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Waiting for December

Anécdota de una dominicana en Nueva Yol

Griselda Rodriguez


Adios to el patio de mi abuela, my mom's habichuelas y los juegos con los primas and primos.



Approaching the immigration check before my flight to New York City, the agent inquired about my return. With the only honest answer I could provide, I responded, "en diciembre.” I felt a sense of unease and pressure not to make any errors that could potentially expose the fact that I was not the person listed on the ticket. Wearing my Sunday best para no levantar sospechas.


As the plane descended to JFK airport, the street illuminated the city. I whispered under my breath, “Hay luz.” Greeted by the October chill and people who would soon “become” family, my journey to the Big Apple had begun.

I was 8 years old and diciembre no llego.


As I look back on my first Christmas in New York City, the memories are hazy and fragmented. I was feeling quite misled and disheartened at the time. You see, I had been under the impression that I would be spending noche buena con mi mama en la casa de mi abuela donde todos se reunía para celebrar. Mi patio was now a two-bedroom apartment on the fourth floor, far away from the warmth of my hometown and loved ones.


The Christmas gift I received did not take away the nudo en la garganta, the heaviness of the chest, the sadness and confusion I was experiencing—the loneliness that came with missing everything I knew and loved. December had come and gone, which meant I was here to stay. My roots had been uprooted, my soil changed, and the once bright and sunny skies had given way to a cold and gray reality.


Being undocumented, I was unable to travel back home and had to rely on calling cards and Teleparada to stay in touch with my loved ones. The remainder of the call, with only a minute left, felt like an eternity, signaling another painful goodbye. The wound of being separated from everything I knew and loved never had a chance to heal.


As time passed, I found myself just going through the motions of life. The pain and sadness had given way to a numbing sense of emptiness. I had no aspirations or hopes and simply followed the expected routine of attending school, getting good grades, and helping around the house. It was like being stuck in an endless cycle of repetition, like a hamster on a wheel with no hope of escape.


By my junior year in high school, I was fully aware of my legal status.


Qué sueño Americano sueño americano does an undocumented person have a, especially when it's unwanted by the system? Undesirable to the system. How do I explain that no matter my grades, college felt like a wishful dream rather than a tangible plan? What job I was supposed to have is no tienes papeles, and now I even have to live with the feat of feared deportation.


The feeling I had suppressed for many years came back like a violet tsunami crashing and breaking down what I thought were indestructible walls—grief, pain, shame, hopelessness. I resented everything and everyone. But I did not dare to say. After all, I was brought here for a “better life,” but whose life was supposed to be better? I had no blueprint; I had to figure out how to navigate the system from college to immigration and everything in between.


The cognitive dissonance of the American dream between my family and me is palpable in every conversation. While to them, I am in the land of opportunity, I live in constant anxiety from society and fear of state-sanctioned violence being a black immigrant woman in this ‘great USA 'and realizing that my life does not matter.


And now, the same dream I was encouraged by has created disapproval, as my values have shifted and are not rooted in the many isms I grew up with. It is the Olympic oppression game when you share that you attended therapy to deal with your trauma, but it never fails that someone said, “Back in my days, I had it worse,” as if my healing denies their pain.


Thank God for the food and music; at least that did not lose its consistency, and it connects us. I don't deny that now I have privileges that my family members don't. However, the price of accessing that privilege of the “American dream” has been high financially, emotionally, and spiritually. As a first-generation Dominican immigrant with a different journey than my family, it has been a bittersweet road. Even though I have gained so much, I also feel that I have been robbed and cheated.


Despite my inability to make the trip, my mother is still eagerly awaiting the arrival of December. It's been almost 30 years since I informed the immigration officer that I would return in December. Pero primero no tenía papeles, después no tenía dinero, y ahora es emotional avoidance. Diciembre es más que navidad y cena de nochebuena. aunque el patio sigue ahí, tantas cosas han cambiado. I’ve changed. What once was mi sueño anhelado is now a trigger. But I want to go; I will go, I will book that ticket and give diciembre a new meaning.


My Dominican dream has been both celebrated and criticized. It has left me disconnected from my family because our journey has been so different. My goal is to create a life for myself that can honor the resilience of my ancestors, and I hope to achieve my new dream. The dream of liberation from oppressive systems—my new Dominican dream.


 

Griselda Rodriguez is an embodiment of resilience, migrating from Santiago, Dominican Republic, as an undocumented minor at eight. With a BA in Psychology and a master's in social work, she passionately advocates for mental health and fights oppressive systems. As a school social worker, she supports English language learners, drawing from her immigrant background to empower students. She finds joy in traveling, using dance to connect, and savoring diverse cuisines. She hopes her story ignites resilience and illustrates the fusion of identity and advocacy, showing the world the transformative power of education and determination.

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