nothing but a plane day

In the early afternoon of April 7th, 1989, the lady and the teenage daughter she’d named partly after herself boarded a Pan Am flight from Santo Domingo that would change their lives forever. They weren’t convinced they’d be allowed on the plane–having been turned away the previous day, unsuccessful on their attempt to be upgraded from standby status on an overbooked flight. Never having entered an aircraft, they weren’t quite sure they could even survive the four-hour journey to New York and feared that this was how they were to die.

A dear sisterfriend of their family was tasked with traveling with them, on her way back from vacation, and delivering them at JFK safely. However, no one could predict what would happen at the Customs entry interview at the airport. A consular officer had approved them for an immigrant visa to live in the U.S., but what if they didn’t pass the interview and “los americanos” changed their mind at the last minute? What if that sealed manila envelope have a secret that could get them sent back?

To their relief and disbelief, they were allowed to stay and welcomed to a place where everything—except that interview—was done quickly, where everything seemed too fast— especially the way and the things people spoke, where the extra-curricular English the daughter had sought to master for nearly three years at a vocational school suddenly seemed inadequate.

Clearly, much awaited them. From where they stood as fems who were poor, Black, landless, single, and fatherless, one middle-age, the other in her late teens, born in a country that invalidated them daily, it was a given that they’d gain a lot with this new life. The benefits would come in unpredictable and puzzling forms, though. But no one could have forewarned them of the unexpected losses and disappointments of starting anew at ages fifty-four and seventeen, of one day becoming lovers and citizens of yet another country that wouldn’t always make them proud. To say that the experience would be transformative is akin to stating that the Sun is just one of the many stars in the solar system.

Love at first sight would come in the way of a dreamy and endless avenue called Eastern Parkway, with streetlights seemingly taken from the Parisian summer postcards once sent by Monsieur Venét, one of the mother’s former employers—perhaps the best– in her lifelong career as a domestic worker. There would be more of that in the new country, not the friendly postcards, but the grueling live-in, back-breaking and never-ending jobs.

When the taxi finally stopped they couldn’t believe they would live only a block away from that enchanted avenue. They had reached Union Street, Brooklyn, NY. They were finally in front of a brick house whose address the daughter—as family scribe—had penned a thousand times in envelopes containing sisterly letters and holiday cards since childhood. They realized that their relative had not exaggerated in bringing them coats to wear that time of the year.

This Brooklyn would forever steal their hearts. The mother would one day find that it was easier to live without her daughter than without this place.

A welcome dinner party awaited them, as well as friends and family they’d met only on the other side. There were also strangers who hugged them warmly and lovingly and slipped them– surreptitiously and to the newcomers’ amazement– a twenty dollar bill and a bag with things inside, with the unforgettable Nueva York smell that appeared magically when their U.S. relatives visited the Dominican Republic.

Their first evening in Los Estados Unidos melted into night and then into their very first day in a new land, one of the many thousands to follow for the rest of their lives. They will come to miss many people and many things in this new life. Over those first twelve hours, however, they couldn’t help notice the absence of something that had made life in the old country even more unpredictable and chaotic: power outages. Something they wouldn’t miss. It wasn’t just the abundant and uninterrupted light; their attention, their joy, was on the lack of darkness. They came to find it would have been wiser to focus on the abundance of light.

For the better of twenty-five years, and then the hard three after Stage 3 cancer showed up, they also wouldn’t have to miss each other. While acculturation and personal growth and change, as well as triumphs and defeats, would come to test their bond, loyalty, and mutual respect many times over, those would become stronger and deeper with the passage of time.

Just as the visionary consular officer, a fellow Black woman, had predicted upon approving the mother’s visa and sending her to get her daughter’s papers ready for a sudden minor child visa interview in three weeks’ time so they could leave together, neither could or should weather the storm of the next three decades being apart.

With resentment–for the inevitable loss of the new boyfriend, friends, job, of a future as perhaps a university student, and the bureaucrat’s sabotage of a long-awaited freedom–the rebellious daughter obliged. Neither mother nor daughter could or should weather the storm of the next three decades without one another. Because a storm is exactly the word and nothing like El Ciclón David, in ’79, the motherlode that had shaken their backyard to its core, unrooting the stately coconut tree and bringing the proud bamboo stalks to their knees. A storm like never before.

 

 

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Pero, m’ija, where did you get that from?

Pero, m’ija, where did you get that from? in Daring to Write: Contemporary Narratives by  Dominican Women, Erika M. Martínez (Ed.), University Georgia Press, 2016.

In early 1997, Mami became obsessed.

“M’ija, ¿y de dónde saca’te ‘eso’?” she muttered in disbelief. On the phone, she’d accompany the inquiry with a “chuipe”—the Dominican version of a tisk—followed by a pregnant pause. If we were face to face, she’d shake her head. She soon stopped, however, maybe because of frustration or forgetfulness. And frustrated she was: she must have stopped shaking her head after growing tired of her failed attempts to educate me during this period, giving me, for instance, a much-delayed lesson on the birds and the bees. To my horror, she was now telling me how much she’d liked un güevo back in her day. Or saying, with regret, que se le había ido “el tiro por la culata” with her sternness. She thought her restrictive attitude about me dating in my youth had backfired; Mami especially lamented forbidding me from seeing Henri, that Haitian guy in Brooklyn who she was now convinced was a real macho and would have provided a preventative cure to “my problem.” Maybe she stopped shaking her head simply because she didn’t remember this was one of the options for showing disapproval. Her memory was already giving off intermittent signs of exhaustion three years prior to an early-onset Alzheimer’s diagnosis…

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Cotidiano e invisible: notas acerca del documental “Causas y Azares”

Published in Cubaposible, March 2018

“En Cuba ahora mismo se está reescribiendo, a espaldas de la población diría yo, la Constitución. Y en la Constitución está expresada qué cosa es el matrimonio. Se define como entre un hombre y una mujer. Bueno, pues estamos en un momento crítico donde tendríamos nosotros que intervenir y decir: ‘Esperen, si están escribiendo la Constitución, definan la Constitución de una forma diferente, como la unión legal entre dos personas, la unión entre personas. Eso nos permitiría a nosotros establecer demandas que no vayan en contra de la Constitución.”

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Ilia Calderón’s Promotion At Univision Matters When It Comes To Black Representation In Latino Media

With the appointment of rock star news journalist Ilia Calderón, to co-anchor the primetime “Noticiero Univisión,” racial justice and media activists have scored a monumental victory.
Starting in December, Calderón will succeed the legendary María Elena Salinas to host alongside the iconic Jorge Ramos. This is unprecedented here, and probably everywhere, except in parts of Africa and the Caribbean. Noticiero Univisión’s new co-anchor is Black.

Calderón and I were teens when, in 1987, Salinas became co-anchor to Ramos, who took the post just a year prior. Both are white and of Mexican extraction. Growing up, neither Calderón’s native Colombia nor my Dominican Republic had news anchors that reflected us.

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Immigrant Issues in Gotham Gazette

“The Anti Anti-Immigrant Movement”, Gotham Gazette, August ’01

“High-achieving students, but undocumented immigrants”, Gotham Gazette, July ’01

“Census 2000 And The New Diversity”, Gotham Gazette, June ’01

“The Immigrant Vote”, Gotham Gazette, May ’01

“English Classes”, Gotham Gazette, April’01

“When immigrants are sick and uninsured”, Gotham Gazette, March ’01

“LIFE and real life”, Gotham Gazette, February ’01

O Pente de Conexão com África

Published in Revista da ABPN, v. 1, n. 3 – nov. 2010 – fev. 2011, p. 251-254.

Original submission in Spanish.

A morte de Francisco Ayrá/Francisco Quintiliano e a subsequente entrega dos pentes esculpidos por este humilde e brilhante artista, por sua viúva Berna, é o centro deste belo presente literário. Com este legado, herança à suas netas e netos, desenrola-se Os Nove Pentes D’África, da escritora Cidinha da Silva, brasileira e mineira, para ser mais precisa. A história que gira em torno da morte do patriarca e dos contos familiares que sua partida nos coloca parece não ser novidade. Mas este conhecido começo, a morte para falar da vida, é o único comum da historia…

 

You Used to Be a Slave

Published in Acentos Review, August 2017

“¿Y a tí, que te importa, negra de mierdaaaa? Si tú ante’ era e’clava y ahora te la quiere da’ de gente!” And what the fuck is it to you, shitty negress you? You used to be a slave and you now wanna pretend you’re somebody.

His words, flying eastward–through the half-closed windows of his car and my aptly-named Cielito Lindo Beetle Bug–sliced the dry June air as the sun showed signs of exhaustion for another shift of hustle, one of the two-hundred and fifteen days it appeared each year in South Florida.  Robbed of any possible retort, I sat on ice for an eternal minute and slowly revealed a dignified cinnamon stick of a middle finger. It didn’t occur to me that he could have pulled out a .45-caliber handgun in return, a common gesture in road rage incidents in these parts. Instead, he sped off as soon as he could, with eyes bulging in horror.  My silent expression a warning and a threat.

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Flores de Mayo

Published in La Galería Magazine, September 2016

We unfriended one other on Facebook faster than it took for us to become friends in the first place. I was the first to do it. It was the week after we’d reconnected in May 2014, after almost thirteen years of being distant, with tacit estrangement, since right after 9/11. Back then she’d called me after nearly two years, like a journalist contacting a source.

“¿Entonces parece que los niuyourquinos no son tan fríos como se dice?” She’d wanted confirmation about whether New Yorkers were as cold as they’re thought to be. Apparently, after the attacks, all she could do was call me to get a quote.

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