but It Doesn’t Mean Defer Them
Claudia E. Cruz
Right before I hung up the phone with my mother, she said I was, in her broken English, “a sara van biche.” I waited for her to stop cursing at me for canceling a flight to visit her in the Dominican Republic during Spring Break 2023, bid my farewell to everyone who was listening – my mom did this all while on speaker – and began to ugly cry while hugging my rescue dog in my Reno, NV apartment.
It’s not that I didn’t want to visit her and my extended family in the DR. It’s that I was finally in a position to buy a condo and needed to remain stateside to meet all of the deadlines required during the purchasing process, also called escrow. However, this wasn’t a sufficient or good enough reason for my mother. She expressed her disappointment and now needed to update everyone on the island about how her daughter chose once again not to visit her.
In my mid-40s, still, my mother triggers me. She causes me to feel like a “bad daughter” because my life choices have not always included her. In my defense, I believe most of my decision-making has focused on making her proud of me by helping to eliminate the burdens this society places on immigrants and their children. A fact that I don’t believe she truly understands; frankly, I’m learning that I can’t expect her to.
My mother, who worked in factories and as a janitor in Manhattan and Queens, always had un pie aquí y otro allá. As such, I’ve been preparing myself for the day she would eventually and officially settle back in DR, just like she said she would. At one point, I realized that this meant she would leave us, my brother and I, here in the U.S. to fend for ourselves. So, at an early age, I knew I had to prepare myself to be an independent Dominican-American girl.
At the age of 14, I left Washington Heights for boarding school in New Hampshire—attending that academy would help secure my educational and, hopefully, financial future. In my attempts to convince her to let me go, I reminded her how much money she would save by having one less child to feed, cloth, and shelter. I insisted on how much safer I would be in a small New England town rather than commuting or walking around New York City. I mentioned how societal leaders also went to this prestigious academy, which I thought she would value because of my precocious nature.
What I really wanted to tell her was my desire to leave. She was a conservative immigrant mother whose stance on almost everything prevented me from being the American kid I saw on television. I wanted to have sleepovers, get a part-time job, and not go to church on Sundays.
Since then, I have done all this and more. I have lived in Barcelona and Madrid as a student, have traveled through Western Europe by myself, have held distinguished internships and jobs that have taken me around the country and the world, have received multiple degrees and awards, and am now a faculty member at a university.
Still, a distance of more than 3,300 miles does not prevent childhood traumas from creeping their nasty selves into my day-to-day.
Over the years, I have tried to explain to her why I can’t send money, visit on breaks, or call as often as other daughters call their mothers. Excuses or not, I have supported myself since college, and between my exorbitant student loans, my credit card debt, and the disrespectful way she speaks to me, I have found myself avoiding her.
I know we are intrinsically connected, and if not for her, I would not be here physically, emotionally, or intellectually. She’s my mother and birthed me, and she likes to remind me of that whenever we argue: “I brought you in, and I can take you out.” Sometimes, she’d hit or throw things at me during these quarrels.
Mothers and fathers can be verbally and physically abusive, and we do not have to take it just because they are our parents. At one point, I began to realize this. As I’ve strived, I’ve also worked to help others along the way. Throughout the years, I have been consciously working to make it easier for first and second-generation children of immigrants, like myself, to survive our old-school, traditional parents. I did this by running a girls' mentoring group in my tenement-building apartment in the Inwood neighborhood of NYC, where I grew up. The goal was to give these young Dominican adolescents a space to be themselves while I was also on my own journey to embrace my true self. My focus on other young people, friends, and work has contributed to this sensation where I feel I have left my mother behind.
I have always been proud of being the daughter of Dominicans. Like many other immigrant groups before us in the U.S. and elsewhere, wherever our community is, you will find parents pushing their children to thrive in business, education, health, politics, sports, and the arts. I proudly acknowledge that it was my mother who taught me perseverance, hard work, and generosity of spirit; therefore, really, I’m a lot like her even though she drives me crazy and still makes me cry. So, while painful at times, there’s no success without embracing the struggle of being in la lucha — something that I hope my mother remembers she also taught me one day.
The pressures of being the “golden child” and following a dream despite all costs, even familial ones, are not for the faint of heart. Have I wanted to stop along the way and acquiesce to my mother in order to fit the mold of the “perfect Dominican daughter?” Yes. But because I didn’t, the privilege of homeownership and my faculty position will make it so that I will hopefully now have the financial freedom to send my money and visit my mother in DR as much as possible. While she may still not understand the choices I’ve made up to this point, I do hope that, eventually, my actions will demonstrate that I’ve been in pursuit of our American dream, and she’ll be proud.
Claudia Cruz is the director of internships and managing editor of the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno. Formerly, she was a technology reporter for CNET en Español and served as the local editor of Mountain View Patch. Claudia was the editor of El Correo de Queens and a freelancer for The Manhattan Times. She’s a past president of the Bay Area chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. Claudia has an M.A. from the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY, a J.D. from Ohio State University, and a B.A. in Government and Latin American Studies from Wesleyan University.