It was a full moon, and the house was silent, everyone was asleep. I got out of bed, and looked out the window staring at the moon, visualizing what it would feel like to walk on it and see what Earth looked like from there. I loved the moon as a kid and often stared at it, it would make me feel energized. I imagined a future, not being able to clearly see who I was, but just had this feeling that I was meant for something great. As a teenager I had promised myself that I was not going to be the typical Dominican girl that I often heard so many stories of amongst my family members as well as the women in the salons. I did not want to be the Dominican girl that got pregnant out of wedlock or whose “mari-novio” was a drug dealer. In our culture a “mari-novio” was a man that lived with you but whom you were not married to.
Life works in mysterious ways, and the same thing I ran from was what became my reality.
“That’s the heartbeat, and these little balls you see is where the legs and arms will grow” the doctor said as she did the sonogram.
I was in a daze, could this be real? Am I going to be a mom? I was 20 years old, with one year left to complete my bachelor in Finance. My boyfriend at the time was a high school drop out that worked at a retail store. How could we support this baby? I thought of abortion, but that felt irresponsible. How could I kill this baby that is already living inside of me? So I decided that I would keep my baby and promised myself that although I had gotten pregnant out of wedlock, I could still beat the odds of being a typical Dominican girl. I would finish college and work, and not live off welfare like every other girl I knew that grew up in Washington Heights.
What a blessing it was to hold her in my arms when she arrived. However, I was on a mission to keep my promise that I had once made in the presence of the moon and 3 weeks after her birth I started my senior year. The backlash I received from his family and most of mine for leaving my baby in the care of someone else. I had moved in with her father and his parents, his mom made sure to make comments about my choice every single day. The struggle I felt at wanting to be more than a mom and at the same time trying to fit into the cultural norms that were impose on me by generations before. I looked at the lives of my aunts and those of the women in his family and I could not see myself staying home cooking and cleaning and relying on my husband who barely made ends meet. I could not see myself going to welfare and lying about being a single mom so that we could get food stamps. I could not see myself living on Medicaid and spending my nights watching novelas and weekends gossiping at the hair salon about whose husband was caught cheating on “fulana de tal.”
The more I tried to assimilate to my culture, the harder it became. So I ran, I ran the way I had been running my whole life from it. I left my daughter’s dad when she was a year and a half, we were just too different. He was complacent and had no goals, and I was too thirsty to be the woman I visualized when I would spend nights staring at the moon. I felt staying there would hold me back from the life that I knew I was destined to have. I moved out to a one bedroom apartment in the Bronx, and I worked full time for Lehman Brothers, having to leave my daughter in day care from that tender age. In finance I was the only Spanish girl on the floor, everyone I worked with was white, Asian, or Indian. I found myself also feeling out of place. They were shocked that I was 22 and a single mom, I did not fit in. They stereotyped me, I remember one girl telling me, “oh yeah you have a daughter that makes sense all my other Spanish friends have kids as well.”
I got into a relationship with a Bengali guy, and the closer we got, the less Dominican I wanted to be and the more like him I wanted to be. I tried to assimilate to his culture, eat their foods, listen to their music, and watch their movies. And one day I was looking out my living room window, and it was a full moon, and I realized that everything I ran from, I was living. He had become my “mari-novio” and he sold drugs aside from having a business. He couldn’t marry me, because it didn’t matter that I was a professional getting paid well that could take care of a daughter and a home. To his family I was just a typical Spanish girl. The end of that relationship was hard, not as much because I lost him, to be honest, I had fallen out of love long before we broke up. But it was harder because I had to accept that I had become the exact person that I had spent so many years running from. Now I stood here in the same apartment that I had escaped to 9 years before, my life had not progressed much and I was single. I was lost. I had no identity to my culture, I didn’t really have Dominican friends, I didn’t feel comfortable hanging out amongst my own kind, but now I no longer felt comfortable amongst any other culture. Who am I? Where is the woman and the life that I had chased for so long?
I did what I did best and I kept running, running from the person I saw in the mirror, running from what my culture and society said I should be. I left finance and turned to the nightlife, bartending and going out, the things that my long toxic relationship did not allow while I was in my 20s. It took me going to Sin City, a strip club in the Bronx, to wake up and realize that if I did not change my life I would end up like these beautiful girls that stripped because they felt they couldn’t do better. So I ran from the nightlife and went back to finance. Only to realize that although I loved finance, it wasn’t whom I envisioned when I looked at the moon.
Another failed relationship later with an Indian man, I realized that the person that I wanted to be was going to take some work. For a year I isolated myself, meeting up with friends for no more than 2-3 hours a week, working whatever job I could get just to make ends meet, and focusing on my mental health. I had a lot of trauma from the past violent relationships, I had very low self-esteem, and I needed to find myself. Through out that time I changed my mind several times, I took the GMAT in order to pursue my MBA, then I took the LSAT to get into law school. Then one day it came to me, that what that young girl had visualized was someone saving lives and fighting for future generations of young girls that will come after me to not feel the way I felt growing up. I was going to become a doctor and start trying to empower women to be more than just moms.
Growing up as a first generation Dominican girl in Washington Heights you are taught that we need to cater to men, that we need to cook and clean and bore children. If you are 25 and single with no kids, your elders will start to call you “jamona.” Till this day I have no idea what the term means, I just know that it is the equivalent of people saying you are going to be a “cat lady.” I hardly ever heard praise from my grandmother, every conversation would start with me being too fat, too skinny, working too much, asking me what’s wrong with me that I haven’t gotten married. Never did I hear that it was good to go to school and become educated, that it was good that I could pay my own bills without being supported by a man or welfare. It was always a degrading comment to justify as to why I was single. At least I had a child. I hear the things that my peers that are single AND have no kids have to go through and it is insane.
In the past year, I have embraced my ethnicity, being able to finally feel like I fit in with other Dominican people. I have loved being in Spanish places and listening to Spanish music. I want to marry a Spanish man and have more kids. But I could do that and still be the woman that I envision. Now when I look at the moon, I feel the same energy that I once felt, but it finally feels like I am on the right path.