My childhood bully

My grandmother had a toddler when her second daughter passed away at 21. Her second daughter left behind a daughter of her own who just turned one. 

Debbie and Me

My grandmother saw to it to raise two little girls instead of one. That granddaughter was me and her little girl is whom I refer to as my sister despite actually being my aunt Debbie. 

Growing up with Debbie wasn’t easy because she didn’t make it easy. Debbie was my first bully. She picked everything first and gave me the leftovers, always. If my father gifted me anything, she used it till the ‘wheels fell off’, great example? My bike, my portable radio, my dolls.. anything she could get her hands on. 

When we made friends and they did not want to play with her, she forbade me to play with them, even would ‘tell on me’ if I did.. as far as tricking me, ‘they don’t like you, they call you names, fat and ugly’, she would say. Of course I would ask, and they would respond, ‘No! We like you, it’s her we don’t want to play with.’

I remember her telling me, ‘I’m going to Martha’s house’. We were living in the Dominican Republic, she was 11 and I 10. These were the days when children could run around the neighborhood unsupervised and tragedy wouldn’t strike. Martha lived in the ‘next’ neighborhood, for a child this could be about a 10 minute walk. 

I was surprised because Martha was my friend and so I prepared to go with her, ‘you’re not invited’ Debbie said. When she left, I called Martha’s house. ‘Debbie is going to your house and she said I’m not invited.’ 

Martha: ‘I didn’t invite her and what she said isn’t true. You’re always welcome in my house. You’re my friend.’

Turns out she went to talk shit about me. What some children do to tarnish the reputation of others, leading to isolation… the Modus Operandi of bullies.

She didn’t keep friends as a child so that was a testament of things to come in her adult life.
She was violent and ferocious with her words and hands. Small things would ‘set her off’. Disagreeing with her stance, talking to ‘her friends’, even ‘looking’ at her things would ignite conflict. 

My grandmother’s response? ‘Matense’ trans: ‘fight it to the death’.
What would today’s parents say to that strategy?

This was the reason why as we grew she had hers and I had mine, unlike many sisters.. ‘sharing’ was not possible with her.. a conversation, a game, an experience, friends.. so I learned to create my own world. 

We separated when we entered high school, she went to live with her sister, who I came to discover was her bully, so she would tell me when we came together years later. Life huh? And I went to live with my father and his family. 

Looking back, when it came to the treatment she gave me… there really weren’t any tender moments I can recall that can balance or ‘cancel out’ the crap I lived alongside her in my childhood. Yet there were moments I can’t forget that affected her, like her waking me up at midnight in tears because she wet the bed and mom promised to beat her if she did it again. ‘Help me change the sheets’ she would cry.. I remember the countless beat downs at the hands of her mom, my grandmother for the slightest thing.. I somehow was untouched because I didn’t ‘talk back’, didn’t challenge my grandmother’s authority, didn’t sneak out, wasn’t rebellious, wasn’t dark skinned, was the orphan daughter of her beautiful young daughter taken too soon. It’s as if Debbie was my ‘whipping boy’ without even realizing it. 

My grandmother wasn’t a happy woman, smiles and laughter were not her norm. Debbie was her 6th child and came along at her 42nd year of life from the man she would verbally ‘fight’, every encounter they had. Her stormy relationship with my grandfather is what I thought Love stories were about and a lesson UNLearned by me at 42.. 

You should never have to fight to be loved. 

Debbie paid for her misery and in turn I paid for Debbies. 

Looking back on her life, I could say it continued to be unfair. I observed from the sidelines how mental illness rapidly took over as she lost custody of both of her son’s from two failed relationships.
She went from being an NYU student to someone you could mistake for a homeless person, unclear and incoherent speech, disheveled appearance, a size 24 where there once was a size 8. I’ve learned that psych-meds bloat the body. I can only imagine how this adds to her worries. Like all the women in my family, maintaining a svelte figure is literally ‘life’, you are nothing if not your body.
There were years when ‘checking in’ to a psych ward was the norm, every time an obstacle presented itself, we knew where to find her. The only challenge, which hospital?

My grandmother claimed she just wanted attention and labeled her ‘sinvergüenza’ – trans: ‘shameless

Truth is I challenge any Latin culture to say that ‘mental illness’ has not been romanticized.
For Latin women, losing your mind for a man, how romantic? Losing your mind after a child’s death, how romantic? Losing your mind? ‘expected’. A form of cultural gaslighting.. the fragility of the female mind at the most tragic moments of her life.. It’s depicted in many telenovelas, described in many boleros, salsas, and merengues.. losing one’s mind is ok yet as long as it doesn’t happen in your family.

And that was the problem, or should I write, our family’s problem.

But it isn’t. For the most part, that generation of sisters aren’t as close as sisters could be.. but what some would call ‘fate’, changed that for Debbie and me.. we were each other’s sister.

Now in our 40’s, both childless and despite being on different mental wavelengths, I’ve forgiven my bully. I learned to love and care for Debbie.
With every act of kindness towards her, I’m undoing the pain of the past

I can thank the woman that raised us.. she introduced us to faith, to have it, and demonstrate it, to love your brothers and sisters as you love yourself could be the answer towards peace.

After all, if ever I found myself in that state, I would want someone to care and love me as if I were their sister.

The importance of Self Esteem

As a young woman in today’s diverse, fast-paced and fickle society, infused with instant gratification, I can proudly write that a constant challenging experience I have learned to overcome was my low self-esteem. It was an unidentifiable sickness that began in my childhood and lingered into my adolescence and lived with me way into my young adulthood. Today it is in remission, and with care and astute attention I make sure it doesn’t affect me in any way, the way it use to rule my every decision when I wasn’t aware I had it.

As a child born here in New York City from a Hispanic home, life was different for me and my sister and the other Hispanic kids in my neighborhood. Most of us were raised by old world grandmothers who probably never passed the fourth grade in their native countries. Harsh words and violent reprimands were the norm and never questioned. It went as far as greeting teachers on every first day of school with ‘if my girl misbehaves, I give you permission to hit her with a belt’ and living in fear of crossing that fine line. As a result I never did get into severe trouble but I always did live with the belief that I must not be good enough, if this is the way I am to be treated. I didn’t understand at the time that it was the ignorance, and fear of my grandmother that taught her how to raise us. She didn’t know any other way to keep us from following into the violent and drug-ridden streets of our neighborhood.

As a young girl growing up with this idea of myself, I made decisions that were unhealthy for a young girl and if had the chance to undo them, I would and wouldn’t. I did things to be loved and accepted but luckily never faced other decisions which I might really have regretted like many other young girls that have experienced the termination of a pregnancy. Despite my fruitful progression in my academic career, my picture of me was always off. I went as far as rationalizing that I was ‘lucky’ when it came to my outstanding grades. In my eyes I was never worthy.

As a young adult, I won a teaching scholarship that promised my certification and position in what I believe to be the only thing I will be doing for the rest of my days, teach fashion. I delved into my profession with fervor; doing anything and everything I could to become an exemplary and loved teacher, all the while abandoning my health to a ‘morbidly obese’ diagnosis. I convinced myself I was happy, that I was not the one with the problem but the world that had this unattainable image of beauty, though that may be true, that could never justify my being so overweight. It never occurred to me to see, the oxymoronic pinnacle of my life. There I was, knowing everything about fashion, from design to construction, teaching students to draw long lean lines to demonstrate the beauty of the perfect body for an industry that shuns imperfection and I, not setting the example.

Looking back, I always did keep a smile on my face, I believe that was my way of confronting and hiding from the real problem, that I did not love myself. Along the way, I was blessed with friends, teachers and mentors that echoed who beautiful I was, and even if they never tired of telling me, it didn’t really matter until I began to believe it. And believing it led to so many decisions, which opened the doors to other beautiful opportunities. This is the power self esteem can have. I thank all of them and the things I have learned that have convinced me today that I am worthy and that it really isn’t anyone’s fault but my own, what I do with what I know and believe.            

Today as I look around the classrooms I often substitute in, I see young girls like I was, intelligent and cheerful but starved for love and acceptance in a society that values your youth only if you meet their standards. I have come in contact with young boys, who go along with what others say just to fit in, and disregard their lessons of right and wrong. I have not let the chance pass by to tell them that they mustn’t fear the sound of their own voice and that even if these years may seem endless and so very important, they are only a part of one stage of many others yet to come. That every decision they make now mustn’t be seen as futile and unimportant but as a brick that is used to build a monument that will be their life or as a brushstroke on the canvas of the masterpiece that will be their life or as a stitch in the royal garment that will be their life.

I plan to continue to make that a part of my daily agenda when I begin to teach fulltime, to not only remind each and everyone of my students how important it is to value yourself but to teach them to do so; by communicating in a positive manner and helping them become self-aware of their decisions and possible consequences.

A well valued life will come with its obstacles and lessons learned from those obstacles but if you lack the weapons to overcome them, it is useless. The sum of what you learn, regardless of your environment, along with the amount of love you have for your self can arm you to conquer any situation. I believe both to be equally important and necessary in the very beginning of any human beings life. One cannot exist without the other in order to achieve success. What good is the knowledge if you do not believe yourself worthy to possess it? Unlike any other hardship, struggle or conflict in life, low self-esteem can only lead to failure. Whether it is academically or professionally, to believe you can do it and that you are worthy of its rewards is a personal motto that should be followed, and included in every AIM.

Written June 2010 when I was a substitute teacher

Letters undelivered

Get rid of them. If you want to get out of here, don’t even mention them.she said.

*Genna was referring to my letters. The letters I wrote before I attempted suicide. She was advising I not mention it to the appointed psychiatrist because it may delay my being released from the psych ward I was sent to. At 18 she seemed like a bit of a pro, a fact that worried my taking her advise. Don’t do this or that. Don’t say this nor that. And one sure thing was to not say I wrote out goodbyes.

I left a letter for my mother reading ‘I’m sorry.’. Although I doubt that would’ve changed a thing about where she believed I was headed.. H-E-double hockey sticks. YEP! Straight to the underworld for having taken my life. I actually struggled with that.. it almost made me change my mind, but it didn’t.

I wrote letters to my cousins, my friends, my mentor, anyone I believed I would owe an explanation because I would never want them to ask why. Even dare for a second believe they could’ve done anything to save me because they couldn’t.

I remembered an episode of some show about ‘sisters’ and there was this one sister struggling with that same decision and her answer was ‘having something to look forward to’ but that didn’t work for me. I remembered scenes from ‘’night mother’ with Sissy Spacek and Anne Bancroft and their fight to choose to live but that didn’t work either. I searched within me and the pain was so great that my answer was to just end it all, but I didn’t want to leave without saying why and goodbye to those I loved but there was one letter that was different, the letter for my father.

I accused him of adding to my pain, of not being around when he was needed. For the beginning of our story be he not wanting me, because I found out he didn’t. And many experiences thereafter were and still are testaments to that fact.

That was 26 years ago, I was only 3 years older than *Genna and the same age as my mother when she passed away.. I never really paid attention to numbers or years yet after I overcame that adversity I began to take note of almost everything, as simple and insignificant as it may have seemed… ‘God is in the details

I remember going back to my place, where it all happened and cleaning up the mess I left behind and there they were, the letters. *Genna’s voice still rung in my head ‘just get rid of them’. And I didn’t, instead I read them and kept them even after I moved out of that apartment. I wanted to always remember where I once was mentally. I wanted to remember the depths of my pain and how far I went to end it and how far I was promised I would go if I gave myself another chance at life. Some may not understand nor be accepting of this, but my faith did save me.
Looking back on all of the shit that stained my life, it was always there and it didn’t fail me then.
My truth today? Nothing will ever be as bad as that moment in my life. Any obstacle that can come my way, any challenge I believe I can’t meet, any pain anyone thinks to inflict on me will never compare to that night and I survived.

Years have passed and I have accomplished so much, more than I ever thought possible. And every time I reopen that box where the undelivered letters were, I have torn one up at a time. The person or persons that was suppose to read that letter never received them because that message is no longer relevant.. I made it my mission to let that person know how I feel about them and of how important they are to me in the days after that time in the psych ward. And I do it in my way, with words, with actions, with food.
Although I believe there is one left, and I don’t know if the little girl in me will ever be ready to tear that one up.

*Name was changed to protect identity.


Te vas a poner prieta.‘ – ‘You’re gonna get dark.’ is the warning told to little girls in DR when they stand in the sun.

Prieta‘ is worst than ‘dark’, its closer to the N word if anything, therefore the warning was more of a scare tactic for those that aspired or believe to be White.
And therein lies the lies sold to little girls of certain families.

I write ‘certain’ because the warning is given based on the social-economic status of the family; the little girls of poor families that are not born with fair skin might never be warned of the affects of standing under the sun. It’s as if you’re born in a caste system dictated by how fair your skin is.

I hid from the sun, not because of the change in skin color but because I was a fat child that hated to sweat and so I always walked in the shade. My youngest aunt though loved the sun. Whenever and wherever she heard those words, she turned a deaf ear and laughed in the sunshine.
My grandmother on the other hand would get angry, because my aunt was not born with fair skin. Of the six children she had, three were not fair and that aunt was one of them.

My mother was fair skinned, tall and svelte.
She was very preoccupied with her size, because along with keeping away from the sun, you had to watch your figure.
My mother was lucky, being fair skinned and thin made you favorable in the eyes of your parents and in turn, Dominican society; she bought it.
Her only challenge? maintaining a size 6 body.

That all ended when she died after her 21st birthday, I was a one year old and her little sister was two and that’s when the lesson on the importance of being ‘fair’ began, my grandmother being the teacher.

My grandmother raised me and her youngest together and unlike my aunt, I was fair but I didn’t care because I inherited my mothers preoccupation with weight as a child. The difference? I wasn’t maintaining it, I was neglecting it and my body grew increasingly faster than it should have every year.
I believe my grandmother thought the weight gain to be a phase and that I would lose it ‘cuando t’enamores‘ – ‘when you fall in love’ – YES! The ultimate why all women should be fair and thin!
But I didn’t lose it, I only got fatter… but at least I was fair.

I later learned the why of my ever increasing size, it was the result of being molested when I was eight. I told my grandmother that same day and she confronted the predator, who happened to be a ‘friend of the family’. She believed me.
It just so happens the same happened to my aunt.. another ‘friend of the family’ assaulted her and she told my grandmother as well.. but unlike me, she did not believe her.

My aunt as a child was energetic, ‘rambunctious’ to some. The youngest of six and the one that got away with everything, making her the resentment of her older sisters. Growing up with her, I noticed not many kids befriended her, she was assertive, loud, maybe too loud for some of them. Some even questioned our relation because along with our disparate skin tones, I was seen as the ‘calm to her chaos’.
I think back to all of our shared experiences and she wasn’t treated fairly, now is it because she wasn’t fair? I may never know, but I know it could’ve been different.

Truth remains that the treatment, the words, the language around those that are darker was not kind in my family.
La maldad lo puso prieto‘ – ‘Malice turned him dark’ my grandmother would say about her son, my uncle; ‘he wasn’t born that dark’, she would say. He got darker as he aged due to the bad life he chose was her explanation of why one of her children was not fair skinned. We laughed of course, but associating evil with dark skin shouldn’t be the butt of jokes around children, especially if your brother or sister is not fair.

To be fair today is taking on a new definition. Its meaning of ‘being just’ is taking the attention and is at the forefront while the ‘lightness’ of our pigmentation and its fictitious importance is being dismantled. A feat taken on by the sons and daughters and grandsons and granddaughters of those that bought the lies.
My grandmother bought it and sold it to her daughter but that doesn’t mean I have to buy it. Some days I don’t mind standing in the sun despite my grandmothers words. If I hide, it is because I still don’t like to sweat.
My aunt? she continues to laugh in the sunshine.

Little hostages

My cousins want me to get a job so I can move out.’ she offered as we walked towards the corner store.

Angel is a junior in my fashion class.
How old are you? 16?’
Angel : ‘I’m 17, I’ll be 18 this October‘.
My mental calculations did the math; she would be 18 in the beginning of her senior year.
Are you being told to leave?
Angel ‘No, but my cousins think that it will happen as soon as I turn 18. It’s really crowded in my house..’

Angel came in today, on a Wednesday, when NO student has to report for classes, she came in. THIS is a flag.
This means:
A- Student would rather be in school than home
B- Student is sooo dedicated that they will use their FREE time to invest in their work
C- All of the ABOVE

These are the signs I look for.

So, do your cousins work?’
She laughs, ‘No!
Oh! So they want to tell you what to do, without KNOWING what to do?!!
She laughs.
The truth was that while she was in the classroom, while she was trying to finish her work, her phone kept her distracted by the constant notifications.
The dings, the calls, the interruptions.. and she couldn’t finish because of the bombardment.
I walked over to her and while I was present, she ignored those distractions and she completed her drape… I was so proud…
But I knew that if it weren’t for my PRESENCE, she wouldn’t have finished.

She wouldn’t have found the courage to IGNORE those distractions and focus on the job.
Kind of like when you ‘work extra hard’, because your BOSS is present? (Industrial Psychology, look it up)

I had her take pictures of her finished drape as evidence of work.
Angel has many classes to make up.

Since the pandemic, there has been a myriad of students that have experienced difficulties, not being able to get online, not possessing devices, lack of technology, not being able to manage academically, socially, emotionally..
And while too many people lived in oblivion, ‘this is a 2 week thing’, ‘it’s not that serious’, I foresaw the impact.
Even posted the reckoning on my Instagram .. How it will obligate us to rethink education.
Maybe my Grad work in Informational Technology had A LOT to do with it, and somehow I knew our children would be the little hostages of that situation. Yet THAT would only exasperate the current situation.. the reality that is, under-served communities/families, childhood neglect , child abuse.. and the DOE’s answer? NX.. ‘no harm grading’.

Give an NX to every class on the high school level (thats my exclusive experience) for any class they couldn’t complete. The NX was classified as NO HARM grading.
Don’t hold them culpable for reasons they have no control over. BRAVO!
Yet we must do what we can to get them to complete these grades, and this was Angel’s reason for being in my class on a Wednesday… she wanted to complete her NX or just be out of her home…

So what’s your relationship like with your mom?
We’re distant.‘ she responds

Somehow I knew her answer before she would offer her sincerity.
She was among the few that would turn on her camera when in virtual class and the little I saw and heard allowed me to frame a better picture of her reality. There was an inaudible level of sound and little ones crowding the view alongside her, this was a ‘full house’.
It was indeed, a ‘crowded house’. There was no wonder why she would rather be in the building than home.

I know what that’s like. My grandmother wasn’t the warmest person. And I moved out as soon as I graduated high school, but I had a plan. I moved out because I knew what to do. I want you to have a plan and MOST IMPORTANTLY, do not worry about it UNTIL you are there, I know that your cousins care BUT it’s ultimately up to you. And it shouldn’t consume your thoughts until you’re closer to the finish line. Why worry about something you can’t do anything about? ….. Right now? Worry about completing your credits so you can graduate and be successful.’

To think this child has her classes to think about, her NX classes as well in order to be on track, add the probability of becoming homeless because she may not be wanted as soon as she turns 18, yet still enrolled in school.

Truth is that Angel at first glance looks like she could be an adult. She fills her skin beautifully and if it weren’t for her shy demeanor and limited knowledge when she expresses herself, you wouldn’t guess she’s a young girl in need of guidance.
And like her there are hundreds, thousands more that ‘look’ as if they are ‘grown’ yet are not. They have been born into situations where they are held hostage. Hostages because even though they cannot control their environment as all other children, in their case, compassion and love is lacking.
Compassion and Love warms the heart of the captor and allows, even compels them to approach, treat and care for the prisoner. While this isn’t even questioned when it comes to ‘normal’ parents, sadly there are parents that lack compassion and healthy demonstrations of Love towards their children. That famous scene in ‘Precious’ when the mother sniffles ‘who’s gonna love me?’; the ultimate sign of selfishness that should never exist in motherhood.

It takes more than shelter, food and clothing to produce a productive human being.
Regardless of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need’s which states they are the basic needs yet, as we evolve into a more AWARE society.. everyone clamoring for ‘feelings’ to be at the forefront of communication, let’s think more consciously about our children.

Are you raising an asset to the future society?
Or are the little ones in your life little hostages of your environment?

21 and suicidal

21 marks a time when all young adults celebrate being Free..

I remember my 21st year on this planet and I was not happy..
So not happy that I believed I was ‘better off dead’..
so much for FREEDOM and being able to DRINK..
I was DONE

I lived in a 1 bedroom apartment on 189th street and Amsterdam

The apartment belonged to my great aunt, Theresa and was ‘handed down’ to her niece, my current Pain in the Arse, aunt Carmen…. the one featured in past posts.. you know, ‘Mother of the Year’ recipient.

The landlord wanted to make sure that the apartment was inhabited by family and I was the one in line

I was 21 and insecure and secure… and despite being around strong female role models, the insecurities won..
At the time, I befriended the sisters of this Black boy I was re-frequenting..
truth is, he was my first many years before and he was the only one that labeled me ‘acceptable’ to have sex with..
Do you know what that means? How that feels at 14? To be accepted; to be desired? To be thought of as ‘beautiful’?

Just to get this picture into perspective, I was over 250 lbs. Not many guys would be ok with a Fat girlfriend in their arms in the 90’s

And so we met again and I hung out with his little sisters.. I was 21 and they were in their teens… I trusted them.. so much I would give them my debit card AND my pin

They cleaned me out..
Latinos would call me ‘PENDEJA”
Some friends at the time, after I recounted the tale would say, ‘what do you expect from ghetto Black girls?’
Today I know that NO ONE is the ambassador to their race, despite the lessons of my grandmother.

Then there was work.. I was a student teacher and it was the ONE thing that held me together, the ‘glue’ to my sanity… I found what I would do for the REST OF MY LIFE..
I guess the feeling some would describe as ‘meeting my soulmate’… but it was my JOB.
And something happened that threatened my continuing to teach and I thought, ‘what’s the point?’
I felt like a failure with no redemption, no sense of belonging, no sense of a future, no self love..
if other’s would play me for a fool after I have been nothing but kind and generous to them… what’s the point?

I decided to end it all but didn’t succeed.

It turns out that my plan failed mostly because I was over 250 lbs.. funny huh!
The amount of pills a fat girl takes may prove to be deadly for a skinny girl but not me at the time, and that’s how I was saved that night.

All of this flooded through my thoughts as I listen to the Cranberries ’21’.
‘No need to Argue’ was on loop that year for me.
Today as I grade my students work and listen to Dolores angelic voice, I think about where I was 25 years ago, in an unhappy place, confined to an asylum after my attempt.
The NYC Hospital rule is when you attempt suicide, you are moved to the mental health facility of the hospital you were taken to. Every hospital has this ‘floor’, tucked away with a double locked door and strict restrictions as to who can enter and what you can bring in. Followed 24/7 by a nurse till they conclude you are no longer a danger to yourself and obligated to attend therapy whether alone or in a group. A less glamorous ‘Girl, Interrupted’ if you will.
One very vivid memory?
Being worried about missing days at work and worried about missing classes.
I was also attending classes at City College..

Let that sink in.

I just attempted to end my life but what was at the forefront of my concerns was my attendance at work and school.
I know it’s programming YET I believe that saved me as well. Having something outside of myself as my focus allowed me to put things into perspective… Having things to look forward to, having things to throw myself into ASIDE from healing helped me..
I believe today so many young people are so focused on self, their worries feed their insecurities that then feed their anxieties and prevent them from breathing and the thought that ‘everything will be ok’ is next to impossible.
It took another 15 years to figure that out.. It’s REALLY not that serious.

At 21 I was an insecure fat Dominican girl experiencing feelings of self-hate, trying my damnedest to keep it all together and failing and that girl back then couldn’t accept that.
My job and how others treated me were the most important things that defined me.
Those two things are still very important to me, my students, what I do, how I am regarded, the difference TODAY, although it may ADD to who I am, they don’t define who I am.

This is One lesson I believe important to put on loop for my students…
‘You’re figuring it out and where ever or whatever it is you believe you should be right now, it’s just a step in the road to where you are headed and who you will become. Relax, just breathe..’


27 de Febrero

This day marks the independence day of a small island in the Caribbean – Dominican Republic.
It is the ONLY example on the planet where TWO countries SHARE land on an island. Two countries that SHARE a past, inherit more like it.. from two European powers – SPAIN and FRANCE

France OWNED Haiti and SPAIN owned D.R.

The way these two former European influences ruled has had a MAJOR affect in what we call the present.

The French treated it more like their ‘slave’ port, whereas the Spanish treated it like their ‘vacation getaway’. This treatment lead to the growth of the Haitian population. Let’s be real, slavery was a trade and the more you GROW it, the more profit.

The population of the Spanish colony stood at approximately 80,000 with the vast majority being European descendants and free people of color. For most of its history, Santo Domingo had an economy based on mining and cattle ranching. The Spanish colony’s plantation economy never truly flourished, because of this black slave population had been significantly lower than that of the neighboring Saint-Domingue, which was nearing a million slaves before the Haitian Revolution.

Needless to say, the Spanish side of the island as well as the French side had enough and broke off the ties… and then the formerly Spanish side had enough of the formerly French side and decided to be INDEPENDENT on February 27, 1844

Today, this day is marked by parades, endless hours of dancing on the streets, drinking with friends, feasting on anything and everything DOMINICANO.. and I miss it

I am half Dominican..
My mother Isabel was Dominican. She was a teenager when she moved to this country.

Here she is with her siblings, my aunt Esther, Giovannia and my uncle Frank. A picture taken in Santo Domingo, in middle school. This was when they all were ‘transferred’ to the USA.

She went to Brandeis High School in the late 60’s, early 70’s and that’s where she met Victor Hugo Chavez, a pimply faced Ecuadorian boy who was ‘fresh off the boat’ as well and Oops! that’s where my story began.

I moved to D.R, thanks to my grandmother when I was in 4th grade up till the end of my 8th year. I went to private school, the ONLY kind of school the children of foreigners or the then middle class go to because the public school system is not easily relied upon UNLESS you go to University. The truth is that the FIRST University on the WESTERN HEMISPHERE was erected in Dominican Republic, La Universidad Autonoma de Santo Domingo est. 1538

My years in DR..
As a child that knew ONLY spoken Spanish, learning how to write it and read it.. was not easy but it made me, ME..
I learned how to conjugate a verb… English is NOTHING compared to a Romance Language… imagine every single thing, inanimate or not, to have a GENDER… and refer to it in its correct FORM.. yeah, we take pride in our Language.
And the Music, the fast paced merengue
And the food…. a reminder, I am a self proclaimed GLUTTON… I KNOW FOOD
yet one of the biggest lessons was Pride for Country, a.k.a. La Patria

I learned how the entire island was once divided into 5 major tribes before Columbus ‘claimed’ it for his financiers.
I learned of the founding fathers, Duarte, Sanchez and Mella.
I learned of the many poets, artists, musicians, many of them WOMEN… Imagine learning at the age of 10, how NORMAL it is for WOMEN to be instrumental in the formation of the country!
I believe it was thanks to this, this kind of gender-less teaching in my formative years that allowed me to be unapologetic. Questioning my right to exist in certain spaces was NEVER an issue yet I was an overweight child, therefore ‘certain’ spaces were still unattainable.

And there was this ONE class – MORAL y CIVICA translation: Morals and Civics

Now you may think, ‘HUH?? Where does a school get off teaching MORALS to kids?’
There may be so many people that disagree, yet if you have reached a level of enlightenment where you can see how THIS can be a positive, then there is no explaining.
There was no denying that we were being taught right from wrong in our home, or any other Dominican home, as the country is FLOODED with Catholicism and Christian thinking… but what about the homes where those lessons ARE NOT TAKING PLACE??… Where the adults do not communicate nor lead by example?
How amazing if our children were taught the meaning of citizenship, democracy, peaceful cohabitation, respect for your fellow human beings outside of the home?!

Those 5 short years were unforgettable and hazy.. There are things that I do not remember but the impact of the lessons learned lifts the fog in my mind.
Dominican Republic taught me to love Independence despite and because of the struggle it took to achieve it. That it’s best to live free than under the servitude of another, because that would be the same as death

A ser libre o morir enseñó


How do porcupines mate?


This was a line from a movie I LOVE.. the updated version of the ‘Thomas Crown Affair’.. a millionaire who sees a psychologist? And engages in criminal activity? And has a hot red-head come after him? And takes place at The MET? Yeah! That’s my kind of movie.

But as all movies that leave an impression, I think about the lines I remember and somehow am convinced of their purpose.. there is a lesson to be learned.

I am a porcupine… I have my quills ready.. ALL. OF. THE. TIME.. even when I do not feel threatened they are ready.

I know that it is a defense mechanism developed after many years of growth but because it has served me well, aside from it being exhausting, why deactivate?

I don’t trust easily.

Trust is powerful yet fragile and not many people with identity issues give it away successfully. I have made costly mistakes that have resulted in loss of friendships in my youth. I’ve learned that years of gained trust can be broken in seconds and then take twice as long to rebuild.

Yet with those same years, I have also learned the antidote…   Communication.

Communicating can create, build and strengthen trust. The absence, lack of or FEAR of communication will do just the opposite, it can and will destroy it. So how does one not so proficient at communicating experience trust in a relationship? Practice it.

I am in a relationship now. Unlike past relationships, I want this one to succeed.

I believe women have this feeling within them that tells them if the partner they’ve chosen is good. It comes from living that OTHER feeling that tells you when your partner is NOT.
There’s been a long list of worthless personalities that never inspired trust and I knew it and because I never trusted anyone, I didn’t care. But this dude is different.

Another lesson learned, observe a person’s actions alongside their words. Actions will prove or deny words and continued actions can motivate trust. And I must confess, I still don’t completely trust him, something he knows, but he has demonstrated time and time again that I can.
Maybe that’s another way to make way for trust.

As per communicating with my partner, I realize that I sit on my feelings. What I mean is that today, when something happens that doesn’t sit well with me, there are no immediate reactions. It lingers in my thoughts and I think ‘What just happened? Why would he do that or say that?’ It looks like I wear my teachers’ hat outside of the classroom. And I have learned that it can be good but if I sit on them too long, it isn’t good.

When I am in the classroom, for better communication, I don’t react right away. For the benefit of whomever is in front of me, not reacting right away gives me time to try to understand them, as well as gives them time to talk through or explain anything that could be misunderstood. This is my job… It can be DRAINING. But I do it because I care about my students and that makes it rewarding. When it comes to my colleagues, I can see it as professionalism…  again this is my job.

Who ever said this would be needed when in a personal relationship? No one told me…

With my partner, when I don’t open up about what bothers me, it doesn’t ‘go away’. It remains with the rest of my unsettled thoughts and spins into this tsunami that could take out a small oceanfront village, depending on how long it occupies space in my head.

In the past? I would just cut them out completely, no one was worth the agony, the worry, the anxiety, the awkward silences… you name it. But it is different today. He is different.

‘That’s what’s bothering you?’ he would say with a smile. And then go on to explain what he meant or didn’t mean…
The outcome hasn’t always been baby bottom smooth. We’ve had it out a couple of times, and the feelings of ‘I’m done!’ instinctively come up yet lately after the disagreements he says ‘you know I love you.’
That helps.

It’s hard being in a relationship.
It’s even harder, almost impossible when you don’t trust.

I’ve learned that all of the uncomfortable feelings that feed mistrust doesn’t have to exist, just as long as communication does.

Awakening Old Pain

I had to take Childhood Psychology in college for my teaching certificate (circa 1996) and there was a lesson that stayed with me. There are events in a child’s life that can change and sometimes dictate their future, the first time I dived into the term ‘trauma’. I learned at that time that things such as the death of a parent, a loved one is one of the major ones.

My reaction? Huh? What? It didn’t register.

It may seem obvious to many but because my grandmother managed mostly to make the loss of my mother seem less traumatic, I was able to ‘not feel it’ and not see it for what it was, trauma.

The other adversity children could face that can be taken as trauma is moving. I believe anyone could agree that children need consistency, routine, stability to feel safe and a sense of balance.

Imagine removing those variables, breaking the friendships they make, the support systems they create for themselves for whatever reason the adults in their lives see fit. Not all parents can be as successful at protecting a child’s perception like the Jewish dad that created a game out of moving to a concentration camp, but wait, no! That was a movie!

Again I thought, ‘moving’?? I’ve moved about 5 times before graduating high school! and at 22 when I was taking this class had already moved twice after leaving my grandmothers’s place at 17.

I had been on an identity journey since I was little. I maintained that not knowing a parent leaves many questions unanswered about ‘self’. So many little things, the details, the minutiae makes the greatest connections between you and who you come from. And not knowing can be painful. Living day in and day out without knowing keeps the pain alive and I made it my companion while I tried to discover who my mother was.

All I had was pictures of her, a small suitcase of her belongings, and half truths.. People either had nice things to say or nothing at all. Never had a conversation about her with the man I call dad on social occasions and my grandmother had little to say.

I made peace with the fact that I will never know the whole story of who she was and at the same time struggled with the question, ‘If you don’t know your parent, your mother, your father, or your family how complete is your self-portrait?’

I’ve learned that it does not mean you CAN’T complete it on your own, without that knowledge. Everyone can claim who they are without anyone else’s say, anyone’s input or feedback. You have the power to do that. And NO ONE has the right to tell you what you can and cannot do. No one can determine your worth nor has the right or power to tear you down.
This I teach to my students.
When I address them, I add – Not even if those people are the adults in your life.. and I include parents.

Sad truth is that when I give this ‘sermon’ (as I’ve been known to give in my classroom) some students nod.. the students nodding know what I mean. To exist in a household where the adults that care for you hurt you instead, happens.

I’ve been taken to that place lately in my own home, or where I currently live I should write. I am 45 but when the verbal wars ignite, I am transported to that age again. And although emotional scar tissue served its purpose, not being able to feel when you grow up in the ‘hood’ comes in handy, it doesn’t mean I don’t feel today. As a kid I would shrug it off and keep going. Have adults yell and scream commands one moment and act as if nothing ever happened the next, evolves into you participating in the madness or being invisible to avoid being caught in the crossfire. I learned to do both.

I managed to get out, educated myself and traveled as far away, for as long as I could and after 18 years came back.. I planned to stay longer to care for my grandmother but that is proving unsuccessful. And so the stressful thoughts of ‘moving’ flood back.. Only this time it feels like I am forced to mourn my grandmother before it’s time..

I sat in this thought and realized why it hurt more than I thought it would. My grandmother had been everything to me. She has been my mother, my father, my defender and it feels like she’s being taken away from me.. I felt like a helpless child who’s mommy would never come back……. again.

And so two old pains that I managed to overcome resurface.. after all these years. That’s the funny thing about trauma, pops up when you least expect it!
I could blame COVID yet another lesson learned is laying blame where it belongs and giving credit where it is due. Forces you can’t control can never justify your cruelty and thanks to the chaos I am re-welcoming relocating.
No hay mal que por bien no venga‘.

Words never really mattered

‘Tu eres una Mierda! Tu eres nada! Tu no tienes nada! Tu no tienes a nadie!’

translation – ‘You are shit. You’re nothing. You have nothing. You have no one.’

These words were yelled at me while I fed my grandmother. The words came from her daughter.. her eldest daughter, what can classify as an aunt.

‘Why are you insulting me?’ ‘Are you listening to the things you are saying?’

‘Yes!’ she replied, ‘porque tu te crees demasiada mierda y tu no eres nadie!

translation: because you believe yourself to be hot shit and you are no one

I continued feeding my grandmother as I raised my voice, ¡Soy alguien! Sé lo que valgo, sé quién soy, y no tener dinero ni casas significa nada. Esas no son las cosas que dicen cuánto valgo como persona. ¡Usted está equivocada!

translation: ‘I am someone! I know my worth, I know who I am, and not having money or houses means anything. Those are not the things that say how much I am worth as a person. You are wrong!

‘No me abra tu boca!’

translation: ‘Don’t yell at me!’

But I did. I yelled back and louder than I ever have.
Unfortunately, that was my childhood normal growing up. Verbal violence was the way to communicate in the house I escaped at 17 and came back to live in as an adult. And I had enough.

I never thought I would have to keep defending myself to my family after all I have lived. I thought that because they knew my story, my struggles, witnessed my pain, they wouldn’t hurt me, but I was wrong.
She had this look of hate in her face that I just can’t erase.. my family hates me.
That wasn’t new. I grew up as a ‘recojida‘, what many refer as the ‘step-child’, and many never let me forget it.. this person was one of them.
‘You should’ve never taken that one in’ she told my grandmother in my presence about deciding to raise me after her sister, my mother died when she was 21, ‘look at how she repays the favor’.
When I came back from living in a foreign country after 5 years, I asked my grandmother to move back and her response was, ‘I’ll ask your aunt’. It was her apartment but she had to ask her daughter’s permission. The verdict? ‘Your aunt said she doesn’t want people living here.’

And ironically there are many things that she did and has done that could make you believe I am a liar. She can be a kind, generous, loving person yet that day, the hate that emanated from her mouth destroyed all of it.

When you grow up in a household where the ability to communicate does not exist, it’s like living on a terrain filled with hidden land-mines.. you don’t know what will set one off. Some children grow up to avoid, just avoid to feel peace, some children grow up to forget, repress or deny what is real or what happened and some children just build scar tissue and toughen their hearts and live by the thought, if those that I call my family treat me this way, what can I possibly expect from the world?

These are dangerous ways to begin the rest of your life.. and all because of the choice of words or absence of them. My past taught me the importance of choosing the right ones and offering kind ones over none at all. I was able to remove myself from using them to hurt mostly because of what I do.. you cannot face a child with anger in your heart and believe you will say the right thing.

When I have a student, a child before me I see me.. I see the once fat and sad, misfit teenager that lived with fear yet fearless and wanted nothing else but to be loved and belong.. and I talk to her and I choose the words she needed. She may have survived a world where words never really mattered, but the teacher she became today knows they do.

Words do matter.