Between the ages of 5 and 7, my life took a migratory U-turn.
I was born in New York City. But at the age of 5, my parents decided to return to Dominican Republic to materialize their “Dominican dream,” to settle back in their country of origin after working hard in this country.
However, two years later, and after a few unsuccessful business efforts, my parents were forced to return to the States and start all over again.
Back in New York, they couldn’t afford to rent an apartment. And while they managed to fit their few belongings in a rented room, the room was not large enough for all of us, including my younger sister and I. For the next year or two, we were sent to live with Mama Nini, our maternal grandmother, until our parents could settle in financially.
Living with Mama was the best time of my childhood — full of simple but powerful moments.
I used to sleep on a roll-away-bed, right next to Mama’s bed. At night, she would tell us cuentos from her own childhood. During the day, she would tell us about life en el campo with her 11 brothers and sisters. And tells us about her passion for horses and horse back riding.
We loved hearing those stories while we helped her cook arepas in her old, dark frying pan. It was in Mama’s kitchen that we learned the art of peeling a platano and cooking mangu with fried red onions, queso frito and salchichon.
Life with Mama was all in Spanish. With two rambunctious little girls around, she had no choice but to resort to a very colorful Spanish to get our attention and discipline us. Whenever we misbehaved, she would threaten us and say “Si sigues haciendo eso, te voy a dar una tabana!” — tabana meant a slap. But of course, she never, ever did. My sister and I would secretly smile, and so would she.
So many childhood memories with Mama — the old, classical songs from Roberto Carlos, Danny Rivera, Julio Iglesias, Johnny Ventura and the fast-paced perico ripiao…las fiestas familiares, el sancocho, and her home as a warm, welcoming place to be hang out at.
Mama passed away many years ago. Bu like so many abuelas, she passed on so many unforgettable and impressionable cultural moments, filled with music, language, collective values and moral character.
That was me, growing up with my abuela in Washington Heights…