Updated: Apr 6, 2022
By Koylan Massiell Gomez
Mami, I am proud to possess your ingenuity, kindness, selflessness, resilience, and call you my mother. You may not have come from royalty, but you are our family’s warrior, royal goddess, and spine. You are indeed and utterly nuestra Reina.
For as long as I could remember,
my mom wore a crown. Hell,
her name is Reina.
Born on Días de los Reyes,
already predestined for
royalty. Pero en el campo, there are no royals.
No such thing as a royal bloodline,
so my mom figured, a lo fuck it,
she would create her own.
My mother was the first in her family to ever board an airplane when she emigrated to the United States at 23. Can you imagine this? Una muchacha de Los Minas, de un callejon, dique viajando.
Mami showed my siblings and me how to be resilient, persistent, and selfless. She was given the opportunity to provide a better life for her children and chose to extend that kindness to her entire family. She readily left behind her dreams in order to bring her five siblings, one by one, to the states. She wanted them to know the slums were no longer the only option.
Attaining this dream meant parting with her two toddlers, my older sister and me. Leaving us in the care of our mom's forever “ride or die,” aunt Chichi, who was only 14. Chichi dropped out of High School to take care of us, and Mami would spend the rest of her life trying to repay her for committing to such a noble sacrifice. It must be exhausting to know that no words or actions could ever be sufficient.
She told me her breasts were still full of milk when she came to the states—-that's how young we were. she had to hand pump to relieve the physical pain of her engorged breasts. The emotional pain? Now that's something she coped with by overworking herself and taking on two jobs. When we moved to the states, she let the world know of our arrival, and she bombarded us with toys to make up for the missed birthdays, Christmas, and New Year’s.
She spoke about the nights she spent alone while still in the Dominican Republic, separated by thousands of miles, but said it felt like two different worlds separated us. In one world, she was bombarded by Madonna’s “Like a Virgin.'' Her daughters learned how to roll their stomachs and arch their backs to El General in another world. Neither of us knew that this cultural separation would ripple into our adult lives forever.
Your kids need to eat,
a poem isn’t gonna pay the bills.
They need clothes. An emotional breakdown isn’t gonna keep them warm
from the blizzard of 96.
They need their mother,
your tears weren't going to comfort them.
My mom wasn’t word-savvy, nor did she take the time to comb through her emotions. That shit is a luxury, to sit down and write what you feel, to articulate a thought when on the back of your mind was the constant drilling reminder that you were dirt poor and you weren’t going to get anywhere in life if all you did was sit on your ass and dream.
For a long time, I knew Mami never really had her shit together and that she was just pretending most of her adult life. She hardly buckled in front of us, and being a mother myself, I have no idea how she did it without completely losing her mind. The only emotions she expressed were extreme joy or complete seclusion. For many years she struggled with her mental health. During these early stages, when she was at the very brink of a mental health crisis, God had his way of intervening.
Chichi would always pray for her day and night. Mami says that her prayers protected her like a veil because right before she felt like she would snap, her papers came, and she left for Nueba Yol. I suppose God was trying to buy her some time. The mental health crisis still came, and not only did it come, but it rippled onto all of her children. Some of us more than others. The more I deal with my traumas, the more I feel like I am healing the wounded child in me and the traumas of many wounded children.
I loved watching my mom make Yaniqueque,
the way she confidently dominated the dough
how she skillfully knew how much to knead it,
how round to roll it, how long to fry it.
Her motto was, “La comida siempre se hace con amor,
porque si no el alma lo sabe. ”
Mami had the gift of bringing people together through her food. The summers were a guaranteed family reunion of Sancocho and a never-ending game of Dominoes. My friends could never understand how we ate stew on scorching summer days, but the body has its way of adapting. The mangu’s reminded me of our campos mudslides, and can no one tell me that the chicken from El Vivero tasted the same as the pre-packaged—the audacity.
She always told me, “Mi hija, no dependa de nadie.” The best thing you can do for yourself is to become fully independent. That way, no one can control you or hang anything over your head. Financial independence meant so much to her, but I knew that this economic obsession came from a place of trauma.
As a little girl, her family was so poor that she would have to clean someone's house in exchange for dinner. I wonder what that must’ve been like knowing that she was willingly and unwillingly throwing herself into the lion's den. Not all dinners came easy, as some houses meant she had to dodge a few pedophiles here and there. They would purposely ask for her to do the cleanings, get so close that they could take a whiff of her hair, touch her hand, graze a thigh. She either had to tolerate it or go to sleep hungry; hunger was not an option. That type of shit scars you for life.
The thing is, what choice did she have? When fight or flight is embedded in your DNA, you better work. Roll over and die? Tu ta loca.
It’s funny the things you pick up
without even knowing,
the traumas you try to break
without even trying.
It’s almost like your body
is a mythical creature
because it knows
what to carry
and what to let go.
Despite all of this, I knew I came from royalty. I was raised by a strong, independent, and highly intimidating woman. Mami said that life's most challenging moments gave her the best lessons, like how to be of service to others. She always told us that the more you give, the more the universe rewards you. I felt like the universe was consistently bowing its head and kissing her feet. Like it was at her mercy. She was blessed.
I know that to this day, Mami mourns the things she couldn’t do, the person she couldn’t become, the significant burdens she had to carry. She could not achieve a medical degree or become a backup dancer for “La Chicas del Can.” For this, I am forever indebted to her because I feel that being able to live my life so freely is a direct result of what she had to give up. I want her to know that the virtues, attributes, and affections she has instilled in her children are an incredible legacy to be proud of and will be passed down for generations.
I understand generational trauma
and extreme poverty
molded her tough exterior,
I see her softness when
preparing a meal for her family.
When she opens her door
to an immigrant relative.
When filling barrels with food
for orphaned children.
I see these acts as a way of self-healing,
I pray that one day her wounds
become so faded that the only thing left behind
is scar tissue.
Koylan Massiell Gomez is a poet and writer born in the Dominican Republic and raised in Corona Queens. Her love for the written word was discovered at the age of 10 when she yearned to find a better way to navigate life's emotions and experiences. Every summer Koylan traveled from New York to the Dominican Republic where she was exposed to her Caribbean culture, music, and language. These yearly experiences are infused in her writing. Koylan graduated from Hunter College with a major in Creative Writing.
Amongst her many pieces of work, Koylan co-wrote “A Sinking Heart” which became an official screenplay selection of the 2019 Oregon Short Film Festival. Her writing explores her Dominicanyol upbringing and represents her dual identity as a young Dominican immigrant. Koylan’s work embodies the controversial conversations on love, spirituality, being a minority, generational trauma, and the process of healing. Every poem and story that she writes plays a role in healing ancestral pain and bringing us closer to the discovery of the self.
Today Koylan is the proud mom of two beautiful school-aged children and resides in New York City.