My Unsung Hero

By Vanessa Cruz

I come from an island in the Caribbean where the palm trees sway to the rhythm of the waves and its people sway to the rhythms of drums. A place of taínos, esclavos, la Virgen de la Altagracia. Mi isla es hermosa.

Photograph by Vanessa Cruz

Photograph by Vanessa Cruz

This paradise lost is known as la Republica Dominicana. This is where I am from, but this story is not about my native island — it’s about the unsung hero of my life.

We all have heroes. We have people we look up to. My hero was my mother. She worked far away. I never knew where, but she would leave with the rising sun and would return when the sun was setting. I never understood why she left, but I would look forward to her return, waiting for the moment when she would whistle for me. I was always grateful for her whistle. I heard that whistle and no matter where I was I would run to greet my mother. For I loved her, yet I did not understand what love was then. I was a child when I lived with my mom. I didn’t understand the future, better prospects or economic wealth until later. Unlike my mother who lived in poverty, my father had all the resources at his feet. Guess who they thought was fit to be a better parent. In hindsight, I would say they were wrong; resources do not make a better parent, but they certainly help pave the path forward.

The unsung hero of this story is my mom because she lost the most in the transaction she made with my dad. The deal was that I was to live with my dad so that he could provide a better life than my impoverished mother ever could. I was born out of wedlock, and a fervent woman of faith wanted her child to have a better life.

I lived with my mother for a few years. Those were the happiest years of my life. I lived in one of the slums of Santiago known as El Ensanche Bolivar. There is pride in my voice when I say this. I come from a family of hardworking people. Kind people who will extend a helping hand if need be. I had many cousins, endless neighbors and enough wilderness to keep me forever entertained as a child. Little did my mom know she gave me the best she could offer — a childhood of dirt, running and love. I was loved by her and by hers.

It has been 15 years since she last saw me, her first daughter. The person she would buy puffy dresses for, whose hair she would wash and then untangle right away, her little doll as she would call me.

As a daughter, it pains me not seeing her. I want to hug her and say thank you for your sacrifice.

Because despite the odds and all the struggles my mother faced, her daughter went to graduate school at Southern Methodist University, became a teacher, impacted children’s lives and will continue to help the environment. How can I say thank you to this lady whose sacrifice I don’t fully understand because I am not a mother? I wouldn’t have been able to be here without that sacrifice. I never would have been featured on the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, let alone have gone to the White House under one of the greatest presidents of all times. That is a once-in-a-life experience not many get a chance to have. It is because of her sacrifice that I am here in this country, undocumented, optimistic and ever grateful for her.

How many people get to say their mom is their favorite superhero? I can.

Mi mama es mi heroína favorita porque sin ella aquí no estuviera y porque su fe me mantiene viva con ganas de luchar y soñar.


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