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  • Interviews of, and Articles about, Sonia

 

Interviews of, and Articles about, Sonia Pressman Fuentes

Articles about Sonia are also contained in the section on Belgium.

Sonia Pressman Fuentes

Interview By Ellen Joan Pollock

May 1998

This interview is from "Doubling Back: Some '70s Pioneers Make Headlines Two Decades Later" by Ellen Joan Pollock, Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, and is a follow-up to a 1975 Wall Street Journal article by Mary Bralove.  From The Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition.

Sonia and Zia Fuentes

Several weeks ago, Sonia Pressman Fuentes, 70, got a phone call from her daughter in Chicago. Zia, 26, told her mother not to try to reach her over the weekend because she would be visiting friends in Michigan. "Who knows whether she'll even remember my birthday," Ms. Fuentes remembers thinking.

The relationship between the two has been rocky nearly from the start. Sonia, a lawyer, married late and had Zia when she was 43. "I was bored to the gazoo staying home with my baby, although I loved her," she says. "My husband sent me back to work after a five-week maternity leave. I was driving him crazy."

Says Zia: "She's 'Type A' to the nth degree."

In 1975, Sonia was a senior attorney at GTE Corp. in Stamford, Conn., and her husband had a government job in New York. "The woman at home and the husband at the office are living two different lives," she told the Journal. "We're living more the same kind of life, and we're closer for it." A few years later, her marriage was over, and today she finds it hard to believe she once said that.

So does her daughter.

Back then, Sonia had a lot on her plate. Not only was she one of the most senior women at GTE, but as a founder of the National Organization of Women, she was active in the women's movement. Zia was being raised by a succession of housekeepers. "I managed everything for her, but that's not the same as spending time with her," Sonia says. "I should have given her more priority. She was really like a little doll that I could show off."

Sonia's marriage was also a contest of wills. She felt saddled with running the household; unhappy with his job, he wanted to move. "I said to him, 'I'm not leaving Stamford,' " Sonia says. "I had an important corporate job, and I wasn't going to leave that. But also at that stage, I didn't have enough trust in him to let go of my career and follow him." They split up. Eventually he returned to Puerto Rico, where he was from. (He died in 1995.)

Sonia moved in 1981 to Cleveland to take charge of TRW's equal-employment-opportunity and affirmative-action programs. She later took a job at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and moved to Maryland. The relationship between mother and daughter degenerated until they were at war, with Zia in full rebellion by the time she was 12. Sonia told her daughter to move out when she was a teenager, but at the last minute backed down. Friends told Sonia, "You have to wait, she'll get older. I said, 'Listen, I can't live forever.' "

For Zia, resentment was a slow burn. "She couldn't make every school play, and she couldn't make every piano lesson or doctor's appointment," she says. "I expected her to have all the time in the world because other moms did. I never got what I wanted from her. I felt she didn't know me as well as other moms. She didn't have the time." By high school, Zia had made a decision: She would never have children. "I'm very career-oriented. Those are values that I get directly from her," says Zia, who is a manager of sales support at Ameritech and is studying for her M.B.A. "And understanding the way I felt as a child, I really feel that if I was going to be a mom, I would want to stay home because I missed that so much."

Her mother hopes she will change her mind.

Sonia is now happily retired and trying to find a publisher for her memoirs. As for Sonia's 70th birthday, she planned to attend a poetry reading at the headquarters of the National Woman's Party in Washington. But when she arrived, she found that poetry wasn't on the night's agenda. Instead, she found about 45 family members and friends waiting to wish her well. Zia wept when her mother entered the room. She had spent almost a year planning the party, designing elegant invitations and a memory book for her mother.

"It was a great experience for me because I realized how much closer we'd become," says Zia. She realized when the invitations were ready how she had come to value her frequent phone conversations with her mother: "It began to hit me that not being able to tell her [about them] was a gap for me," she says.

Sonia was beside herself. "There's no way to express such a thing," she sputtered shortly after the party. "What it means to me that she did this is that she really loves me... . It's wonderful, but it took 26 years to get there."

Wall Street Journal, May 1998