Having a transnational childhood sounds so chic, doesn’t it? What does your minds’ eye see when you read the words “transnational parenting”? Bi-coastal jet-setting while soaking in different cultures and languages? Yes, that is part of it. Having a transnational childhood also entails extreme separate anxiety. Immigrants around the world often send children oversees to live with papa, mama, tia, madrina. This happens against their own desires; it is often a result of economic hardships and cultural alienation. Transnational parenting is heart wrenching.
My mother worked long, hard hours sewing garments in pre-gentrification, 80’s, heroine and prostitution infested Lower East Side of Manhattan. She worked in order to send money back to a growing and hungry family. Though the youngest of 10, in the late 70s, my mother was the first to migrate to the US and commence a chain reaction of migration that continues today.
Those first years must have been rough for my mother. She eventually sent her 5-month old twins babies on a plane, with relatives, to a land of people and smells that were not yet familiar to us. But, you know what? Sending us to the Dominican Republic was our saving grace. My mother heeded God’s guidance and sent us to live in the DR for almost 4 years. She did this in order to prepare a strong nest for her rising phoenixes.
This picture looks like it was taken when we were 4. We lived in the tenement building, in the Lower East Side, that would watch over 3 generations of my family flourish, and continues to do so today. Almost 40 years later, our baby cousin Samantha was recently born while her parents lived in the apartment.
Fear, paranoia and sadness are what I see when I look into these little girls’ eyes. When I take a deeper breath and center myself, I also see hope, optimism, discipline and the will to survive. We were a complicated pregnancy. Mami was on bed rest, in the hospital, for the last month of the pregnancy. My twin sister, Miguelina developed a heart-murmur in the womb. As a result, dctors monitored my mother until we were ready to be c-sectioned out of her abdomen.
The way I see it: our will to live is much more than a cliché. This will has allowed us to live through some of the roughest eras and neighborhoods of 90’s pre-gentrification Bed-Study and Brownsville, Brooklyn. The will also helped Miguelina and I graduate from college and attain professional degrees. I am a PhD and Migue is soon to be one. But how? Statistics are stacked against two Afro-Dominican girls, born from an undocumented immigrant woman, whose father was too absorbed in his own macho trauma that he eventually self-destructed.
Santa Martha La DominadoraMy mother didn’t rely on numbers when seeking guidance; she didn’t ask for permission. She sought out and consulted with spirit. She lit candles to Belie Belcan/San Miguel and soaked in herb baths in honor of Santa Martha/Dambala. She carried the torch of light-bearing until Migue and I were ready to take on the task. So, today, on my solar return, on my birthday, I accept my responsibility and duties as a light bearer in these seemingly dark times.
Who is with me?