Updated: Apr 14, 2022
On the last day of first grade, my class threw a pool party. In the middle of the playground of my school in the Dominican Republic, there were two inflatable pools. My classmates were jumping in and out of the water, laughing, and splashing. I sat, watching. watched sitting outside. I was trying to understand why my mother did not give me permission to play in the pool.
I was born premature and with constant asthma attacks, I was forbidden to participate in fun water activities, physical activities, and anything else that was not ladylike. My childhood, under my conservative Dominican Mami, only allowed time for me to learn how to do chores, and study.
One summer, for my annual church group retreat in the mountains, the organizers planned for us to climb El Mogote, the 3rd highest mountain of the island. My Mami would have forbidden me to go if she had known about it, so I never told her. With the inhaler in my pocket and with a group of old and new friends, I climbed for 4 hours. My Mami called, just as we were reaching the summit. My friend innocently told her where we were and passed me the phone, “Yes, Mami, I am climbing El Mogote, everything is going to be fine”. The summit was chilly, sunny, and with a full view of the Cibao Valley. I did it. No asthma attack.
Days later, when I got back home, she hugged me. She was disappointed that I kept the truth from her, but with a hug and a slow voice she told me, “I am proud of you because you did something I did not think was possible for you to do.” My Mami is short, a psychologist, with 17 years of experience working as a high school counselor. Mami was the “evil” disciplinarian at the front of the classroom when necessary, and the second mother to her students. Until this day, they love her so much. I was a little jealous of them. Why did they love her so much when she was so strict?
She was many things back then that she is not anymore. When we moved to the United States, I stopped recognizing my mother. She became quiet, always following the directions of my aunts and uncles, uncertain of what to do and how to do it. A person that I could no longer see as an inspiration.
Perhaps I hated her for a while for moving here. But as it may be, I hated myself more. It was our decision as a family, my decision, to move here. I cannot forgive the person that my mother became, because I made her. I cannot forgive myself sometimes, because I am the cause of the person frustrated and distressed that she has become.
I cannot forget all the sacrifices she made in order for me to get an education in this country. I want to honor her sacrifice by doing things she never thought were possible. Living away from home, applying to graduate school, and traveling alone across the country. I must become the woman she was so she will live through me. My independence will be hers. Her courage will be my courage. Hoy en tu dia y todos los días, Madre mia I want to honor your sacrifice and share my courage with you.
Vanessa Garcia Polanco is an experienced leader, researcher, speaker, writer, and organizer working with food, agriculture, and sustainability stakeholders to create and strengthen sustainable and just food systems and communities. She brings her experiences and identities to her research and advocacy activities. She writes about food, agriculture, and immigrants at vanessagarciapolanco.com and it is a member of DWA.