My family is very large in total, but the vast majority of it is on my mother’s side. And the vast majority of that consists of women. The oldest relative I have ever known is my great-grandmother from my mother’s side, the matriarch of our family. In a small campo outside of the capital of the Dominican Republic, she had ten children, eight daughters and two sons, all of which are living in the US today. Most of these children, my grandmother, and most of my great-aunts and great-uncles, got married and had children. Some of them back in DR, some of them here.
My grandmother, Gladys, gave birth to my mother in Venezuela while on vacation. Due to sever illness, she could not take care of her so my great-aunt Luisa—the woman who raised me as her granddaughter—informally adopted my mother and cared for her as her own with her husband, Benito.
When my family first came to the US, they sent the eldest and youngest as scouts in the early seventies to make sure those who came over next would have a place to stay and possible jobs—legitimate or not. Overall, it took almost ten years to get the whole family over to New York and nestled in the little apartment on Greene Ave that I like to call family headquarters. My mom wasn’t brought over until 1977; she was five years old. She lived in that apartment on Greene for most of her life with my grandmother on the second floor, surrounded by the other Delacruz family members who lived above and below her. Eventually, as each Delacruz began building his or her own family, they moved out and found their own places to live and began building their own lives. That’s when my dad came in.
My dad was brought to the US by his parents when he was around nine years old. His mother and father, Maria and Perico, came from a campo outside of Santiago. When they came here, they also ended up living in Brooklyn and Maria found a job in a sweatshop, where she met and worked with one of my great-aunts for five years after he arrived. Even when they stopped working together, they still kept in touch, so when Maria needed a new place to for her, my grandfather, my dad and his two siblings to live, my great-aunt offered her the third floor apartment in the building on Greene. Where he met my mother.
My mom and my dad were both about seventeen when they met. My mom was looking to study criminal justice in college and my dad had enlisted early in the Navy. They were the perfect example of accomplishing what their parents’ goals were when immigrating to the US—providing a better life for their children. My parents both came here young, with many doors still open to them, and they both took immediate advantage of their opportunities. Both brilliant in school, both Dominican, but American-assimilated. And when they finally started dating, their happiness and contentment was the ideal that their parents had always wanted.
Their relationship was a youthful and spontaneous one. They started dating—staying strong even during my dad’s Navy deployment—and eventually got married when they were eighteen. My mother gave birth to me when she was nineteen, making me one of the earliest second-generation citizens in my family. Along with my older cousins and my younger cousins to come. I have easily over thirty cousins ranging from first cousins to fifth cousins, and scaling in age from five to twenty five. Some born here, some brought over young. And although my parents’ immigration is the direct cause of my existence, when examining my history, I focus on the entirety of my family, because each member has played a role in making me the person I am today.
My dad’s brother, my uncle and godfather, Bertrand, is one of the most successful men I know. He has always motivated me to take advantage of the opportunities my parents worked hard to give me. My great-aunt and spiritual grandmother, Luisa, always reminded me where my ancestry came from, she has told me many stories of our family’s history, our past, our mistakes, our achievements, and she always reminded me that I was brought to this world to do even better. She was the one who explained to me what a gift it was being born en la ciudad con calles de oro (in the city with the land of golden roads).
My parents, my cousins, my aunts and great-aunts and uncles and great-uncles. They all contributed to my life, to my childhood, to my ideals. Whether it was in learning from their mistakes or taking their advice, I built myself upon the stepping stones my family has provided. I am the collective mosaic result of every story, every plane ride, every mistake, every achievement, and every hope of every one of my family members. I may be the American version of a young Dominican woman. But I wouldn’t be me, if I was not a Batista and a Delacruz and a Dominican-raised, Brooklyn-born woman.