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Una Vida Eterna Junto A Ti

by Anyeli De Los Santos


Papi, te llevo en mi memoria. En ella, llevo los pasitos de las bachatas que bailábamos.

Tengo el recuerdo de tu mirada cuando te visitaba en las vacaciones, tú me mirabas como si fuera una luz en tu camino oscuro.

Eras bien callado cuando no estabas bebiendo Gold Label o un par de cervezas Heineken, porque las Presidentes frías las prefieres solo en la República. Desde que ese pico tocaba un chin de licor, nadie como tú contando cuentos y bailando en el coro.

Yo vivía con mis abuelos de parte de padre, hasta que llegó el día en el que un matrimonio arregló la suerte de Papi y la mía.

A mí no me gusta mucho la palabra “suerte” porque fue un sacrificio poner los pies en América. Para los años noventa, Papi ya se había montado en una yola, con el deseo de llegar a donde estaban los dólares. El primer viaje lo arreglaron él y su amigo. Se fueron por la costa sur, por Miches. Por mala suerte, un helicóptero de la Marina los agarró en el Canal de la Mona, la frontera marina que separa las islas de República Dominicana y Puerto Rico. A Papi lo metieron preso por 15 días en la ciudad de Santo Domingo, pero Papi no se dio por vencido y planificó otro viaje en yola. Esta vez, sí llegó a Puerto Rico, pero desafortunadamente, la migra de los Estados Unidos siempre ha estado empeñada en atrapar a los que entran “ilegales”. Mi papá estaba luchando contra un sistema que no se preocupaba por los inmigrantes que buscaban refugio en la isla vecina para poder alcanzar un futuro mejor. Una vez más, mi padre volvió perder su libertad tratando de mejorar su mundo. Lo enviaron de regreso a su país y se quedó en Higüey, trabajando en un resort para turistas extranjeros en Punta Cana. Sus sueños, como los de muchos otros paisanos, morían por la falta de oportunidades en nuestra isla.

Yo soy de un campo de Nagua, en República Dominicana. Uno de esos campos del Cibao donde el único estilo de vida para un hombre es sembrar y atender conucos de plátano, yautía y yuca. Y los fines de semana, beber romo e ir a las galleras. My father abandoned the agricultural lifestyle.“¿Tu sabe’ lo duro que es regar abono abajo de ese sol picante?” was his favorite line in order to explain why he thrived at running away from el campo. He did not like to work under the sun, watering or planting the rice paddy fields. Some of the men who do stay behind work really hard. I remember hearing the voices of men talking to each other at 6:00 AM, riding their horses to work as a routine. They would not return until dinner time, when the sun was already going down. Most men who do stay behind in el campo have an ordinary modest life. Casados con muchos muchachos para los manda’os. My father wanted more out of life. Dominican culture operates under an abnormal system in which the people are purposely kept uneducated, in which it is intended for the people not to see the reality of the corruption that they live in. Young men and women are forced to transition into adults early in life to search for better means of survival. My father left his father's side because he did want to deal with coconut fields, rice agriculture, or the cacao business with my grandfather.

My father had the opportunity to be part of an arranged marriage, which came with the benefit of a Green Card and the chance at the elusive “American Dream.” My father was happy with his soon-to-be wife. They hit it off instantly, although it was supposed to be un negocio. Of course, not to brag, but my father was an elegant man. He embraced his melanin skin and silky, thick black hair, which reflected the history of the African and the Taino blood in his identity. Papi opened the door to a foreign world that socially condemns poor people of color by placing limitations on their social mobility. Papi and I had no idea that racism would become another issue to deal with in the U.S. I certainly did not know the history of genocide against Native Americans. Nor about the kidnappings of Africans to replace Native Americans. Neither was I aware of the Jim Crow era or of all the systems white people designed to oppress people of color. Papi never expected to feel unwelcome by people who claim to love Dominican Republic when they visit the island , but not the people. Dominican people often struggle to accept that white people do not see us as equal to them. Why? Because we have been taught to deny our black origins as if colonization did not happen. While some Dominicans praise white privileges, white folks in the US, for example, would come up with a State literacy test to reject Spanish-speaking people, like Puerto Ricans and also Dominicans, who began migrating in the 1960s, from voting in political elections in New York City back in 1964. My father and I had no idea what we were getting into.

The consular process was short, but the events leading to him obtaining this visa put in question the legitimacy of my father being my biological parent. I reunited with my father in Puerto Plata. He had been living in that city for quite some time because he was employed at another Resort mainly for American, Canadian and European travelers. The next day, we traveled to the capital by public transportation to attend the visa interview at the US consulate. During the interview, they requested for my father and me to get a DNA test. We went into the building, certain that I was his daughter and that he was my dad. But nothing is out of the question when it comes to dealing with a US admission representative. They would look at all evidence and look for every reason to deny you access. We traveled back home, anxious to get the results. We waited for months! The only answer we received was que nos dieron la residencia. I knew there was no way I was not his daughter, pero Papi no era bueno con el papeleo de actas de nacimiento. He requested my birth certificate when I was four years old! I will never understand why there so many incorrect birth certificates en la República.

Mi papá no era un padre que siempre estaba presente, teníamos un relación de larga distancia. Un par de llamadas al mes para saber cómo estaba y para preguntar si necesitaba dinero. Dominicano al fin, Papi creía que su deber como padre nada más era abrir la cartera. Yo acepté y normalicé su forma de amarme. Entendí que él tampoco vivió una infancia donde el amor fuera parte del día a día, porque habían otras obligaciones.

My father always asked me if I thought he was un buen padre, and my reply was “¡Claro! Papi, yo sé que tú me quieres”. See, my intention was to protect his feelings, even when that meant ignoring my own. My father had two children with two different women. I have an older brother, he lived with his grandmother from his mother’s side. Papi didn’t even declared him as his son under the eyes of the law. Although he made sure everyone knew that he was his son, I am sure my brother felt the lack of effort. I believe my dad was simply running with an idea that most Dominican men practice: leaving child care up to the women.

La gente en el campo live in a community of solidarity. El patio y la galerías de los vecinos están abiertos a la comunidad a la hora del café por la mañana, y los calderos de comida se destapaban puntualmente a las 12 del mediodía. My father and I migrated to the US in 2008. I reunited with my mother in New York City and stayed under her custody. I loved visiting my dad in Lawrence, Massachusetts. I would stay in his sister’s home for the holidays, and it was perfect. When Dominican relatives get together in the US, they finally get to talk about childhood trauma as if they were doing a stand-up comedy show. My dad and his sister complained about their parents, la visita comía primero. Sus padres tenían un gallinero en el patio, las gallinas se alimentaban del maíz que cosechaba la familia. La carne, en el tiempo de antes en la República, no se comía en todos los bohíos del campo. Pero mis abuelos, cuando llegaba visita, hacían un cocina’o de gallina y guineíto verde. They would laugh away the pain as a defense mechanism. My father did not like to show sadness. He also did not like to see me cry, he used to say: “Mi’ja, no me llore, llorar te hace ver débil.” Papi was a victim of his gender’s expectations. Machismo in men keeps them imprisoned in a web of toxic masculinity. As a result, Dominican men have normalized unhealthy traits in how they view and process life, based on what they find as failures. These failures turn into social embarrassments; to be a Dominican man requires social respect, which translates to having money, physical and emotional strength, and a high sexual drive. When a man fails at being a “man," it becomes problematic because of the social anticipation of heterosexual standards.

As a career choice in the US, my dad got into construction. He used his body's strengths to make US dollars like he had always wanted. At the end of 2018, he decided it was time to take a break from work and reality. Papi shut his world by trading alcohol for opioids to deal with stress and depression. My father designed his own reality in his mind. One where he did not care about the opinion of anyone else but his own. One where social shame meant nothing. The response he gave to me and those who questioned his behavior was, "Nadie se levantó conmigo para ir a trabajar a las 5 de la mañana." He was tired of what society demanded of him. My father's life experience made me think about the intersectionality between toxic masculinity, addiction, and mental health. And when all three are triggered, mental health meets addiction; however, it is often ignored.

El ultimo día que visité a Papi, me cantó una canción que decía: “y cuando me muera, mira las estrellas”. Con lágrimas en los ojos, lo escuché, tenía la sensación que me estaba preparando para su partida. Papi was a hopeless romantic, he had tattoo on his left arm with a faded heart and, inside it, the word “Amor” at the center. He was a believer, ¡salí a él! In one of his check-in phone calls, he said to me “Si tú te portas bien, tú tendrás un padre eterno.” One must believe in a higher power, especially one where our souls will eternally be intertwined with our ancestors. I lost my father to a horrible disease named addiction. Una de esas enfermedades que se quita y vuelve cuando las personas están débiles. A Papi le gustaba la ciudad más que el campo, allí encontraba más vida. Life was better in the city, in my father's perception, it was not the slow paced way of living he was born into. Instead, the city offered thrill, strangers, nightlife and drugs. Solo iba al campo cuando no había trabajo, y cuando quería el calorcito de su mamá, quien siempre lo quiso proteger con sus oraciones, con un amor fuerte porque, a sus ojos, Papi era un “charlatán”. I remember that throughout my childhood, los vecinos would tell me that my dad was crazy. In my eyes, there was nothing crazy about him. El amor de una hija a su padre no se puede comparar. Con todos sus defectos y errores, lo llevo en mi memoria todos los días. Confío en la vida eterna para estar junto a él, porque su partida es solo un hasta luego.

 

Anyeli De Los Santos was born and raised in the countryside of Nagua, Dominican Republic. Through her mother’s perception of social mobility in the U.S., Anyeli grew up in a Dominican household focused on academic achievements. Her writing focuses on the experiences of marginalized communities. Anyeli’s profession is in social work as it ties to her passion for assisting vulnerable families in NYC.

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