by Dhayana Alejandrina
We are all stories; even if the ink dries,
our voices will be heard throughout generations,
echoing until the end of times.
On June 27th, 2009, wearing a jean jacket and an around-the-neck passport holder with my identification, I was on the plane to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania—permanently departing—with four other children. When we arrived, a designated official in custody helped us off the plane and took us through security at JFK Airport.
Through a hall of nameless faces, eyes moving faster than my heartbeat, I attempted to find her obsidian eyes—mami, there she was, with a comforting smile, ready to embrace me. "Seeing her always makes everything feel safe," I thought.
"Mamiii," I said.
"Hay mi niña bella," her whispery voice made my eyes tear.
The first couple of months felt like a rubber band being stretched to the max, snapping with a direct aim at my heart—quick, painful, inevitable. I missed the familiar faces, the island's warmth, the rooster's wake-up call, the ocean breeze, and the family dinners. Everything reminded me that I didn't belong—especially the language and cultural differences. But at the same time, there was hope—the feeling of gratitude for what my parents had done to get me here and give me the opportunity they did not have at my age.
In early August, barely two months after my arrival, I attended Susquehanna Township High School for a tour—the halls were like a never-ending tunnel, the ceilings high with bright lights, the floors shiny, and I a tiny ant in the middle of the wilderness, unsure of all, following the lead of others. Strangers greeted us, and every word coming out of their mouths—no matter how welcomed their nonverbal expressions were—felt like a reminder that I was an outsider. Mami clasped my hand as we walked through the school, my stepdad translating every question we had (mami had been living in the US for two and a half years, yet she still couldn't hold a conversation, only recognizing certain words or phrases).
Mami worked long hours at a factory and hated it; she'd come home tired, hands bruised, back hurting, and with an under-the-table salary—why, why, why? Countless times, I spoke to her about learning English and the opportunities it would bring her: better jobs, getting a license, and not depending on others. I wanted her to feel more at peace, so I'd remind her that I was there to help her and that she wasn't alone.
It had been over five years since she moved, yet she spoke no English. I questioned why she didn’t try, and she replied, "Mija’, todo el mundo en el trabajo habla español y no creo que lo necesite aprender ahora." She confessed her embarrassment at how people reacted when she tried—this broke my heart and made me want to throw hands at anyone who dared mess with mami. I knew she felt fear. I knew this foreign language rubbed against her skin like an unwanted visitor trying to enter. Mami has a kind heart and deserves the world, yet her fear got in the way of many opportunities; still, I understood and gave her the love and grace she deserved.
In the gentle embrace of self-love, healing begins.
Let us release the grip of past mistakes,
freeing ourselves from their chains.
I loved helping mami, and my heart swelled with love and admiration for the drive my mother had to pursue a better life for me—for us. But as a young girl new to a different country, the unspoken responsibility that fell upon my shoulders cost me my identity. My hyper-independence came from seeing mami struggle, not learn English, not learn how to drive, and depend on a husband who was there but wasn't—you feel me? The fear of feeling trapped—like mami did—and inner pressure to not disappoint my parents for their tremendous sacrifice resulted in my dissociation from myself.
I hid behind writing and achievements; I was living on the idea that I was the only hope for my family and must never sabotage this opportunity. No one in my family ever told me I was responsible for this, but after seeing all that mami had to do to keep us afloat, the little girl in me forced herself to become what others needed me to be. This led to many years of saying "yes" when I wanted to say "no" and feeling immense pressure to succeed no matter how many parts of myself I had to sacrifice.
As I reflect on my growth, I am amazed at how far I have come despite my challenges. It's humbling to know that destiny unfolds at the right pace and that every step I take is a reflection of my growth. I am grateful for the journey and the person it has helped me become.
The stories of immigrants are filled with resilience and determination. Witnessing the tireless efforts of a mother like mine, who works tirelessly to ensure her child's dreams and goals are achievable, is remarkable. Every small accomplishment of an outsider such as myself is a testament to the hard work and dedication we pour into their aspirations.
Self-acceptance beckons us down a path
adorned with love and humility.
Dhayana Alejandrina, a Dominican poet and mentor from Santo Domingo. Her work delves into personal growth, unwavering devotion, and spiritual healing. With each verse, she reminds us that inner growth is life's grandest adventure.
Dhayana's words have graced esteemed platforms like the Dominican Writers Association, Al Día Newspaper, and UNESCO MGIEP's Kindness Book. Her global reach extends through Penguin India Publishing, touching the hearts of readers worldwide.
In 2021, Dhayana unveiled her debut collection, "Agridulce: Poetry and Prose." Through its pages, she champions the importance of acknowledging emotions and experiences as the catalysts for self-awareness and discovery. Dhayana fervently crafts her second collection, gearing up for an enchanting poetry tour with Alegria Publishing in October 2023.