I’ve been thinking about you and how you rose from the rubble – not just metaphorically. You come from Los Quemados, or Lo Quemao as we tend to call it. Talk about poetry…
I’ve been wondering what the Quemados looked like before the Maafa, the great disaster, the fire that consumed her and left her in ruins. Surely, she was not always this dusty and impoverished. Her mountains and rivers tell a different story.
Do you remember when I dedicated Kanye West’s “Hey Mama” to you? I was in high school. I don’t think you ever really understood it, maybe because it was in English and maybe because he was rapping. I would sing along to every verse and dance around you as I sang the chorus, my frizzy curls bouncing with each step and the gleam of my braces evidence of my adolescence. On my birthday I’ve made it a ritual to listen to the song and think of you and the sacrifices you’ve made for me and Chiquita.
Now I feel like there’s things I gotta get, things I gotta do
Just to prove to you, you was getting through
Can the choir please, gimme a verse of you are so beautiful to me (hey mama)
Can’t you see, you’re like a book of poetry, maya angelou, nikki giovanni
Turn one page and there’s my mommy (hey mama)
Come on mommy just dance with me, let the whole world see your dancing feet
Now when I say hey, y’all say mama
Now everybody answer me
It is said that you are destined for greatness if know your history and you come from greatness. What did it do to your psyche to be told that you are of the Quemados? That the burned were your tribe, your community, your people. But to know nothing of what was before the fire.
And then be sent away at seven years old to serve in a wealthy man’s house. To send money back to the Quemados. To be instructed that work was more useful than school because you were handed the burden of providing before you even learned to read.
I’ve been thinking about your laugh throughout it all. How in the midst of the poverty and the dirt and the lack of love or affection, you found things to laugh about. Like the first time Tia Paula saw a car and ran screaming because she thought it was a monster and she mistook the headlights for eyes. I imagine you bent over with your hands wrapped around your belly from the way your laughter resonated through your body.
I love to hear you laugh mamita. And on those rare occasions where you smile a real smile – not that forced, take a picture, everything is OK but not really because my world is falling apart smile – when you smile that REAL smile, I can see the woman my father fell in love with. I can see the kid that was ripped out of you before you actually stopped being a kid.
You are poetry Mami. Your laugh, your smile and every single flaw that falls in between. All of you is beautiful. I wish you would see what we see when you look in the mirror. You are a Pablo Neruda sonnet.
I wrote this for you, even if you never read it. Or if you read it and tell me, as you have in the past, that my English lexicon is difficult to translate.
Just know that you’re beautiful and I love you and I’m proud to have roots grounded in Los Quemados. Like the mother of Dragons in Game of Thrones. You are basically Daenerys Targaryen but brown and Dominican and a native Spanish speaker.
You definitely didn’t get that reference. Love you ma.
***This is essay 34 in the #52essays2017 challenge created by Vanessa Mártir.