When Esmeraldaliz Torres was seven, she wanted to play the violin. She had signed up for classes at Erie’s Inner-City Neighborhood Art House, but the violin didn’t work out for her. Instead, they gave her a cello.
Esmeraldaliz’s mother Janet remembers the moment she first saw her daughter play. Esmeraldaliz was only seven years old, and Janet “got scared for her first performance because the actual cello was bigger than her.” They both laugh when they talk about that day. “I really didn’t know how you were supposed to play the cello, so I put a miniskirt on her, and that didn’t work because it had to go in between her legs. They ended up making a long skirt for her.”
Now eleven, Esmeraldaliz is one of the best cellists at the Inner-City Art House, and Janet is still front-and-center at her performances.
Not everything has always gone so seamlessly in the Torres family. Janet’s own mother wasn’t around when she was growing up in the Bronx. No one she knew played the cello, and few people in her family finished high school. Esmeraldaliz is an honor student, but she still struggles sometimes with math. Janet remembers working together on long division. “At the time I was still going for my GED because I was a high school dropout. But it was a pretty good process because we learned together… Once I got on that graduating stage, it was like I could to anything. All I could hear was my name being screamed. My kids and my husband.” Leaning into the mic, Esmeraldaliz imitates her family, yelling “Mom mom mom!”
At the end of their conversation, Janet looks at her daughter. She asks: “What’s the first memory you have of me?”
Esmeralda takes a moment before she replies: “The first time that I ever performed. When I saw your face.”
“And what did you think?”
“I thought you were really proud of me.”
“She was actually, like, kind of crying.”
Janet laughs. “Tears of joy, though. I was real proud. It’s like I couldn’t believe that I did such a good job that she was up there.”