"SAY YOU'RE DOMINICAN WITHOUT SAYING YOU'RE DOMINCAN", A STORY OF GROWING UP IN A HISPANIC HOME FROM MAGGIE VICTORIA, SCHEDULING AND RESOURCE SPECIALIST FOR CARE ADVANTAGE.
National Hispanic Heritage Month runs from September 15th to October 15th, celebrating the culture and history of Americans with Hispanic descent.
On the weekends when you’re cleaning your home, you have Bachataon blast, echoing through your hallways and you occasionally dance with your broom or mop. Your inside voice is really yoursitting-on-the-bleachers-in-Yankee-stadium-with-a-full-house voice, and your laugh is silent with tears streaming down your face and your stomach doing the jiggle.
When it comes to mealtime the staple is rice, beans, stewed chicken, fried sweet plantains, and a green salad with avocado, served on your table and you may not be excused until you finish your plate, because according to your mom “There are children starving in the world so we cannot waste. "After lunch you take an afternoon nap and then continue your labor until the evening hours. Your mom teaches you how to clean and cook before you reach high school, and you must always look out for your younger brothers and sisters while your parents work. Everyone is either an aunt, uncle, or cousin who is allowed to tell on you when they catch you doing something you are not supposed to. All of us are taught to fear the dreaded “Cuco” or boogeyman who will steal you in the night when you misbehave.
Most of all when it comes to family, we are taught to respect our elders, to always help each other out, and to never ever put our aging loved ones in facilities. Our family gatherings are filled with adults trading stories at the dinner table while they exchange dishes. All the women of the family prepare and take to “Mama’s”(grandma) house, while all the kids gather on the living room floor to play and eat. Mama’s house will have a ceramic statue of the “Divino Niño” (baby Jesus),“San Miguel” (Saint Michael) and/or Jesus, which often scare us as little kids until we grow accustomed to their presence.
After the family meals, the adults would brew coffee and join Mama and the children in the living room to hear Mama tell stories of how our parents were growing up in (“En aquel tiempo…”) those times. Sunday mornings are especially hectic because everyone is running around trying to get ready to accompany Mama to Sunday service at the Catholic church. You will never find Mama without her rosary necklace, and she will give you the evil if you so cough in church preventing her from hearing the sermon. After mass we must wait until Mama speaks to the priest about how lovely the service was before we go home for Sunday dinner.
When mama can no longer live alone, usually one of her children or grandchildren will move in to take care of her. We are always respectful and patient with Mama as she starts to forget things and lose her hearing. Everyone chips in to help care for her, all the way down to the young children, even if it’s just fetching her “chancletas” (slippers) from under the bed where she can’t reach. We never stray from her routines and never dare raise our voice or lose our patience.
When it’s time for Mama to part with our Lord, we hold vigils by her bedside and sing her favorite hymns and pray with her, never once leaving her alone so she feels how much she is loved and respected until the very end. When Mama leaves us, we hold the wake in the family home, inviting the whole community who grew up knowing her. We serve coffee and cheese and crackers. We sing Mamas favorite hymns and continue to sing and pray and recount our fondest memories of Mama until we finally lay her to rest. After she is gone, we hold nine days of prayer in Mama’s house which culminates in amass at her favorite church on the ninth day.
To say you are “Dominican without saying you are Dominican” is to express your culture through songs, dancing, and food but most of all love and unity.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Margarita "Maggie" Victoria is a Scheduling and Resource Specialist in the Chesapeake location for Care Advantage. Originally from the Bronx, New York, she currently resides in Portsmouth, Virginia with her family. She says, "You can take the girl out of the city, but you can't take the city out of the girl." While Maggie misses her friends and family in NYC, she is thrilled to be helping the clients and caregivers in her local community and truly making a difference to everyone she encounters.