My Legacy and Yours

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Dear Antonia,

In your story, I saw my own possibilities. I grew up looking up to my mother’s dedication to that which made her see potential in herself and her children. She was opened up to a possibility of self-discovery, change, healing and progress.

When she first arrived in New York City, she was plagued by an inability to apply for jobs that weren’t part-time. Although she started college in Santiago de los Caballeros (her hometown) in Dominican Republic, my grandmother couldn’t finish payments for more than a few months.  She came to this great city for a chance at possibilities, and to stray from my grandfather’s lack of dedication. My abuelita, she was the one with drive and dedication.

Abuelita, tired of being held back by her husband’s routine and general passivity, became her own breadwinner. She started to sell homemade ice cream with the spare allowance she got from my grandfather’s paycheck. She invested in her own future, and in her children’s futures in a way that he never chose to envision. Abuelita invested in herself. She had to see the potential in herself so that she didn’t have to feel nailed down to a home life that threatened to keep her caged for decades to come.

My mother’s awakening came a little bit later. Upon arriving to Inwood (no, not Washington Heights), she invested in herself. When enrolling my brother into our community school (P.S.5), she discovered the organization that has been part of our family’ life for more than 25 years. The Children’s Aid Society literally saw my grow up since I was born, and up until the moment I write this letter. My mother enrolled my brother and I in the Head Start program, the after school program, and the programs offered during winter and spring break. I’ve gone on to volunteer for the same Head Start classroom I was part of and to work for the Summer Camp program for two years. My mother has worked as the Parent Coordinator of the program for almost 15 years, and my father has been a custodian for the program for about the same time.

The program connected me to my potential as a first-generation Dominican-American to reap the benefits of my education and beyond. They, along with activities and programs my mother led, helped me find a connection to the roots of my culture when I most questioned my claim to “Dominicanness”. My mom organizes parent workshops like English classes, how to get Spanish-speaking parents confident to help their English Learning children with school work, family life and sexuality classes, and nutritional cooking classes. My mother was my role model because I could see the change she made in mothers’ and fathers’ lives, while also forming friendships with them. She has never failed to create a community of parents that want to place an essential stake in the betterment of their own lives and their children’s lives in school. My mother welcomes immigrants from the Caribbean, South and Central America, the Middle East and Asia into the Family Room, famously known as Room 110. This is the safest space I’ve known growing up for conversations, jokes, chismes, support and a space for next steps.

This is what I’ve seen in you Antonia, and what I hope to awaken within myself, and something my mother has tapped into. Your legacy even gave my mother a place to comfortably takes workshops and a few credited classes at Boricua College — who would have thought I’d read about your part in my family’s life.

I most see myself in your accomplishments through my desire to work with bilingual and ESL/ELL students. Like you, I have seen the downfall of the educational system for the students that are simply thrust into an unknown language, but are expected to keep up with everyone else. Its disheartening. I must claim privilege to having a grasp of the English language since a young age, but I can’t deny that I was given support by my teachers, my parents and the CAS program. These factors aren’t necessarily true of everyone, so I want to be that factor in a student’s life to help them balance a foreign language and their own language. I recall the pulling forces that made me feel guilty for not speaking enough Spanish, or not enough English — you can’t please everyone. To this day I am made to feel self-conscious of my duality, but I have learned to take pride in my circumstances. Like you, I want to stop that. I want to follow in your footsteps.

-Dayi

 

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