Updated: Jul 14, 2022
By Amaris Castillo
Hypocrisy lodged somewhere between our mothers' lungs and arms.
We recognized it early on.
As niñas, we are told by our Dominican moms, "No le' preste' atención a lo que diga la gente. Those people don't know you. We're your best friends, the ones who count. Not these amiguitas. We're your mothers."
It takes time for young minds to emerge from this fog, this string of stern reminders. But us niñas eventually picked up on the shifts, the irony lapping at our feet like waves crashing.
Before any guests came over, nuestras madres sprang into action. They'd sweep every crevice of their apartments and plunge their worn mops into buckets of scalding water to coat the linoleum floors until all rooms smelled of lavender Mistolín.
They'd wipe the dining table even if it would later be covered in cloth; not the cheap vinyl of everyday use, but the fancy tablecloths with the cut-out embroidered edges.
They would clean so that their fingers turned into soaked raisins and then yell at us to pick up a rag, to contribute. Then they earned accidental burns to their hand while cooking furiously.
It became apparent that our Dominican moms did indeed care about what others thought of them. We knew this by how they moved, how they arranged pillows on the couch just so, and how they tinkered with their ceramic elephants and angels—delicate like their self-image.
Their reputations and pride hinged on how well they took care of the spaces they called home. "What would our guests say if they walked into a dirty house?" our madres would say.
Everything must be immaculate. Orderly. Clean. Just as our Dominican mothers had been taught in their native homeland by their Dominican mothers, who were taught by their mothers.
As niñas, nuestras madres, and their own madres, were told that a respectable and honorable woman always keeps her house in order in case of an unannounced visita—of which there have been many.
Stay consistent, and you'd never have to worry about your ears ringing someday.
We scoffed at our mothers and eventually grew into young women, unaware that this yearning for appearances had settled deep, deep, deep inside our core. We told ourselves we were different.
But in the hours before a visitor's arrival, we, former niñas clean our homes feverishly. Maniacally.
We sweep, mop, and scrub till our lower backs pulsate and ache. We worry about dust particles that may or may not have been left undetected on the kitchen table or bathroom sink and how they'd be perceived.
Would we be thought of as indecent?
Una mujer who can't take care of her home, much less herself?
Or worse, una mujer who was never taught to love herself?
So, we continue.
And we spray Windex on our mirrors and wipe, wipe, wipe until the reflection shows just who we are.
Amaris Castillo is a journalist and the creator of Bodega Stories, a series featuring real stories from the corner store. Born in Brooklyn, New York, to Dominican parents, she credits the many tales she heard growing up to her love of storytelling. Amaris’ writing has appeared in The New York Times, Remezcla, Latina Magazine, Parents Latina Magazine, La Galería, Spanglish Voces, and PALABRITAS. One of her short stories is forthcoming in Quislaona: A Fantasy Anthology. You can catch her writing from her home office, just a few steps away from her windowsill lined with her muñecas sin rostro.