I remember growing up my mother couldn’t stand the thought of us staying indoors playing video games or sports outside with our friends. She didn’t send us away for the summer to the DR like my cousins. She deeply cared about exposing us to everything the city had to offer and one summer in the year 2000— she did just that. We got to spend the summer tracking down cows with her in New York City because she read an article about the Cow Parade in Chicago and it was coming to the city. She was so enamored by the show and her enthusiasm was annoying to my brother and I who had no choice but to go along for the trip. We hit the ground running in June and visited so many parts of the city that month. We didn’t pick a particular borough or artist design to go see. We went blindly and it just made the whole experience that more memorable for all of us. My mother looked like she was going camping, that book bag had everything we needed and more. She packed our lunches and we didn’t stop moving until finding the next cow on our journey. The funny thing is, we would stop to pose for photographs with the cows and get creative with our poses. Eventually, people would get fed up and started photobombing so we would have to move the next location. My mother encouraged us because she had a strong conviction about documenting everything for posterity.
I remember her turning to us and saying.
“Sonrían, una más!”
Looking back, that was a fun summer. I was eleven years old and playing little league baseball. I wasn’t very good at baseball, and these trips with her were a healthy distraction to get me away from that competitive environment. She often retells the stories from our summer vacations and city adventures with a twinkle in her eyes. It’s understandable, she spent most of her childhood traveling between the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and New York City, and when she finally settled in the city the responsibility of supporting herself and her father didn’t leave room for any city explorations. She changed that when she had us and would take days off from work to take us on those trips. Her approach to raising us was different. We would eat mangu for breakfast and have tofu burgers for dinner. Our relatives and friends weren’t buying these lifestyle changes my mother was making, but she took the criticism well. I didn't understand at the time the amount of effort and courage her actions required coming from a traditional Dominican family that considered her behavior weird and just found it all so very funny.
As an adult, what made that time significant for me on Dominican Mother’s Day was her commitment to exposing us to as much as she could. She never complained and made the time for us despite how tired she may have been. One of her many gifts was instilling in us a sense of gratitude and I’m trying my best to live up to her standards. Don't get me wrong, I didn’t always love her choices, and learning from her mistakes has left a mark on my life. I’m grateful for having a mother who took the time to figure out what kind of parent she wanted to be. I remember one of those trips we stopped in a park just me and her. She told me “Te tengo que decir algo, quiero que me perdones” I didn’t know where this was coming from, but growing up I didn’t always live up to her expectations. I forgave her because it was an awkward experience at the time for me, yet not everyone has the privilege of having these conversations with their parents. She was selflessly vulnerable with me and I’m thankful for her allowing me to see her that way. During this pandemic, I have continued to reflect on this story, and many others that have made me celebrate her all over again. I am lucky to still have you and look forward to sharing and making more memories with her throughout her lifetime.
Jhensen Ortiz is a Queens native Dominican librarian, archivist, researcher, and writer. He currently works as a librarian at the CUNY Dominican Studies Institute Archives and Library at The City College of New York. His present academic and research interests are centered on collection development, history of the Dominican community in the U.S., audiovisual media, and digital library collections. He holds a B.A. in History from the City College of New York; and a dual master degree in Library Science and History with a certificate in Archives and the Preservation of Cultural Materials from Queens College (CUNY).