Updated: Sep 12
La casita era azul, hecha de madera con techo de zinc. Al lado había una mata de guanábana. A Mami le encantaba sentarse debajo de esa mata, comer y soñar con tener dos hijas a las que le daría todo su amor y todo lo que sus corazones deseaban. Pero sabía que en Nagua ella no iba poder sacar una familia adelante.
My grandma had already petitioned for Mami to immigrate to the U.S. Mami was the second eldest daughter of seven children, cinco hembras y dos varones. Her three younger siblings were already living in the U.S. and the eldest daughter was in PR. A los veintitrés años Mami temía que nunca iba a salir del país. Ella no pudo esperar más y le pidió a su hermano que le mandara $500 para pagar el pasaje en yola hacia PR y cinco meses después llegó a NY.
Con tan solo su libro de oración del Divino Niño Jesús en sus manos, Mami arriesgó su vida viniendo por yola. She left everything behind in search of her American Dream. A better life for the family she always dreamed of having, without knowing if one day she’d return. And I want to tell her I'm sorry.
I’m sorry there was no hope of a better life or a better future for you in DR.
I’m sorry that you had to come to a country that sold you a dream
without disclosing the things you would have to give up in return.
I’m sorry that you had to leave behind one of the most important people in your life,
a tu papá.
I’m sorry you didn't know that would be the last time you'd see him.
Maybe you would’ve hugged him tighter.
Maybe you would’ve held on a little longer.
Maybe you wouldn't have left.
I clearly remember Mami’s immense pain when they called to tell her he had passed away. Even though I didn't meet my grandfather, seeing Mami in so much pain hurt me. Every year, around the time of his death, I would get very sad because I knew Mami would be reliving those feelings. I felt guilt knowing that she wasn’t able to see him before his death or attend the funeral because of us.
If she left, ¿qué sería de la vida de esas dos niñas? Would leaving the first time have been for nothing if she returned to DR for her father’s funeral? It wasn’t until now, twenty years later, that I was able to understand the heaviness of the situation fully.
My sister and I had a privilege she desperately needed: the ability to leave and have safe entry back into the U.S. With nine years living undocumented, Mami’s papers were finally in progress, and leaving at that point in time before receiving status on her green card would have resulted in denied entry back into the U.S.
Mami llegó a NY en el ’94, en pleno verano. Al mes, ella llamó a mi papá, él vivía en Paterson, NJ, para que viniera por ella. She was tired of her mother getting home from work yelling and screaming: “¡Larguense a buscar trabajo!”; “¿Qué lo que u’tede tan haciendo na’ ma’ en la casa sentao?”; “Y tú, vamo’ a ver que tú va a hacer. Deja de ‘tá allí e’perando a ese bueno para nada, que ese no va a hacer nada por ti.” Al año siguiente tuvo su primera hija y justo después su segunda hija.
Perhaps if she had taken her mother’s advice to temporarily move to PR, the process of getting her green card could’ve been quicker, and she would’ve been able to see her father once again. But I was five years old at the time, about to start Kindergarten, and Mami refused to let me miss a school year. Once again, she was put in a situation where she had to choose to stay or to go. This time, she had two little girls whose lives and futures depended on her.
Four months after her father passed away, Mami was approved for a work permit and started her first official job as a caregiver. Two years later, she received her green card, but there was no one to return home to. She couldn’t bear the reality of returning to Nagua and her father not being there, not waiting at the door when she arrived. That summer, we went to PR to visit her older sister. Ten years later, she returned to Nagua.
We grew up poor, living in a studio apartment in Bushwick. For twelve years, I shared a bedroom with my parents and my younger sister. I was very much aware of our financial struggles, so much so that I wouldn’t allow myself to have, let alone want, certain things because, knowing Mami, she would have given me anything I asked for regardless of how tight on money we would end up being. I remember her cooking two different dinners porque yo era demasiada mañosa. My dad always complained and said, “Tú lo que ‘tá e’ mal acostumbrando a esa muchacha,” but she didn’t care. That’s how her father was with her, si no le gustaba algo él buscaba la manera de complacerla.
Even though my dad lived with us, Mami raised my sister and me alone. Growing up, he never contributed to anything and was never around. It was always just us three for birthdays, holidays, and family and school events. He always traveled to DR and tended to his bodega.
Mami tenía diecisiete años cuando conoció a mi papá, que tenía veintiocho años y dos hijos a los que siempre negó. My dad got married in DR for his green card. He never cared to help Mami get hers. Knowing my dad, he would’ve rubbed it in her face and held it over her head for the rest of her life. His children live in DR, and I’ve never met them. My dad never really cared for us to have a relationship. Hace un par de años él tuvo otro hijo y vamos por el mismo camino.
Mami le aguantó demasiada vaina de mi papá. Yo siempre le decía que lo dejara: He’s not doing shit for us, so why is he living with us? Na’ má’ causándonos dolor. It was difficult to listen to her pour her heart out to me when I was just a little girl. She would tell me how she was tired of living with a man who showed no love to her or their daughters and would always tear them down with his verbal and emotional abuse.
The first time Mami kicked my dad out was when we moved to a two-bedroom apartment in the same building we lived in. Le dijo que se fuera y que se comiera lo miserable $300 que había que rogarle que diera, que ni daban para cubrir los gastos.
Mami worked hard to get us out of that studio apartment. Taking side jobs cleaning homes, offices, and the building we lived in to get at least $50 deducted from our rent. We were always by her side, helping her. Ella prefería pasar trabajo sola que con un hombre al lado que no ayudaba en nada. But he was then physically assaulted by Mami’s brother, and she took him back until he got better. Pero pasaron días, semanas, meses y cuatro años después fue cuando Mami definitivamente le dijo que se fuera. Mi papá puso nuestras vidas en peligro y esa fue la gota que derramó el vaso. Han pasado once años y Mami y mi papá ni en foto se han visto.
After that traumatic incident, I didn't speak to my dad for almost four years. I tried to rekindle a relationship between us, but last year, I realized que él no ha cambiado, and I haven’t spoken to him since. On the other hand, my sister has always kept in contact. She’s always had a soft spot for him.
From an early age, I knew Mami wasn’t entirely happy. I knew I wasn’t. She loved a man who was not worth her love. On birthdays, I only ever wished for Mami to be happy. In spite of my dad's abusive behavior, Mami was and still is an exceptional mother, quién luchó valientemente para sacar a sus dos hijas adelante y darle una vida en la que no les faltara nada.
Hace trece años Mami cumplió una de sus metas: comprarse una casa. Mami wanted to leave us a place to call home, en caso de que un día ella ya no esté. Despite having the money to purchase a home, she didn't qualify for a mortgage due to low income and credit score. For many years, the house was under her youngest sister. Mami always managed to make on-time payments, repairs, and upgrades to the house. We now live in the house that was finally put under her name.
I remember when we officially got the keys to the house.
¡Qué reguero había en esa casa!
After schools were spent getting the apartments ready for renting.
Tú con tu dos guardaespaldas cleaning, painting, and putting up doors.
We gave so much of our time and energy to that house.
Your pawned jewelry and our financial aid checks, too.
But we did it Mami!
Always by your side, juntas siempre las tres.
Mami is the type of person who would go above and beyond to help someone. A great trait to have, until you start putting others before yourself, letting them abuse your kindness, and pouring into others when you’re running on empty. I always expressed my anger when I saw her family taking advantage of her. I questioned why she couldn’t say no and, if they gave her an attitude, que lo’ mandaran pal’ carajo.
It wasn’t until years later, now as an adult, that I found myself following the same behavioral patterns that I can now label as people-pleasing. For as long as I can remember, I was constantly translating important legal documents, writing checks/letters, scheduling appointments, being on the phone with customer service, babysitting during my summer break, and translating at doctor’s appointments and parent-teacher conferences. Services that were also extended to Mami’s entire side of the family against my will, which I didn’t understand because they had their own kids. I was basically my parent’s personal assistant and the family’s help desk center.
Today, I manage Mami’s email, finances, important documents, and passwords and provide technical support when needed. I don’t mind all the things I do for Mami. I’m not gonna lie and say I don’t sometimes get tired or frustrated, but what I do for her doesn’t come close to all she’s done for my sister and me. Occasionally, I assist my family but with boundaries. ¡A mí ya no me cogen de pendeja, coño!
I’ve been trying to teach Mami how to set boundaries. It hasn’t been easy, but the most challenging part has been allowing her to navigate her own healing journey at her own pace. These past few years, I’ve been focusing on my mental health, doing shadow work, inner child healing, regulating my nervous system, and learning to rest.
After college graduation, during the COVID-19 pandemic, I was extremely burnt out and quit my job and gap year pre-med program. I was going through an identity crisis, reconsidering my entire life, depressed, single with no friends, and living in Mami’s house. Just the thought of hearing Mami say, “Mi hija, la doctora,” with a huge smile on her face was tempting enough to pursue my doctorate no matter the cost. But how can I choose a path where I would end up betraying myself? I had to choose between med school or me, and I chose me.
I can’t blame you for not knowing how to help me.
You were doing your best, the only way you knew how.
By making sure I was happy,
taking me on spa dates, trips to DR,
shopping sprees, and redecorating my room.
Did you know I was hurting?
I could see the worry in your eyes.
You would get home from work and ask me
if I had been sleeping all-day
if I had eaten at all.
Perhaps you didn’t know how to ask me.
I didn’t know how to tell you.
But I’m in a better place now.
I’ve learned to follow the light in this journey of life,
no matter how dim it may seem, even if it flickers,
I know that I am that light; it’s within me
I've been shining brightly and full of confidence ever since.
At a very young age, I was robbed of a carefree childhood. I had to take on the role of an adult, providing extra emotional and mental support. This stunted my emotional growth, leaving me confused, hurt, and traumatized. But Mami gave up so much for me to be where I am, for me to have the life that I have, that it feels fucked up to say her best effort as a mother was lacking, that I wanted more, that little Yami needed more. But, if I’m honest, what I truly wanted was more for Mami, even if it meant she didn’t have me.
Mami used to tell me if she had the opportunity to continue her education, she would’ve become a lawyer. Growing up, she was basically the maid of the house who then had to tend to her siblings and father when her mother came to the States. Growing up, her mother was very abusive and stingy. Mami me contaba de todas las golpizas que ella y sus hermanos tuvieron que aguantar. Y cuando vivían en NY en la casa, ella tenía uno de esos teléfonos que habían que echarle veinticino cheles para poder hacer una llamada. My uncle used to open it, take out the coins, and reuse them. Dominicans finessing life.
I sometimes think of what Mami’s life would’ve been like if she’d had the privilege to choose the life she would’ve wanted for herself. Perhaps in another universe, she wouldn't have had to leave DR. She would’ve finished school, gotten her degree and a career, married a loving husband, maybe had a couple of children, y quizás tendría a su papá vivo, junto a ella. Or maybe she would still have come here, but this time, her mother was supportive and understanding and would’ve given her time to just be and aspire for the life she truly wanted.
Con el tiempo, aprendí a no sólo verla como mi madre sino, también como una mujer con los defectos y traumas de su propia infancia. Nadie es perfecto, por eso he llegado a querer a Mami así tal y como es, sin tratar de forzar que cambie. Eso no significa que he dejado de tener conversaciones difíciles e incómodas con ella. A medida que voy aprendiendo y desaprendiendo cosas de la vida, no me incomoda proporcionarle las herramientas y recursos para mejorar su vida.
I am beyond grateful and blessed to have the mother I have. Ella todavía me sigue apoyando, queriéndome y siendo la mejor madre. Still, now I know that many truths can exist at the same time. Mami hizo y dio todo lo que pudo de si misma para criar a mi hermana y a mi sola. Sacrificó demasiado y me dio mucho más de lo que había pedido. Me lo dio todo, aunque también es verdad que me ha causado heridas emocionales. I owe it to her to let her be her own person and to have grace and compassion that she won’t always get it right or she just might be stuck in her ways, and that’s okay because I’m here and I’m doing the work for the both of us.
Si Dios me regalara otra vida, sin pensarlo dos veces,
elegiría aquella en la que volviera ser tu hija.
¡Te amo Mami!
A certified mañosa from birth, Yamilex Taveras is slowly, but surely expanding her food palette. Adivina quién ya come habichuela, loves to eat concón y no come sin aguacate. Don’t try to revoke her Dominican card just yet! Ponle un típico para que vean que esa muchacha baila bueno. Her need to better understand this vessel we temporarily reside in led her down the pre-med route and to earn a BA in psychology. Burnt out after graduation, she couldn't bear to take on the years of stress from medical school, but she never lost sight of her fondness for medicine. That’s how she discovered her love for herbs and traditional medicine. Yamilex knows her ancestors guided her back to her roots, to replant her soul and bloom again.