I thought long and hard about writing this story, but the bottom line is that I’m not hurt anymore.
I am not angry, and I have long time forgiven all the people who once did me wrong. I am not a pity story. I don’t need anyone to feel sorry for me. I am a woman made of steel, and strength and joy. But we immigrated from the Dominican Republic when I was 4. I stayed a year at home and then moved on to first grade.
In the Dominican Republic I was just going to a little school where I played all day, learning to count , learning colors and how to spell. I couldn’t speak papiamento properly, nevertheless dutch. The teacher knew this and I never failed to remind me that I was less than because of this. In class she’d take the books from me and give me blank paper to draw. She used to tell me things like “paso abo no sa nada tog” (you know nothing anyways). Everyday she’d call my mom after school to talk about me and the last thing she told my mom was that she probably came to Aruba to iron on her back. (if you know what that means).
Eventually that teacher left school, and I got the sweetest woman called Sita in her place.
children are sponges and I was no exception. I caught on, and I caught on fast. And I was excelling greatly. If you look through the album of pictures of me ages 6 to 8, you’ll see that in every single one i had my school bag on me and the writing book in my hands. I didn’t leave it anywhere.
(Schoolbag on fleek)
In the fifth grade, we were coming back from a beach cleaning trip when I was talking with the teacher and she commented that my will to thrive was surprising. How it was a mystery that my languages were so great even though I came from where I came from. Then in sixth grade it was time to choose between Havo, mavo and epb. When my own cousin said
“But you know, you’re a Latina so it’s better for you to go to EPB” (I bet she forgot this? I didn’t. I never will). But I was send to MAVO, and I had great grades. In the second year I was at a party when one of the boys in my class in an attempt to humiliate me said “Ma wak bo mama awe ta slice keeshi na bo wah” ..(I saw your mom today slicing cheese in the supermarket). (Same boy my mom very often gave rides home because his mom wouldn’t always take him home). I told him so what? I would be offended if you told me that she was stealing. When I left HAVO, i got a vacation job at a bank and though I remember that sweet angel lady very well and I thank her for the opportunity she gave me. She also reminded me that she had denied the job to Arubians only to give it to me.
Then I got a job at a children clothing store, from a sweet man who has had a huge impact on my life. But he too, had to go out of his way to convince the big managers that I wasn’t like every other Dominican. That I was different, special, but most of all my languages were great enough to surpass every single girl in the store. I worked days making commissions for other girls just to prove myself. Simply because that’s how deep stereotypes go.The company simply did not want Dominicanas. People tend to think that just because I went to school on the island and then moved here to go to college. We’re suddenly equal. Like just because I took the opportunity to get an education means I did not go through all the shit I did. It’s weird to write about this, because people are rarely willing to talk about things as discrimination within the classroom or the workplace or anywhere for that matter. Everyone knows it’s there, but if we all shut up about it we normalize it. We give it a free pass to keep on happening. But, as the child of an immigrant all that is expected of you is that you shut up and be grateful that at least you got the opportunity. take the insults and the dirty stare. take the blame and burn. They expect you to be less. But I am here to tell you that it doesn’t mean you should be. That you weren’t put on earth to fit into a box, that you do not have to do what everyone else is doing. And they can humiliate you, take your pride away, belittle you. But no one can take away the image of you, you created inside your head. No one can steal your creativity and your vision. You need to know that it doesn’t matter where you come from, your existence counts. Your dreams count. And Xenophobia will stand in your way, so will discrimination but it can’t be use as an excuse to not be great. So you little 12 year old Latina child sitting in class, crying as the children make fun of the way Dutch doesn’t great inside your mouth.
Don’t waste anymore tears. Get out there and be great. Not to prove anyone else wrong, but for yourself. To be the example for all the other Latin children out there. I am Yakari Gabriel and in Warsan Shire’s words I am :“tough, in the way only daughters of single immigrant mothers know how to be tough”..