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my pace
Office of Multicultural Affairs—NYC

Above It All: The Story of Me

Brown hair, brown eyes, tanned skin, a small waist and thick legs. A quick visual, stereotypical description of a Hispanic girl that in reality has dreams she will probably never achieve. An innocent girl that has always been proud of who she is and constantly tried to over come obstacles in life that continued to appear to set her back. This young girl was seen only as a racial object, but that is not what she actually is. She is a smart, hardworking dedicated and loyal girl, which despite society’s depiction of her, continues to strive for success. Who is this girl? This girl is me.

My name is La Nena. I am the youngest of my mother’s three children and my father’s only daughter. My mother is Puerto Rican and my father was born in the Dominican Republic. His parents were from Spain and her parents were from Puerto Rico. I was conceived without notice. My mother was five months pregnant and did not know. My parents lived in a studio in the South Bronx on Bronx River Avenue in a building under my grandmother’s house; in an area with a Hispanic majority. Everyone knew each other and said they were family. My mother had two children, Peter and Krystle by the time she was eighteen. My father had three sons in the Dominican Republic that were teenagers by the time I came into the world. I was the child that was so tiny, no one would hold; that was in an incubator for almost a year because her nostrils were not fully developed; the child that would forever be known as the odd ball out. The hardest times in my life were when my race, innocence, and absence of a father became a huge factor.

As a child, I was always the outcast. My father was framed for something that he did not do when I was almost two years old and was arrested. My mother was left unemployed, with her two children and my father’s three sons whom she had brought to America, in a small studio. At the time he was framed, my father had not completed his citizenship and was deported even after the charges against him were dropped. This left me growing up without knowing what a father figure was. My mother had no choice but to become a statistic and obtain public assistance for her three children, commonly known as welfare.

Due to my mother being so young and also unemployed, she was forced to send my father’s sons to his only legal brother that lived in the Barrio on 116th, street (a place formerly comprised of Hispanic people and recently gentrified) because she knew that she could not support six children without a job. My mother moved in with a boyfriend of hers on Union Avenue. This was mainly a “Black” neighborhood and they hated my brothers and I. They would call us “wetbacks” and “spicks” when my mother was not around. My older brother and sister became the most feared kids after they began defending the “Latin” name. Since I was not from the same father as my brother and sister on my mother’s side, they beat and attempted to kill me on numerous occasions. My mother always tried to protect me but she decided to send me to live with my grandmother (abuela) back on Bronx River Avenue.

Living with my grandmother was a huge turning point for me. My grandmother was a strict Catholic and also an alcoholic. Drugs, alcohol and gangs were more popular in the 90s. My grandmother always had me in the house doing homework and helping her to clean up the house. She would only allow me to watch television in Spanish and listen to only Spanish music. She said that Spanish girls are the most beautiful women in the world and that I had to flaunt my beauty. She would also tell me that everything was a sin. Until this day, I feel that all cops are sinners because my grandmother told me that it was a sin to touch a gun. She was the epitome of a house wife. She woke up at six in the morning to clean the house and iron her husband’s clothes and told me that it was the way a wife was supposed to be. She said I had to be like a model and would not allow me to do “boy” things like play with cowboys, so that I can find a good “Spanish” man to take care of me.

My grandmother was not mentally stable at the time. She would constantly fight with her husband and I would have to watch her be abused. I can remember sitting on the couch and crying for hours until the point where I was so tired I could only breathe in and out to try and catch my breath. He would occasionally stop hitting her and tell me “Es su culpa por fartar me respect,” in Spanish meaning that everything was okay, and it was her fault that he hit her she disrespected him. I would always agree in fear that I might get hit. At the time I thought that it was okay to be beaten by your husband if you did not respect him. It was traditional.

My grandmother was very suicidal and attempted to commit suicide on various accounts. She lived in a three story building and I remember her taking prescription bills and the ambulance taking her away. The neighbors would always take me in because child services would have took me. The worst suicidal attempt she did was one morning when I woke up looking for her and saw her smoking a “Virginia Slims” cigarette on the fire escape. I went to go hug her and she jumped out of the fire escape. I remember hearing the thump on the first floor fire escape. I yelled out the window and the neighbors all ran up and consoled me. My grandmother survived but I was sent to live with my mother again at age eight.

Assuming that living with my mother was a better idea was not right at all. When I went to live with my mother I became like her “pride and joy” child. She called my brother and sister “monstros” (monsters) because they always misbehaved. My brother and sister hated the fact that I was spoiled and would neglect me and call me names. They would tell me that I did not have a father and I was adopted or that my father was a drug dealer and I was a “crack baby.” I did not know any better and would always cry. I remember thinking that my father’s oldest son, Richard, was my father because the pictures of my father had a strong resemblance to him. My mother had to remind me that he was not my father all of the time.

Since I was not allowed out of the house I was always focused on school. I was never accustomed to being a sociable person. I was very quiet and only spoke when spoken to as my mother always told me. The only people that I felt loved me were my mother and Richard who came to pick me up from time to time. I can remember my siblings from my mother’s side telling me, “Nena you are too innocent, you cannot be our sister. Mommy is mean and she is lying to you. You will see.” I never understood what they meant until after I turned ten years old.

It was a Friday night and I was at the back of Juan’s Bodega on Bronx River Avenue in the Bronx, where my mother and new step dad hung out and drank every weekend. Since no one would baby sit me, she had to drag me along while she had her “fun.” I hated being in a store with old, beer smelling men, loud music, intoxicated Hispanic women dancing around and yelling at people who were right in front of them. I would always complain. That night, my stepfather told my mother that he would take me home since I was tired and falling asleep on a milk cart in the back of the store. When we got home, I went to the living room because since my brother and sister did not like me, they would not allow me to sleep in their rooms. My mother’s room had a pad lock and he said that he did not have the key. My stepfather stayed and watched television with me. I remember waking up and hearing noises, and when I turned around he was pleasuring himself in my name. I was so scared, I remember him telling me, “Don’t tell your mom, I’ll buy you a scooter.” I caught an immediate asthma attack. He took advantage of me that night and I did not tell my mother until that Sunday after church because I was so innocent and afraid thinking that I had committed a sin.

Tears, a pounding heart and a quivering ten year old body are all I can remember feeling on that night. I was afraid to tell my mother because the word “Dick” was a curse and it was a sin to curse. I kept crying and she insisted on knowing what was wrong. I told her, “I cannot tell you because I cannot curse, it is about Cano.” Cano was my stepfather’s name. She jumped up and said, “What is the curse I will allow it.” Once I said it, her eyes watered and I told my mother the story about six times. She was supposed to be my angel and protect me. I did not have anyone else. She walked me to school the next day and had me repeat what happened that Friday over and over. When I came home, I found it odd that she picked me up because I stayed late in an after school program and would always walk home alone. She told me that he was home and was never going to do it again. I had no choice but to believe her. I went home and sat in the living room floor to watch cartoons and do my homework. He came in and started to undress again and I ran to my mother who yelled for me to get away and sit in the living room. Me, being so young and innocent, I obeyed.

Not knowing what it was to have a father figure to defend me, or what was right and wrong, kept me from speaking out. I remember that same night she was arguing with him and begging him to leave her “pride and joy” alone. He told her it was his “dick” and that if she wanted her hundred dollars a week and rent paid that she would shut up because he would leave her and she accepted. I was basically sold for a measly hundred dollars. This is what it all came down to; a mother of three, who could not finish college, using her youngest daughter for the man that she claimed she “loved.” The anger that I felt that day, I had never felt before in my life and I vowed to never become like my mother; a beautiful, healthy, educated Hispanic woman who depended on public assistance and a man to live.

As I got older, I never spoke about what happened inside of the house and accepted the mistreatment from my brother and sister. I stayed later in school and joined sports teams. I became the star student. I was nearly mute towards my family, my sister Krystle experienced something similar with my stepdad but not as intense as me and spoke out. My mother did not believe her either. That was when I spoke and my brother Peter was in shock. They hated her even more and vowed to protect me. I remember being thirteen and leaving to stay at my brother Richard’s house because I knew that my mother would never leave my stepfather. The irony is that he left her once I left.

My brother, a Dominican immigrant, always gave me good advice and told me to keep moving forward. I never had the guts to tell him what happened but sometimes I wish I did. He took the place of my father on so many occasions. I could not have pictured my life without him. I once was awarded for being an outstanding Dominican student by the Dominican Counsel in America and needed my father to prove my heritage. Of course, that was impossible and my brother took his place, but I remember how happy he was of his little sister. He always said that I was going to be someone in life and to continue up the ladder of success.

I do not speak about my father in detail because there is not much to say about him. He was not a bad guy he just made bad decisions. I met him three times in the twenty one years on this Earth. He is wealthy in the Dominican Republic and had another son that is two years old now. I love my father because he is my father. I wish that I had more time with him so that he could show me how a man is supposed to treat a woman. I know that it was wrong for my grandmother to be abused and my mother to be so vulnerable. It was hard trying to be a teenager and have a boyfriend, afraid of doing things as simple as holding hands. My father knew that he missed out on my life and regrets it more than anything. He could not do anything in the United States since he was not a citizen and no one really cared about his rights or that he had four children in the United States to provide for. The government treated him like garbage and threw him away. He was sent back to the Dominican Republic.

History tends to repeat itself. I never asked my brother what his occupation was. I just knew that when I was with Richard I was happy and did not have to worry about anything. One night, when I was fifteen, he dropped me off at my mother’s house and said, “I have to go to Florida, I will be back tomorrow.” I wanted to go with him but I was still in school and he would not allow it. When a week went by without hearing from him I began to go insane. I cried and wondered where he was. I received a call from my father one day that said he had been arrested. He had made some bad decisions like my father and was being deported. I felt like my life had been taken from me. It was the first time I destroyed anything. I broke the mirrors and plates and asked God why he was putting me through this “Hell.” It was like there was no way out.

As I got older, I stayed out a lot. I obtained two jobs in high school, became the only female on an all boys Rugby team. I spent mostly all of my time working, playing Rugby, coaching, and socializing with friends in school. My Rugby coaches were like my NEW parents and my team mates were my brothers and sisters. They assisted me in coping with all of my problems I had by showing me the future. I never believed that someone from the Bronx could be anything. For someone who grew up in a small apartment having to struggle for food and respect to have any opportunities.

Once I saw all that I had accomplished and survived, I changed my mind and started to believe in myself, I realized that the experiences that I went through were hard on an adolescent girl, but it made me open my eyes to bigger things. I was not a “sinner” I was a “victim.” I had a 99.9 average throughout the four years in High School and was known for being the founder of the New York under 19 female Rugby team. I presented the Valedictorian address at graduation and saw my mother crying in the audience and I forgave her that day because of how strong I am and how much I still loved her but continued on my road to success.

Pace University was my dream school and to work at one of the Big Four accounting firms was my dream job. The day I was accepted to Pace University had to be the most exciting day of my life. I was ecstatic. I came to a school where the majority of the students were white and that meant nothing to me because I was finally around “educated” people. . I used Rugby as a networking tool and found that my coach’s sister worked at a Big Four firm, Ernst & Young. She introduced me to her husband, who introduced me to a recruiter at, who introduced me to my boss. I could not believe that I was living my dream after all that had happened to me. My hard work was finally paying off.

Intelligent, hardworking, dedicated, inspirational, motivated and unstoppable; what people should see when they look at me. Although I was judged and I was looked down upon in life and also my freshman year at Pace University because students would only see that I was from the Bronx and not that I was intelligent it does not matter. Four years later, I still hear people in school make ignorant remarks, but I know that whether I am blue, purple, green or yellow, I am just as intelligent and capable of anything my peers can do. They were raised in a different matter and I was raised to fend for myself and to be proud of who I am. I choose to surpass people’s perception of me and continue to do well in school. The innocence that once held me back is now the strength and knowledge that I use to move forward. Even though I never had my father there to help me and educate me on life’s hardships, and always felt that gap in my heart, I learned and I made it! I forgave my parents, my siblings and even my old stepfather who ironically was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer this year. I visited my father this year and it felt great to see him and be around my family that loves me. I speak to my mother and attempt to help her any way that I can. I cherish my brother and sister and their children with all of my heart. Regardless of what happens, I know that this is my life and that I am above it all, so I refuse to allow anyone to bring me down again.

La Nena
Fall 2011