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“Healing is a cyclical process that follows a pattern until the situation or the physical/emotional pain goes away. If not addressed it may linger from one generation to the next. In a patriarchal age like ours, men and their career choices affected the women in my family, including myself.” From my upcoming book, “Nideaquínideallá, I’m from the Borderlands: A Goddess Journey from Trauma to Rebirth.”

“Why do you want to leave your teaching job?” asked Dad as we sat in his study-room. We had moved three times in the city, however my parents kept the same furniture at each place; all gifts from their wedding day: a wooden set of table and French chairs, a red velvet couch, tall lamps with brown shades, two green sofas, a marble coffee table, picture frames, and a cast silver table center.

I chose to sit on the leather chair for back support. The study was in the center of the apartment, in-between the bedrooms and the kitchen.

“I’m in physical pain all the time, Dad.” I said. “Time off is not helping my back, only worries me more what I’m going to do next.”

He stared at me in silence, trying to understand my situation.

I held back tears of frustration. “I love teaching but I also want my body pain to go away and give myself more time to recover from the surgeries.”

My parents paid for my college tuition so leaving my academic career behind was a major decision for all of us. I’ve always felt I owed them for helping me out during those first years in college. My mother eavesdropped on the conversation as she walked by.

“You could have bought yourself an apartment here in the city with all the money we sent you,” my mother couldn’t wait to remind me whenever the subject came up.

“I know Mom, you said that more than enough.” I responded each time.

“I know what the problem is,” she said and paused to clean her hands on the apron around her waist, holding a kitchen rag with the other hand.

“What, Mom?” I said.

She flipped the rag and pointed at me. “You’re just burned down.” I didn’t know how to react to that.“I know.” She spoke even louder. “I saw it in a movie.”

“It’s not burned down, Mom. It’s burnt out.” I said.

She was probably right but at the time it hadn’t hit me yet how exhausted I was. Fatigue, anxiety and insomnia had taken over my body like a California undertow. My mother didn’t express her opinion much but when she had an idea about me, she was firm and most times right.

“Let her talk,” my father pleaded trying to get back into our conversation. “I want to hear it from her.”

“It’s okay Dad. She can express her opinion.”

My mother played the submissive type, so I always defended her when I could. She rolled her eyes and walked away into the hallway, back to the kitchen.

“You will lose touch with your own career,” my father continued. “That’s what my own father told me when I changed careers.”

Opapa, my father’s dad was protestant and the general surgeon at one of the most prestigious private hospitals in the city, El Hospital Aleman. He had high expectations for his children and grandchildren. However, my dad didn’t follow his steps because he fainted at the sight of blood. Instead, my dad studied philosophy and then switched to architecture, a career that took nine years to complete. When Tono died, my grandfather on my mother’s side, my dad took up the management of the family ranch.

“And?” I asked.

“At first I didn’t think of it too much,” He said with nostalgia. “As the years went by, he was right. I was too immersed in cattle ranching, trying to make ends meet, and helping your mother to keep her piece of land. I couldn’t do both.”

The sustenance of our family and the survival of patriarchal names depended on him and each family man. As in my family, men were the major players. While my father chose to manage the ranch, my older brother followed in his footsteps and became an agricultural engineer. The need for reason inspired them as they searched for their own truth that led my dad and many other men of his generation in an insatiable dominion over nature. Always struggling to acquire more, they built doorways to the physical and mental labyrinths they created for the upcoming generations. My next of age brother, Jorge became a lawyer and followed my grandfather’s footsteps by practicing law.

Induced by societal norms, the men in my family learned to fortify a male sense of security based on material gain and comfort. In the end, they faced mortality like the rest of us. As to my decision to leave academia, it became an on-going struggle for several years, until my body said enough is enough. Falling back in the gentleness of my female body became my priority for a better healing.

[Disclaimer: The stories and pictures in this Blog do not coincide with the women and people depicted in the photographs. Names have been changed to protect their identity. I am solely responsible for the facts gathered and on which the stories and images are based. Nonfiction narrative asserts descriptions understood to be factual and may incorporate fictional elements to clarify and enhance them.]

“In a flight, freeze or flight response, negative memories stand out because the brain reacts impulsively to protect us. These are our triggers or blindspots that once brought to the light, they can be replaced with new ones, rewiring our neuropaths. This is the recollection of a sweet memory with Papi—Stay tune for more in my new book, Nideaquínideallá, I’m the Borderlands: A Goddess Journey from Trauma to Rebirth.

Caramelo, chupetines, bombón helado, I spoke to my father, catching him early morning before he went to work in the city.

He smiled at me as he put his coat on. His black straight hair was wet, combed back. “Is that what you want today?”

I nodded. I always asked for more than one thing: candy, lollypops, and chocolate covered ice cream. My eagerness charmed him as I waved my arms in the air, still in my pajamas.

Whenever he went along with my game, he held my arms tight, stretched out. I raised my legs up his body and stretched my neck out for a flip.

“One more step,” he said. “There you go, put your head down. I’m holding you.” His grip was firm and safe. “You got it. Now do the somersault.”

As I let my body go backwards in a twist, I felt the touch of my hair covering my face. I was thrilled as I put my feet down. He let go of my arms and we both laughed.

In the evening, when he was back, I could spot my dad’s mischievous smile. I was determined to get what I wanted. “What did you bring me?” I stood with my arms on the hips. I knew he was hiding something.

He didn’t answer and held his grin while I searched his pockets.

“Is it here?” I moved as fast as I could.

“Hmmm.” He said. “Cold, cold.” I moved to the other pocket.

“Here?”

“Hmmm. Warmer.” He was now laughing.

Then I noticed his palms were closed behind his back.

I put my right hand under my chin with my index finger up. “I know.” I said. ”Let me see your hands.” I demanded.

He opened his right fist fast. “Hot,” He said and spread his fingers of the left hand slowly.

“The hippopotamus.” I jumped up and down. There it was, my chocolate prize. When I saw it, I smiled from ear to ear. Nestle milk chocolate bar, wrapped in a zoo-animal-figure paper sat on his palm. It meant the world to me, even though he didn’t remember to bring what I asked for: Caramelo, chupetines, bombón helado.

When women immigrate, we change our cycles and natural rhythms; we may be inundated by a sense of loss or transformation. It takes a while to get back in our two feet, especially if one’s identity depends on official documentation issued by the country we migrate to. This is the story of Paulina—an excerpt from my upcoming book, Nideaquínideallá, I’m From the Borderlands: A Goddess Journey from Trama to Rebirth.

“Bwak, bwak,” two hens greeted me when I walked into Paulina’s apartment in Washington Heights, a charming, old Jewish neighborhood that became the largest Dominican neighborhood in the United States in less than two decades.

“I still look for eggs every morning, as if I was back in Santo Domingo,” said Paulina, waving at the hens to go to their nest.

“Would you like some coffee?” Paulina stood in the kitchen door and finished pulling her dark hair in a pony tale.

“Yes, please.”

She tucked a red shirt into her tight pants up and we both sat on the couch. Paulina was a short immigrant woman in her late thirties, with African features and a light complexion. She spoke in a soft voice, but unlike other women I met, she switched back and forth from English to Spanish with ease. Still, she had a nostalgic expression in her eyes. I pulled out the tape-recorder and placed it next to the flowered sugar jar. There were some papers on the table and she moved them to make room for us.

“Those are the papers I need to fill out and take to city court,” her hands moved with hesitation, “Now that I’m documented I want to change my name back to Rosa. Paulina was my phantom name.” She paused and added. “Paulina was that brave woman who came to the United States, and Rosa, that young girl who stayed behind in Santo Domingo.”

“Can you tell me more about that young girl?” I didn’t want to lose that window into her past even though it was a hospital visit. We had a questionnaire to fill out but I wanted to know more about Paulina’s migratory journey.

“Oh, it was a long time ago, early seventies. I grew up with both my parents and twelve siblings in a small isolated town outside of Moca, a rural place in the Cibao region. We lived off the land and grew tobacco, cocoa, potatoes, and other vegetables. We also harvested many fruits that grew in the Caribbean like mangos, avocados, and pana or grapefruit bread. Those were the good old days. Everyone knew each other and looked after each other.”

“What motivated you to migrate to the United States?”

“I lived in the capital city with my first husband. I was working in one of those factories that exported the clothes back to the United States. I wasn’t doing well with my husband so I decided to get a divorce and I moved back with my parents. Everyone thought I was a bad wife and mother.”

I nodded in empathy. “Did that help you to make the decision to migrate?”

“I suppose. It was my father’s idea, and I went along.” Her fingers fidgeted. “I always thought it was my destiny to travel.”

“How so?”

“Well.” She leaned forward and hesitated to tell me. “When I got to the airport, I stood there without knowing what to do, as if I had arrived at another planet. My passport photo didn’t even look like me. I traveled with a machete, with someone else’s I.D. card. I think I got in because of my own ignorance, or immigration didn’t care and let me in. After you pay for the trip you don’t think about anything else except getting here.”

Her face lit up. “I still save as a memento the same pillowcase I brought with me with a blouse, a skirt, and some panties.” Her hands touched mine. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. “It takes courage to leave your family behind, not knowing when you’ll see them again.”

My heart contracted.

She added, “It was like telling the world, here I am.”

[Disclaimer: The stories in this Blog do not coincide with the women in the pictures. Names have been changed. I am solely responsible for the facts gathered and on which the stories and images are based. Nonfiction narrative asserts descriptions understood to be factual and may incorporate fictional elements to clarify and enhance them.]

Growing up, the silencing of my voice by patriarchal authority opened my eyes to injustice and oppression, embracing unexpectedly the healing power of the sacred feminine symbolized by the serpent—more about this story in my upcoming book, “Nideaquínideallá, I’m from the Borderlands: A Goddess Journey from Trauma to Rebirth”  

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been scared of serpents. When I was a child, after a daunting fight with my father, I hid inside a wood shed. Poisonous snakes were likely to nest there. I sat in the dark, wishing one would bite me and I would die. For many years, I replayed this incident in my head several times, blaming myself for my own rebellious voice.

“I hate you,” I yelled to my father as he served himself a piece of steak.

His dark long thin hair was combed back. Some grey hairs were beginning to show. His big ears stood out against his white skin and his eagle-shaped nose was always running from allergies to dust, pollen, dog hair, and mildew. He sniffed into his handkerchief.

My mother gave me one of those looks to shut up. She was always the last one to sit down at the table, arranging the food and what was needed for our meals.

Minerva Gaea, a plumed, medium sized, Indigenous woman with Spanish features, then the main caretaker, helped her with last minute details. The protocol was that once the food was served, she would go back to the outside kitchen and eat there. My two older brothers never helped, and I was too little, the baby girl. Salt, pepper, a serving spoon, a missing napkin, water, and a glass of wine. Minerva moved slowly as she emptied her tray.

“Why are we stuck here?” I kept at the conversation, “I want to be with my friends. I’m missing all the fun they are having in the city.”

“Your father already told you,” said my mother, “we’ll be here until we can straighten things out.”

“It’s been a whole month already,” I stuttered, knowing that I was pushing the boundaries.

The temperature of the room was rising. Minerva’s thick eyebrows rose as she walked towards the door. Unlike my father, her straight dark long hair was always in place. I never saw a sight of frustration or complaint in her face.

My brothers didn’t seem to care we were stranded all summer at the ranch. After all, they enjoyed riding horses and the freedom of the land. One of my brothers kicked me under the table, but it was too late. My dissatisfaction grew and I blurted out.

“I hate this place and everything about it.”

That’s when I didn’t see it coming, and my father’s hand stroke my left cheek. The only time in my life the heavy weight of a man’s open hand was on my face. His face shrunk with anger, as if he couldn’t believe what I had just said. His parental authority was undermined, out the window.

I was still a little girl, and yet my body witnessed a mixed feeling of failure and solidarity. While Minerva was in the same room, I was safe to speak up, and my father held his anger in place. As his irritation unleashed, I was nauseated with the smell of steak and my mother’s pleasing tone. I raised my hand to my mouth, as if I was going to throw up. My whole body contracted and I left the room crying. I then walked into the shed and sat in a corner. I wished for a snake to bite me.

Dying seemed like the only response to my father’s slap, to his repression of my ten-year-old rebellion, to the silencing of my voice. A baby snake slipped through one of the logs as I was standing up. She wasn’t coiled. No bite. May be yararas didn’t bite when they were little.

Yarara was the Guarani name for the regional poisonous snake that roamed the ranch, and was now part of our mestizo heritage. The yarara knew no boundaries, sharing the soil of Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia, and Brazil. The Guarani, the Indigenous people of this regional area who appeared in the first millennium, drew her on plates, coiled with spots, moving through the jungle with ease like the jaguar, also called Yaraguarete, another mythical figure in Guarani culture.

“Go ahead and look for your sister,” my mother asked my brother Jorge.

It was a busy morning that day, and my parents were ready for their afternoon nap. I could still hear the dishes clanging in the kitchen. I hesitated between waiting for someone to find me. Instead, I stood up and I walked outside, feeling renewed, as if my old skin had been removed.

The process of shedding turned snakes into symbols of legends and myths representing neurosis, healing, initiation, death, transformation, wisdom and rebirth. I anticipated the power of the serpent goddess and her many polymorphic and multidimensional manifestations in my life. It would be some time though before the new skin was ready for the world, shameless and free, growing instead a strong woman Self that some day would face my father’s authority, or better yet, how to let go of family and ancestral conditioning.

I met my brother playing outside, and we carried on our usual children’s games.

He warned me about my father still being angry, so we went to the back of the house and ate some oranges from the trees.

I’ve held on to this traumatic experience for most of the years I lived abroad, sometimes in the foreground, sometimes buried deep down. I came to see my own affliction with patriarchal authority in the immigrant women I met years later in New York City when working in the Dominican neighborhood of Washington Heights.

Here I met Paulina, Carmen, Altagracia, Maria, Mercedes and Belkis, women in their forties who had powerful stories of family, displacement and survival. I was still in my twenties then, but they left an impression on me. We had in common the pain that was rooted in centuries of devaluation of female power and distrust of the feminine–its wisdom and knowledge.

Like a snake coiled up, it took me another twenty years however to acknowledge my own struggle, from a broader female lenses, in my own soul’s path, reimagining the power of the serpent and its feminine symbol of transformation and rebirth.