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Small Axe 10.1 (2006) 74-93
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A Story of Border Crossings
Sunrise of the first day and the passengers were already acting as though they belonged to one family. It was not long before we came to know each other's life stories. The topic of conversation, of course, was what lay ahead: life in New York. First, savings would be for sending for close relatives. Years later the time would come to return home with pots of money. Everyone's mind was on that farm they'd be buying or the business they'd set up in town. . . . All of us were building our own little castles in the sky.
This article's form transgresses multiple literary boundaries: it is at once a memoir, ethnography, imaginative literature, and social critique. The ambiguity and fluidity allowed by crossing literary borders is central to the article's significance. Its form mirrors the mind of a border crosser, the person who occupies many spaces simultaneously, yet fails to fully belong to any one place. The anticipations of some first-time border crossers are captured well by Bernardo Vega.1
The 1979 white Cadillac made its way to the Aeropuerto Internacional de Isla Verde on a sunny Monday afternoon in 1982. The stereo was blasting: "Si te quieres divertir con [End Page 74] encanto y con primor sólo tienes que vivir un verano en Nueva York."2 El Gran Combo's song and a couple of cardboard boxes full of pasteles3 my mother had spent a whole night making, a dozen jueyes (land crabs), and frozen fish from the Caribbean Sea kept me company in the back seat. I was eight years old and suffering from a bout of insomnia. I had not been able to sleep for the past three nights and for the last two months I nagged my mother with one constant question: "¿Mami, cuánto falta pa' ir pa' Nueva York?" (Mami, how long before we go to New York). My mother and I were going to Nueva York for the first time in our lives. She had decided to leave my stepfather and go to the Big Apple to pursue dreams of economic and emotional independence. She put the plane tickets, the suitcases, and our travel clothes on layaway all on the same day. She did not tell my stepdad. This was to be our little secret, and around him I was a vault. A week before our big trip to Nueva York she broke the news to my stepdad: "¡Yo me voy pa' Nueva York con la nena. Ya yo me cansé de tus malas costumbres!" (I am going to New York with my daughter. I am tired of your bad habits). After that, my stepdad was the nicest person on earth. And many nights after that I heard him tell my mother: "Don't leave! I lived in New York most of my life and you won't like it there. Stay!" I on the other hand, pleaded with my mother not to change her mind.
"Te levanta de rodillas tus amigos caprichosos te llevan para las villas o a la montaña del oso. Luego una jira de un barco o a la Playa de Ochanbrillo la fiesta del Mamoncillo o con la copa en un charco."4
I sometimes heard people say that my step dad "parecía una mosca en un vaso de leche" (looked like a fly in a glass of milk) inside his white Cadillac. On this day, I didn't care because I was wearing my brand new pink dress, I had my long hair in two braids, my white shoes were shiny, and I was ready to board the Eastern Airlines plane I had seen so many times advertised on television during novela (soap opera) time. As we approached the airport my excitement grew, my stepdad became sadder, and my mother became more confused. I thought I heard the jueyes crawling around inside the cardboard...