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“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.]