journaling everything.

Her newborn would ultimately succumb to his health issues.

The grief was so painful that she would imagine hearing her baby at night, Cervantes-Lopez said, even going as far as wanting to dig him out of his grave site.

Her husband, Jose, tried to help his grieving wife by taking her to his hometown – a small village in Jalisco, Mexico, called La Laja.

“I ended up going to his little village and it was like no time had touched it,” she said. “They were still milking cows at that time 40 years ago. Growing crops, women were very to their home, the men were planting, it was like going back in the 1920s.”

As she started integrating herself to the culture of the village, Cervantes-Lopez started meeting mothers who had lost their children.

In her memoir, she details the journey of learning the mothers’ stories, how they dealt with the loss, what she taught them, and much more.

She continued journaling her experiences and what she had learned, those 30 years of journal entries are what became this memoir.

Muñecas in English means dolls. She learned the women she connected with in Mexico never had dolls growing up. And yet, those women taught Cervantes-Lopez so much.

“They taught me their lives and I became a better person and healed by it,” she said. “Throughout all this time I was journaling and so when I came home, I was with my 2-year-old, and I took him to make up the time I wasn’t with him. I took him to Toys R Us to get some toys, and I saw there were some dolls that were on sale. I ended up buying them thinking, I’m gonna take these dolls to them when I go back next year.”

At the end of the book, Cervantes-Lopez hopes people find what their muñeca is — finding something that can help them through their healing journey from grief and loss.

Those skills that Cervantes-Lopez learned throughout her journey in La Laja, she would apply again after her husband died in 2021.

“I concluded with his death and a full circle of what I learned when I went to the village, I applied it to losing my husband,” she said, “and so it’s a really beautiful book about death, but finding hope and resilience and finding each other, and life gets better.”

Cervantes-Lopez, 66, immigrated from Mexico with her family when she was 7 years old. She lived in East Los Angeles and attended Roosevelt High School and Cal State L.A., and married her husband Jose Lopez in 1979. She has three sons and four granddaughters.

A book-signing event for “Muñecas” on Nov. 9 at the Liberty Community Plaza in Whittier drew family and friends of Cervantes-Lopez.

“I think what I like the most is that, yes, it was sad in the beginning but she was able to take us through her journey with her and at the end also find healing for whatever problems we’re all going through,” said Betty Dueñas, from East L.A. “It was really helpful for me.”

Television producer Jessica Maldonado attended the event and let the crowd know that her production company, Cholawood Productions, is interested in taking the book and turning it into a movie to share a story that many in the Latino community and mothers might relate to.

“This is a dream come true for me because one of the reasons why I wrote the book was to help the women in my community, and this is coming to life,” Cervantes-Lopez said. “There were times where I cried because writing the book was too many bad memories and especially after losing my husband, but I persisted and I said somebody has to help these women. I’m so proud and learned that dreams do come true.”



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