Survival

A plate filled with rice and beans

satiated my hunger

almost every day without fail.

I depended on those rice and beans.

Thick gravy drowns the rice, spoonfuls by the minute.

Even on our brokest years,

we could always rely on a pot of arroz y habichuelas.

Sometimes accompanied with a fried egg or

plantains during the weeks where we didn’t have enough for meat.

I didn’t appreciate plates of rice and beans

until I realized white people paid thirteen dollars for a plate.

My food was valuable.

My culture wasn’t savage.

My people didn’t need your help.

They pay for our food and ask questions about our delicacies.

I come home eagerly waiting to

quench my hunger after a long day.

I eat these rice and beans alone

because the table is no longer as full as this plate.

I think of the rice and beans that propagated my survival

and I think of my family.

Scattered around the states and the island

each pursuing different aspects of the American dream.

But, I sit at this empty table envisioning the past,

and I smile because I know these rice and beans will always taste the same.

La madre

She lied awake at night waiting for her eldest daughter to come home from her late shift. She hated that job. She felt her daughter was capable of so much more. She didn’t want to push her too much because she was afraid she’d cause her to become depressed- her disenrollment last semester at the Nursing School and her divorce were enough for her to handle. She thought it was unfair that her other children would ask the eldest daughter to contribute more with chores and such. 

She walked down the hallway using her hands to guide her and went to the bathroom, then found her way to her grandson’s room. She loved babysitting him because she knew she was helping her eldest daughter. Her younger daughter thought it was unfair and that her mother wasn’t supposed to raise him. His relaxed body and open mouth were indicators that he was fine, so she walked past the other rooms and checked to see if her children were asleep. Her son, who was always busy with his school work, sat at his desk finishing his math homework.

“Isn’t it too late for you to be up?” she whispered.

“Ma, its my homework and I have to finish.”

“Me preocupas that you’re always up so late. Have a good night and go to bed soon,” she kissed him good night.

“I promise I’ll go to bed soon. You shouldn’t be awake anyways. Buenas noches mami,” he hugged her.

“Make sure you don’t wake up your sister. You know she gets cranky when she doesn’t get enough sleep.” 

Mami, I’m doing my homework. Good night,” he said as he buried his head back into his books.

She glanced over to her youngest daughter and breathed easy knowing she was asleep. Knowing she was home. Like her brother, she went to bed by dawn writing papers. She delicately walked back to her room and lied in bed. She checked the time. It was 2:34 and her daughter still wasn’t home. She prayed to God to let her get home safe and closed her eyes. 

She realized her attempt to fall asleep was failing. She could not fall asleep without knowing her children were safe and sound. To help put her mind at ease, she thought about her old house. She hated this apartment. It made her feel so big, whereas the house made her feel so small. The three story house provided her privacy and a room for everyone. Now, it saddens her to see her youngest daughter and son sharing a room, her eldest daughter and child in another, while she kept one to herself. The thought of everyone sharing a room made her think about how she doesn’t have anyone to share the room with. Her big bed seemed to swallow her without someone to share it with. She hated the lack of driveways, the lack of privacy, and how she always had to make three trips to get all the groceries out the car. She missed sitting on the porch. It was something she always did in Puerto Rico with her parents. They’d talk about life- how rough it was and how the United States had to be better and let the sun bronze their faces. It was something she brought with her when she came to New Jersey.

        She thought more about her former house. It wasn’t the nicest house. It had some dings and needed new paint and fixtures. But, it came a long way. It was a project she shared with her ex-husband. They found the house a dump, a fixer-upper. They pulled weeds and cut trees down from the yard, while removing the piles of garbage. The house was a dark brown when they first found it, but she thought she should paint it a color that reminded her of home. Yellow. Caribbean Yellow. She planted bloodroots and irises along the pathway that led to the front door with her youngest daughter. She remembered her youngest daughter loved abuela’s garden in Puerto Rico. She remembered how she danced in the living room with her kids to the bachatasmerengues, and salsas. The sounds that seemed to tell the entire neighborhood ‘Hi, we’re Latino’. She remembered seeing her kids mature from pre-teens into adults and how her grandchild’s first home was there. 

She remembered California was three hours delayed so she tried to call her son. She missed him the most. After three rings and no answer, she left him a voicemail.

         “Hola papi, just calling because I can’t sleep again. Estoy aqui pensando. I’m thinking about everything that has happened in the last couple of months. I wish you were still here, but I’m so happy for your accomplishments and your new life. Call me soon, your mami misses you. Te quiero,” she pressed the end button. It was 3:15 now. She made one more round of walking down the hallway and opened the doors of each room enough to peep her head in and make sure her kids were asleep. She checked her grandchild and fixed his blanket when she noticed his toes were peeping out. She walked back to her bed, drank a half spoon of NyQuil and went to bed again. This time when she closed her eyes, she was asleep in twenty minutes.

Airports.

They say you don’t know what you have until it’s gone, but what if what you have isn’t really gone? What if it’s just not so readily available? I remember when my brother moved to California this summer. He always said it was going to happen and I didn’t believe him. Maybe, it was that I didn’t want to.

It wasn’t real until the day came I had to drive him to the airport. And, it wasn’t until this day that I didn’t realize how close I became with my older brother. My twin brother and I didn’t really attain the supposed telepathy twins do and my older sister was more like a second mother. It was so weird because I felt like I actually lost my brother, but he didn’t die or break up with me.

This Thanksgiving he visited New Jersey and became the object of envy with his glorious tan. Right before I had to take him to the airport my mother hid away in her room. I told her she had one last chance to say goodbye. But, was it really a goodbye, or a see you later? Did it matter what the reality was when your feelings were not going to be suppressed. Pain is pain.

After an hour long ride in the car which I spent savoring the last few moments my brother and I would share until January, we finally arrived at LaGuardia Airport in Queens, NY. It’s funny how we delusion ourselves and have hope that what is going to happen, will not happen. It’s like a test that you don’t want to take or didn’t study for. Just because you’re not prepared life isn’t going to intervene. So, here I was at the airport and I couldn’t look at my brother, instead I cried and gave him the most heartfelt hug I could.

At that moment, I thought about how airports are not only spaces where people wait for flights. They are also spaces for giving a temporary goodbye to a loved one. Airports are places where I feel overwhelming joy once my brother lands and feel immense pain once he has to go. My best friend isn’t around anymore and I have to get used to that. My entire drive home I thought about migration and people leaving their families. People do it every day. People have to say good bye to their loved ones everyday without the security of knowing when they come back…or if they will ever come back. My brother has the privilege of attaining a college degree and having the occasional comfortability of visiting home. Fortunately, his other home is in New Jersey (within the U.S.) Yet, many migrants from Latin America and the Caribbean leave their homes beyond countless national borders. How do people leave, endure, and persevere with that pain inside? They must really need to go, right?

What he told my mother stuck with me, “You did the same thing. You left Puerto Rico. You left your family for New Jersey. Migration is natural.” So, then I kept thinking about that… migration is so natural, yet it is frowned upon to certain groups of people..