by Luz Mack
I don't know how my grandmother was as a child, but I knew mamá Luz as kind, quiet, giving, stoic; a devout catholic who many hoped to emulate. In all her wisdom, my mother named me after my saintly grandmother, someone I was nothing like.
With time, I was given the nickname Luchy. I'm not entirely certain how I transitioned from Luz Maria to Luchy. Still, of one thing I was sure, it was bestowed upon me because of my ever curious, can't sit still, and a lot to handle ways.
I've been told stories of all the messes I got into. Like how I never learned to walk, I just took off running one day. My mom said it was a sign from God letting her know I would never slow down! I can still hear my mother calling me zángana because I would run around barefoot, getting everything dirty with my blacktop feet. I loved feeling the soft ground.
I wanted to look like my mom on one occasion, so I grabbed her mascara and smeared it all over my forehead. My beautiful mother grabbed me and gently cleaned all the smeared black mascara smudges off my face. If that had happened now, I'm sure that moment would have been instagrammable, but at the time, I received many unpleasant looks.
One day, I ran up to my mother to get her attention and show her a small baby chick captured and placed behind my back. Releasing the baby chick's beak, I opened my mouth to fool people into thinking it was me singing like a pio-pio (as I called it). My aunt swayed on her rocking chair, looking the other way, begging me to let the poor baby chick be.
Yeah, I was a curious one growing up. In a place where curiosity was frowned upon and often referred to as “jodiendo,” I never heard any Dominican child be encouraged to explore. We were expected to sit still, help at home, and follow the example of our elders.
My mother found some of my troublesome acts humorous. Still, when it was time to take me to church, she would remind me that she was raising a good Christian girl, and let's face it, nowhere in the bible do you hear "good" people behaving the way I did. Though there must have been a Dominican bible because older folks would unanimously exclaim, "Ta bueno' por freca” or “no sea frekita!"
I don't remember the first time hearing such expression, but it was clear to me how it wasn't good to be freca. It would be met with pain and discomfort when incidents took place, and I knew it was karma for not staying still. I was often reminded that wrongdoings were paid for instantly. I remember wailing in pain when I got hurt and being told, "Eso te pasa por ser freca."
My younger sisters were tasked to help me behave like them because they were well mannered, pleasant, and poised; what adults would refer to as easy to watch.
When we left our beloved Santiago to live in a tiny two-bedroom apartment in Washington Heights, we held tightly to each other and our identity. It was hard for my mother to learn and adapt and push our small family forward. She enrolled me in school, cared for my younger sister at home, whilst helping my father work in a bodega. We were the first minority family in a Caucasian community, and we stood out! For the most part, we had kind neighbors, but we also knew which ones to stay away from.
Despite how much of a troublemaker I was as a child, I was covered by my mother's love. She was there holding me when someone looked at me, curious about why I was darker than my siblings, or thought it was okay to call me “the black one.” When I was distraught that I didn't look like her with fair skin and green eyes. When she saw me crying because my eyes were not as blue as, or my dark hair tied up in three buns didn't look like, my blonde white doll. She would tell me that I resembled her and my grandma the most out of her children.
There are so many moments that her love overshadowed all my freca ways. She did everything to raise me right and always stood by me. It's what I strive to pass on to my family.
As I watch my mother doting on her grandchildren, I can't help but feel slightly envious. She bounces my babies on her lap, singing beautiful nothings, delighting in the butterfly kisses on their cheeks. I adore how she has continued to shower them with endless affection, lovingly becoming their Tita' as they’ve grown older. Tita is committed to ensuring that they spend time with her no matter how busy life gets. They know she will comfort them with good food, prayer, snuggles, and conversation until they are better. Their relationship, an unshakeable bond, continues to flourish.
My kids won’t contain their rambunctious energy after a grueling school day. They climb over the sofa and chairs until they are laughing uncontrollably, or until someone gets hurt. If Tita is around, they rush, wailing to her as she cuddles them. She'll lovingly say, "Ven pa' recogerte," ensuring them all is well.
This is the same lady who would remind my siblings and me, "Eso le pasa por freca!" when we were jodiendo la pita and would get hurt. My kids would never know how these words became life's idiom and a point of self-reflection. I'm happy this particular phrase won't plague my kids because all they know is Tita's boundless affection.
Recently I found myself at home healing from leg surgery. Everything felt amiss, and I couldn't help but sense that perhaps I did something to deserve this. I called my mother, but it was hard for me to tell her I was hurting. She arrived offering to clean the house and cook a meal, yet all I yearned for was for her presence by my side. She didn't have to tell me, "Ven pa recogerte." It was enough to feel her close.
As we rested there on my couch doing nothing with my leg elevated on three pillows and my crutches nearby, she imparted on me how unfortunate events in our lives are unavoidable, as there is always a lesson or a blessing before you. My resilience, she professed, had led me here to this place in my life, and she couldn't wait to see how far it would get me!
It was the first time I felt I was no longer freca, that maybe not everything was happening to me, and that my curiosity had in truth led me to self-discovery.
She still always knows what I need.
Luz Maria Mack was born in Villa Mella, Dominican Republic, and immigrated to the United States as a young child with her family. She comes from a loving and big family that is a recipe for laughter and lots of beautiful memories. Luz earned a Master's degree in Public Administration from Metropolitan College of New York and works as a healthcare professional in New York City.