SUNITA SOHRABJI | Ethnic Media Services
Photo Credit: Elly Fairytale / Pexels

Carmela Bernal vividly remembers “El Dia de la Madre” Mother’s Day celebrations of her childhood.

“The whole family would get together in my uncle’s backyard: 20, 30 people and lots of kids,” said the fledgling artist, who grew up in San Bruno, California. “Uncle would bring out his guitar and we children would sing songs for our mothers and give them bouquets of flowers that we picked around the neighborhood.”

“And then the feast: so much good food!” said Bernal, noting that the men of the family would preside over a barbecue with lots of fixings.

Bernal’s mother and aunts collectively raised her and her siblings and cousins, who floated in and out of each other’s homes. “So, we honored all the women who raised us together,” she said.

In Mexico, “El Dia de la Madre” is always celebrated on May 10: a special mass is conducted that day, and wealthy families hire mariachi bands to serenade the women. But for the Bernal family, Mother’s Day is celebrated in accordance with U.S. customs, on the second Sunday of May.

Last year, Bernal’s extended family gave up its celebrations as the COVID-19 pandemic made its presence known in the U.S. Bernal nonetheless managed to gather a bouquet of flowers for her mother from gardens in the neighborhood and cooked her a meal from pantry supplies. The Bernal family will forgo their feast this year as well, as many family members have not yet received the COVID vaccine.

While the Bernal family is choosing not to gather, this Mother’s Day 2021 may be the first time some families get together to celebrate after their COVID-19 vaccinations.

And thankfully, new public health guidance allows fully vaccinated people to gather in small groups. Specifically, for small outdoor gatherings, fully vaccinated persons are not required to wear face coverings while unvaccinated persons are. Regardless of vaccination status, face coverings are still required indoors.

Rosamie Bagam, an LVN and mother of two girls, celebrates Mother’s Day with her family on the second Sunday of December, in keeping with the customs of the Philippines. “I don’t have to negotiate with the other nurses to get Mother’s Day off,” she said with a laugh.

Her daughters and husband bring her a bouquet of pink carnations — the traditional flower for Mother’s Day in her home country — and spoil her with a homemade lunch. “I don’t even have to clean up afterwards,” joked Bagam.

Dr. Dali Fan, Health Science Clinical Professor at UC Davis and a volunteer vaccinator at a clinic on the California Northstate University campus in Elk Grove, California, said he will celebrate Mother’s Day with his mother, mother-in-law, wife, and children, but with caution, as mandated by his mother who wants to minimize her exposure to other people.

Fan suggested celebrating Mother’s Day as families might have done in pre-pandemic days, but by also incorporating current masking guidelines.

The California Dept. of Public Health issued new guidance May 3 on mask-wearing following the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s updated outdoor masking guidelines at the end of April. The changes came in recognition of the low transmission rates (less than 10 percent) that occur outdoors, along with the increasing number of people being vaccinated.

While fully vaccinated people may forego masks outside when alone or with other vaccinated people, masks are still necessary in stores, malls, churches, gyms and other indoor venues and crowded outdoor venues for extra protection, especially as variants remain a threat and vaccination status of others is unknown.

“One of the key reasons we are aiming to beat the pandemic is to restore normalcy,” Fan said. “We vaccinate people to normalize our community.”

Mothers should “absolutely” be taken out to brunch or dinner, said Fan, noting that outdoor dining, with its advantage of ventilation, is preferable to indoor dining.

Those who are fully vaccinated and plan to gather or dine outdoors this Mother’s Day should follow the statewide guidelines found here: https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CID/DCDC/Pages/COVID-19/COVID-19-Public-Health-Recommendations-for-Fully-Vaccinated-People.aspx

Unvaccinated children may still get infected and could be asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19, said Fan, advising that kids too should keep their masks on and observe social distancing protocols. Masks should be worn indoors when socializing with people from multiple households who are not vaccinated, he said.

Dr. Tung Nguyen, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, is a bit more cautious. “Given that we don’t know about new variants — I would recommend that people continue to practice social distancing, at least with people who are not vaccinated,” he said.

But all doctors would agree that the most important thing is to let your mother know she is loved, in whatever manner possible.

For more information about California’s masking guidelines, go to covid19.ca.gov. To register to get your vaccination, you can go to MyTurn.ca.gov or call the COVID-19 Hotline at 1-833-422-4255 where translators are available in 250+ languages.