Updated: Sep 6, 2022
Cenia Santana Polanco
“Si tuquisierasunaestrella del cielo, tupapáencontraríaunamanera de buscártela”- Mami
Papi would often get these cravings for fritura from one of those chimi trucks in Manhattan. Ya tú sabes... the fried orejitas and morcilla—you’d need a number to beat all the screaming drunk people to the line. Like most immigrant parents, my father worked incessantly, making it challenging to spend time with him alone. Still, during those 40-minute drives from the suburbs to procure masitas fritas y tostones, papi and I would talk about everything and anything. Aprendi mucho from this incredible man.
Papi taught me that the human body is the most sacred and perfect machine. “Everything man creates already exists perfectly in nature, Cenia.” Papi explained that God’s flawless designs function perfectly to maintain homeostasis. Diseases manifest are a result of unresolved energy and imbalances that the body and mind are trying to resolve to keep you alive.
Papi ensured I was educated to never be fooled by Western doctors—all-natural medicines have their complement. He taught me that nature possesses chemical compounds that coexist in perfect harmony. That limoncillo is planted next to Orégano poleo because their side effects are canceled while their therapeutic uses are enhanced. I knew Turmeric is activated by pepper since I was 7 and Vitamin D needs fat to be absorbed.
Papi era a walking encyclopedia. My eyes grew large as he revealed how nothing in this universe is real. “Todo es energía, vibraciones, y puede cambiar en cualquier momento.”
Papi was ahead of his time and not your stereotypical Dominican man.
Pero, don’t get me wrong, papi was still super Dominican because he had that machismo quality. When I was learning to drive, he screamed at a poor driver, “¡Esa tiene que ser mujer!”
I would look over, offended, and say, “¡Papi, pero yo soy una mujer!”
“Pero tú eres diferente mi flor,” was always his response.
I forgive Papi because we are all flawed.
My father received a chemical engineering degree in DR. During one of our drives, Papi told me a story—un cuento about why un hombre with Licenciatura was residing in the States; el porque he left his family, thriving business, and the warm beach paradise of the Dominican Republic for frigidity of New York.
Papi tells me he never once thought about leaving but was forced to.
In his 20s, Papi had a panadería and taught science in schools near his hometown of San Juan de la Maguana. Papi is black, which doesn’t help the brujo stereotype. I’m sure his opinion on energies and science didn’t go over well in the 1970s with the catholic church in D.R. He taught most of the men in the Dominican military chemistry.
Un general who would stop by my grandmother’s house every day to eat and drink coffee asked my father for his opinion of the regime. Papi replied that he had no opinion and would not pledge his support or express negative remarks towards Balaguer. Parece que esa respuesta no le gustó al tipo.
Papi reencounters the man, calmly informing him as he sips his coffee, “te tengo que matar la próxima vez que te vea.” My father fled to la capital, hoping things would calm down. After a few months, he attempted to return to San Juan, only to get arrested and placed in jail; papi was accused of being a communist and an enemy of the regime. He was scheduled to be murdered that same night.
Prisoners were given a number indicating the order they would be beaten, tortured, and killed. Because the general became overly intoxicated and lost conciousness on said night, papi had to wait to die the following day. As he was returned to his cell, he saw a familiar face; the guard on duty was one of his favorite former students. Shocked to see his beloved chemistry teacher in jail, he asked my father what he was accused of y esa misma noche helped him escape. The young man also instructed my father, “Falsify papers and leave this country. Do not come back. Go to the USA or Puerto Rico. They will find you and kill you.”
My father was robbed of his profession and family—extracted from his homeland into the same place responsible for his exile. Our country was set back, and we still suffer from the abuses, corruption, and manipulation of the truth. A dictator is nothing without American money and guns.
In school, it took a great deal of restraint to be in honors world history classes as white kids justified interventions because America is always “helping.” Nobody cared to ask the immigrant students of their opinion. Few people listen, and even less believe anecdotes showing a different side of nationalism, colonization, and war. Papi warned me, “Cenia, remember textbooks are written by white voices.”
I became a science teacher. I’m just as firm as Papi with my beliefs on imperialistic and oppressive governments. My dad often told me that he understands me so well because my life is a mirror of a better alternative for what he experienced.
There is more to this cuento, pero por ahora está bueno parar aquí.
Cenia Santana Polanco is a bright, joyous soul who loves her culture. She has worked as a scientist, educator, artist, dj. Cenia is currently exploring writing and poetry. She believes stories are a vessel connecting us to one another because everything has been felt before.