New York-based photographer Amalia Mayita Mendez’s appreciation for the beauty of nature goes back to childhood in El Salvador. Ahead of Mother’s Day, she pays tribute to her mother, true coffee legend Nena Mendez, and her family’s fifth-generation farm, Natamaya — both of which taught her the meaning of love.

“It’s a typical hot day in El Salvador. Walking through the coffee farm in Ahuachapan, my mother and I are lucky to have the Inga trees, or what we call ‘pepetos’, to shade us. My mother, Nena, walks ahead. Smoke rises from the small fires the farm workers have lit to heat their tortillas for lunch. As we pass a group of women, my mother’s face lights up. She greets one of the farm workers. The woman recognizes here: “Niña Nenita!” the woman says and they embrace. My mother asks about her family and the woman tells us stories of her memories of my late grandfather’s visits to the farm.

I moved from El Salvador to New York when I was 5-years-old, but the coffee farm has been a part of my family for five generations. It was my grandfather’s passion, which my mother and her siblings inherited and my parents have nurtured with care and love. It is because of them I am lucky enough to work in the industry. I know the labor of love that is growing coffee. I follow in my mother’s footsteps.

“She is passionate about trees, she loves the ones on the farm like people and protects them as she would her own children.”

— Amalia Mayita Mendez

Her love for coffee-growing comes from the land and the people who live on the land, each one essential to the farm. She is passionate about trees, she loves the ones on the farm like people and protects them as she would her own children. I love this about her, and want to someday carry on and nurture this connection with the land and the community. She has taught me to love coffee. Through coffee we can connect to each other, the earth, and the people.

My parents moved back to El Salvador. After retiring from practicing as a clinical psychologist, my mother could have taken time to relax. Instead, she works more than ever — and that’s after raising two daughters in NYC and getting her doctorate from Columbia University.

At 71, she has more energy than I do! Often I find her doing her yogi headstand or ready to participate in exciting adventures. She and my father just recently completed a 114 km walk on El Camino de Santiago de Compostela over seven days.

And so I think of her on Mother’s Day. I walk the farm in her footsteps and hope to inherit her joy of life, her passion for community, her respect for the land, and her love for the people and coffee of El Salvador. How lucky am I.”

— Amalia Mayita Mendez

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