by Mauricio Castillo
My mother is a stereotype killer.
I'm sure you've heard of the stereotype surrounding Dominican mothers and their sons. Countless stories exchanged, complaints made (usually by fathers, sisters, and girlfriends), and memes meme'd.
You've seen them. The mom yells at the waiter and carries her 40-year-old son like an infant when his order is incorrect. The mom faints because her son's girlfriend didn't fix him a plate.
The Dominican mother-son relationship is a defining characteristic of our culture. The mother sees the son not as just a son but as a king who can do no wrong. This lasts a lifetime; no matter how old or young or how good or bad he is, the son will forever be a sparkle in his mother's eye.
Shit, seeing how Cersei was with Joffrey in Game of Thrones made me wonder if she was from El Cibao instead of Casterly Rock.
The American variant of this stereotype is called "Momma's Boy."
I call it, "The Mamiti."
The mamiti is real. The mamiti is strong. The mamiti is something I never experienced with my mother. And I didn't realize how rare that actually was in Dominican culture until I was much, much older.
My mother—Maria Amparo Del Carmen (affectionally known as la Cacharra)—had me at 31 years old, five years after my older sister and seven years after she immigrated to this country. She made 5'2" look tall, runway model-skinny with a big black poof of wavy hair and large, owl-like eyes—at least, that's how she looked in old pictures. I, of course, never saw her that way in person, and she never ceased to remind me that it was my fault she wasn't built like a teenager anymore. I apparently tore through her body during birth like the Kool-Aid Man, if you hear her tell it. "Tu acabaste con el cuerpo que yo tenia," she would say.
OK, I know that sounds horrible, but I have to admit I'm laughing as I write this. You see, la Cacharra is nothing if not a dry comedian, and one of her favorite jokes is how I (not my sister, who came first) ruined her thim-slick body. That dry, potentially trauma-inducing humor (hey, I'm nothing if not self-aware) is just one of the many ways she continues to be a splash of color in a sea of grey, exhausted Dominican mothers who look at their sons like the sun shines out their asses.
And as my mother, she was well aware of what actually came out of my butt, and it definitely wasn't the sun—and she let me know it, too.
I remember being a chubby eight-year-old—chubby in that if we were cursed with the mamiti, she'd be like, "Mi hijo esta fuerte!" and I'd flex, and she'd laugh and kiss me kind of way. There would be food and lots of it. As a chubby eight-year-old, I wanted a lot of it. And I out-ate all my scrawny cousins in speed, efficiency, and total output (input?). So, when I inhaled my plate of rice (half of which was concon), beans, and pollo guisado, I looked around expectantly, hoping a sympathetic aunt or older cousin would see me and say those magic words: "Mauri, tu quiere mas?"
Instead, my grandmother noticed, and she, fueled with the strength of The Mamiti, instantly shot forward as if from a cannon, grabbed my plate, and said, "Te voy a buscar mas."
My mother saw this, stood up and proclaimed, "No! Ese muchacho esta DEMASIADO GORDO!"
My cousins burst out laughing, and seething anger replaced any want for more food I had. She humiliated me in front of everyone, laughing while she did it.
Of course, my grandmother was undeterred, and so was the mamiti. She seemed to swell with the rage that comes from seeing a "son" done wrong. She called my mother crazy, said I was a growing boy, and that she should know better. She filled me with a plate that might've been bigger than my first one.
That was the end of it; my mother could do nothing to stop her mother.
I grinned widely as Grandma brought me the plate, but I saw the mask of disappointment on my mother's face. Whether for being a glutton or relishing in her mother's mamiti completely smothering her powers as the anti-mamiti avatar, I don't know. I just know I've never forgotten that day because it's one of my earliest memories of realizing that my mother wasn't like other mothers. Yet, from that day forward, I started being more equitable with my meals, and the baby weight that was the subject of jokes from cousins and classmates soon disappeared.
I was around the same age when my mother played the shit out of me in my own house.
Like many Dominican mothers, she did most, if not all, the chores. My sister was already getting into that "I'm too cool to listen to my parents" stage, so she wasn't any help. My father was the breadwinner, and while he knew how to cook and clean, I don't remember him grabbing so much as a rag when I was young. Even when my mother held part-time jobs to make ends meet, she still did all the housework.
Until, of course, she caught me in her trap. She had been cleaning the bathroom one Saturday; her forearms pumped from all the scrubbing. I don't remember if I happened to walk by or if I went to use the sink, but she took one look at me and said, "Tu dique no priva en fuerte? Ve aver quien estrega mas."
Being a dumb kid, I didn't know her plot. I just saw an opportunity to show off my "muscles." Before long, I was scrubbing THEEEEE SHIT out of that tub.
I found her laid up on the couch watching Univision when I finished.
The precedent had been set, though. From that day forward, I did dishes, did laundry, and cleaned. When I told my male Dominican compatriots in casual conversation, they looked at me in horror. I was some perverted version of Cinderella, and my mother was an evil witch.
I never noticed. I never thought she was taking advantage of me or being mean to me. I thought it was normal. It wasn't until later in life that I learned of the mamiti, but it was too late by then. She had done her job well.
I grew up with her being distant and frigid, treating me more like a young friend she had to take care of instead of the golden child that Dominican mothers usually saw their sons as. She "Mira, tu'd me almost as much as she used my name.
But there were signs of softness in her, too. Chinks in the anti-mamiti armor. She confided in me. She joked with me the way two homies might tease each other. She didn't encourage my non-traditional hobbies of drawing, reading, and writing. Still, she didn't shut them down either, not like others did. She was protective, maybe to a fault. My sister and I grew up in a rough project that was relatively devoid of children our age, so playing outside without supervision was a no-go. God forbid we tried to go out when the sun went down; you would think she was trying to shield us from vampires. "Tu ta loko!" she would exclaim at my simple request to play baseball outside. My mother never even liked us to be babysat when she wasn't around.
But while my sister found it annoying (her rebelliousness against my mother's iron fist ripped a chasm between them that has never really gone away), my cousins made fun of me because she was so strict and harsh and never let me sleepover or "do hood shit with my friends," I didn't care.
I might've gotten mad at the moment the way a kid might get upset with their parent for not letting them do something, but it was never a big deal to me. I almost preferred she be mean than overly affectionate; I welcomed the consequences instead of growing up thinking I could do no wrong (of course, that could be years of brainwashing talking, but still). Shit, I took one listen to "Amor de Madre" by Aventura and said to myself, "Thank God mami wasn't like that with me."
And I had seen the results of the mamiti firsthand in friends and family—sons who were either unprepared for life or who treated their mothers like servants.
Because that's the gist of it, isn't it? My mother was nails, treating me more like a boxing trainer might treat a less-than-talented prospect than a doting mom to a beloved son, but not because she didn't like me or love me. But because she knew the world was a cold, dirty place, the best way to prepare me for that was to give me a taste of it at home.
Or maybe it was because she had been overly affectionate with my sister, only for my sister to ignore and take her for granted. Perhaps, at that point, la Cacharra said, "I will not make the same mistake twice—not with him."
Or maybe something happened in her youth that made her realize the more beneficial style of parenting is to keep your kids at arm's reach so that they don't get too clingy and not to shower them with love because when the world fucks them up, they'll be able to get back up, wipe the blood off their mouths and smile.
These are all thoughts I've had, looking back on my youth. I don't know the true answer. My mother practices plausible deniability whenever I try to ask, "Hey, why were you/are you so mean to me?" Remember the Chappelle's Show skit, "I plead da FIF"? That's her, except she says, "Yo? Que yo era mala contigo? Yo no me acuerdo de eso," with the same faux-innocence a serial killer talking to a detective might have.
I just know that when I struggled to find a job as a writer, depressed and hopeless, she was there in my iron will to keep moving forward. When I moved out and got my first place, she was there in all the navigational skills I had developed for the trials that come with being an independent adult.
Even something as simple, yet as necessary, as cleaning my fucking bathroom now—she's there.
I don't remember my mother ever kissing my face. Even after I moved out, I don't remember her giving me a non-New-Year's-Eve-at-midnight, full-on hug. I heard, "Tu va ver" more than something like "Mi hijo lindo." She'll ask, "Y tu no le has buscado un plato a Natasha [my girlfriend]?"—not the other way around. All the hallmarks of the mamiti that I know of now; she did the opposite.
But I wouldn't trade la Cacharra—I wouldn't trade the years of hilarious, borderline-bully-like, cold-but-made-you-feel-like-you-were-her-equal mothering—for anything. Because I love who I am today, and I wouldn't be that person without her and how she raised me.
My mother broke the cycle. And I wouldn't trade any of it—not even for a lifetime of the mamiti.
Mauricio (Mo) Castillo was born and raised in Queens, New York City, a first-generation Dominican-American by way of Bonao, Dominican Republic. He mistakenly decided to study creative writing in school but somehow, through an unhealthy obsession with hope, an iron will that Thanos would be proud of, and an undying hustler mentality, he became the current Senior Editor of fantasy sports content at Yahoo Sports. However, his first love is and always will be fiction and creative writing; he was published at 18 and never looked back.
He enjoys music, film, food, fitness, beer, and sound, deep conversation when he's not trying and failing to write the next great vampire novel.