Every milestone is worth celebrating, no matter how big or small. That’s why we partnered with Shane Co., purveyors of timeless fine jewelry, to highlight the unique stories of those celebrating special life moments. In this special holiday edition, we’re exploring the symbolic role that jewelry can play in celebrating those who mean the most to us. Ahead, read the story of a Washington-based content creator and her aunt, who use jewelry to honor their Mexican heritage and the obstacles they’ve overcome, together.
When Sheyla Cerda was just 8 years old, she was faced with a devastating loss: Her mother, then pregnant with her would-be second child, passed away suddenly from a pulmonary embolism, a blood clot in the lungs.
Cerda had been raised solely by her mother since the age of 3, but after her passing, she was seemingly left with two outcomes: Living with her estranged father, with whom she didn’t have much of a relationship, or ending up in the U.S. foster care system. That’s when her aunt, Tina Peralez, stepped in.
Peralez first came to the U.S. from Mexico in 1996 to help her sister a few months before she gave birth to Cerda. Cerda has always considered Peralez her “second mom,” at times spending entire summers with her, so it felt natural that she would step in to become her legal guardian. And while becoming her adoptive parent would ultimately be tougher than she thought, Peralez fought hard to make it happen.
Now 27, Cerda is forever grateful for the sacrifices her aunt made in order to care for her. “I view her as a mother, and she’s always treated me as her daughter, and we have this really special, close bond,” says Cerda. “I often wonder how different my life would have been without her. I wouldn’t have had the same opportunities if I had ended up in foster care.”
But while she may have taken on the maternal role and title, Peralez has always prioritized keeping her sister’s memory alive for Cerda, specifically through Mexican traditions. Of the many things Cerda remembers about her mother — her spontaneity and independent nature, her love for travel and photography — what stands out most is how much she wanted Cerda to stay connected to her heritage.
“My mom always wanted me to speak Spanish, so my aunt made sure that I didn’t get as Americanized as her own kids, whose father is American,” says Cerda. “She always made sure that I understood the foundation and roots of our culture and that we visited Mexico and my family there often, showing me the country through her lens and the lens of my mother.” To this day, they still visit Mexico once or twice a year together, which not only helps Cerda feel close to her late mother, but also strengthens their own relationship.
But what the two bond over the most is jewelry, particularly gold, which plays a significant role in Mexican culture. “We use gold to celebrate big milestones in our lives, whether it’s a baptism or graduation,” says Cerda.
These pieces are seen as investments and heirlooms, gifted to family members and passed down through generations, along with the unique stories behind them. And that’s what Peralez is doing with her late sister’s jewelry, like the rings she wore while still living in Mexico and the earrings she had when she passed — and little by little, she’s been giving them to Cerda to mark significant milestones in her life. “When I got my first apartment and job in my early 20s, she gave me the entire bag of gold that belonged to my mom,” Cerda says. “I now have a collection of pieces from her biggest milestones, which is so special to me — I still wear many of them today.”
This year, the two decided to put a twist on tradition by exchanging new pieces with one another. For Peralez, Cerda chose a brushed 14k gold circle locket from Shane Co. and had it engraved with the year “1996,” while she selected a Shane Co. 14k gold dog tag necklace, also engraved with the same year, for Cerda.
“1996 was not only the year that I was born, but it was also the year my aunt came to the U.S.,” says Cerda. “These pieces make us feel united; they represent all that we’ve gone through and just how far we’ve come. Each piece of our jewelry has a unique story or one we’re adding to, and with these, it’s all about the story we’re creating together.”
It’s through wearing this necklace, along with the heirlooms that have been passed down to her, that Cerda is able to keep both women — the mother who gave birth to her and the mother who raised her — close to her at all times. “Gold has a way of holding onto the stories that we’ll want to be able to tell down the road,” she says. “I hope that, someday, I’ll be able to pass these pieces down to my own children, and they’ll be able to keep alive the memories and stories behind each one.”