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Las Doñas of my Domain

Jhoselin Perez

Hoy en el día internacional de la mujer, quiero dedicar esta expresión a todas las mujeres de mi vida. The main ones in my life symbolize very important characteristics: Dedication to Family (abuela); Guidance (mami); Ternura (abuela Guilla) and Protection (doña Rosita).

Abuela: la patrona de mi familia.

Ahora mismo tiene104 años y está en una cama sin poder moverse mucho. But I always remember her as a strong survivor dedicated to the family.

Born in 1918, she married very young and had a son. A few years later, she remarried my grandfather, don Pupo. Abuela Fela had to move from town to town as my grandfather was a farmer and musician; you name it, he did it. And in each city, my mother, uncles, and aunts were born. They settled in the capital, Santo Domingo, where she had to endure grandpa’s many infidelities that resulted in other fruits. And yet, she always kept her head high. She never complained. She never wavered; never showed her emotions.

I didn’t know abuela until I arrived in New York. I don’t have many memories of her when I lived in DR. I suppose I was too young to remember. My mother tells me that she was always selling something to support the family since grandpa was always away. As a woman in those days, you had to do what was needed to survive and keep your family safe. Abuela and mami are so much alike–-their hair, eyes, and hands.

I do remember abuela being strong, but quiet. She wasn’t tall but her presence was powerful. Respected to the core. She never lifted a finger, but boy was she tough. One word from her, and you sat down.

I remember abuela being there, helping, with love. Always taking care of me and my cousins during our Saturday get-togethers at her house; seated in the living room after making dinner and just chatting with us. I remember her in the kitchen when we arrived from school. She always catered to all of us. Setting plates of spaghetti, mangú or tostones, or whatever each of us wanted that day. I was the one with the tostones.

Gracias Abuela.

Mami: my strength, my warrior, and the one I call my best friend.

As I walk through the doors, I encounter the familiar sounds of the spoon against the pot, the savory smells of adobo, carne, and orégano. The sound of her voice full of joy. The touch of her warm embrace, memorable. As an adult, I cherish all these details.

She is the one that has taught me to smile, to be strong, to get up and not stop for anything or anyone. Mami is that constant part of my life. We share a bond that I can’t imagine being without. She is mi doña.

She taught me how powerful education is even though she never finished High School. She guided me to be successful and never depend on anyone. Her guidance has taught me that I can be anything I wanted, when I wanted. That the man in my life was to adore me, respect me, and love me. But that I should still be able to take care of myself.

By the time she received her visa, she had already divorced papi. She worked hard to bring me to the US on her own, bringing me to New York when I was only 10 years old. I always saw mami learning, working, and moving. She never sits still. In DR, I recall her learning pottery to sell her creations. In NY, she went to school to learn English, got her driver’s license, became a US citizen, and went to school to become a home attendant. She worked in a hotel as a housekeeper for many years, where her English got so much better. Even now, retired, she does sit still. As part of her Church community, she assists with all kinds of events.

I am always telling her to stop and breathe. “I can’t do that,” she insists. I am so proud of her and because of her education and guidance, I am who I am today.

Thank you, mami.

Abuela Guilla: sweet in all the sense of the word.

Abuela Guilla was tiny, had dark skin, soft hands, and wrinkles. She walked slowly and wore a thin printed robe aligned with laces. She wore chancletas, those with multiple holes in the front, like a plastic net.

Abuela Guilla radiated love through her baking and just being. She was always kind; gave amazing hugs and I recall her always being there and taking time from her baking to sit with me and chat. I don’t recall what we talked about. I was about 7 or 8 years old from the last memories I have of her.

When I walked up to her second-floor apartment, I could smell the sweetness, the smell of baking cakes, pastelones, or mi favorito, arepas de doña Guilla. There was always un pedazo waiting for me. She would always be standing in front of her kitchen counter, way too high for her stature, see me and say “ven mi hija, para que nos sentemos en el barcón.” She would bring my piece of arepa with some refresco rojo and we would sit on her barcón on mecedoras eating with such delight. If I rocked the chair fast, she would never stop me; get crumbs all over my outfit and she would let it be.

She was my paternal grandmother (or who I thought was papi's mom). Later, I found out she was the woman that raised him as my dad’s mom passed away when he was very young. Yet, I looked a lot like her. In the barrio, they would call me Guillita. She never had children of her own, but everyone in the family calls her abuela Guilla.

Gracias abuela Guilla, que en paz descanses.

Doña Rosita: mother of the love of my life.

The first time I saw doña Rosita was in the kitchen of her Bronx apartment, and to this day, that is where you would find her. Doña Rosita is what I have learned to call la jefa de la familia. She is the most compassionate, caring, dedicated woman, in her family. She is the protector.

I met Carlos in 1996 and doña Rosita welcomed me with open arms. From day one, I have always felt part of her family. She is the one cooking pots and pots of food for all occasions. Thanksgiving, Navidad, Año Nuevo, el baby shower de Ruth, el cumpleaños de Jan, toda ocasión, nunca falta la comida de doña Rosita.

She worked very hard when she was young to bring her children (all five) plus some extended family to the US. To this day, she is always helping her brothers and sisters. Always worrying about her children even though they are all adults. She is una abuela apoyadora; my son’s number one fan. He’s forever her

bebito. She took care of him when he was born while I worked a full-time job. I never worried about dinner; she cooks for me all the time. I could always get away with my husband without worrying. She takes care of Jancarlos, even though he is older. She did this with every grandchild that came her way.

Today, my husband visits her every day and we make sure she is taken care of.

All in all, she is la doña of the family. It doesn’t matter the situation; you can’t ever say anything negative about them. Not even to each other, and she will always defend the other. Her protection goes beyond her immediate family. Even my family is now under her protection.

I’m grateful to have her call me su hija.

Gracias Rosita.

La doña of my Domain: I, myself–la doña of my domain.

When I think of the concept of la doña, la patrona, la jefa, I always think of the older ones in my life. My abuela was quiet but consistently strong to keep the family united. My mother keeps my brothers in line and makes sure she is always available for her three children. Abuela Guilla, with her slow and tiny stance, provided these huge hugs and calmness in my life. Doña Rosita embraced me into her family without regret. I believe myself la doña of my small family. My husband and my son are my world. I cater my life around them while also ensuring my own goals.

These women have taught me that family is number one, that no sacrifice is ever enough, that love goes a long way, and that we can accomplish anything. And most of all, we are la doña of our own domain.

Gracias mis doñas.


Jhoselin Perez is an immigrant, daughter, wife, mother, and writer. She was born in the Dominican Republic but came to New York at an early age. She loves to write poetry, memoirs, and novelas.

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