When Mami told me she was keeping a notebook full of her favorite memories I asked myself, “She writes?” Never in my 22 years of life have I seen Mami write anything other than the occasional phone number on the wall calendar or her name where indicated on important forms. I’ve seen her shaky handwriting. She scribes as though she lacks confidence in her penmanship. Her lettering takes up at least three lines and her capital L’s squiggle out of formation. Perhaps if Mami would have been allowed to go to school her L’s would exhibit a smoother interface.
I asked Mami to show me what she has so far and with slight hesitation she pulled out a yellow college-ruled spiraled notebook. She smiled before handing it over; she couldn’t contain her pride although overshadowed with a cloud of insecurity. She penned “Lourdes Rodriguez” on the cover and the first three sentences read as follows:
My name is Lourdes Rodriguez. I was born in Dominican Republic. I have two daughters – Suleica Ureña and Y – – Ureña . I have one son, J – – Rodriguez.
Not only can Mami write but she can also formulate coherent sentences IN ENGLISH. Mami, the same woman who makes me drive 45 minute to her house on a Wednesday night to translate spam mail, can write in English.
Now, to a person who at least has received their standard K-8, 9–12 education this may not seem impressive nor shocking. To me, this is extraordinary, fascinating and inspiring.
Mami was born and raised in El Polvazo. In the 60s/70s, the children had to wait years to complete their elementary school education. Courses were given based on if and when a teacher was available to teach. The 7th grade was taught via radio – the children gathered to listen to an instructor despite frequency disturbances.
The average American child graduates from the 8th grade at the age of 14. An 8th grade teacher did not become available in El Polvazo until Mami was 19. She was forced to wait FIVE YEARS to complete the 8th grade. High school was not an option. My mother was one out of 29 children; there wasn’t enough money to put them all through school. There was no such thing as guaranteed or adequate education (Americans don’t know how good they have it). Therefore whatever she had learned throughout her interrupted education would have had to suffice.
Education obstacles aside, what is most riveting about Mami writing is the reason as to WHY she is doing it – to memorialize her experiences. Her spiraled notebook houses random memories that range from her childhood in El Polvazo to her adulthood in New Jersey; memories that, unless penned, I would have no awareness of.
For the sake of respecting her privacy and insecurities, I have not read past the introductory paragraph in Mami’s notebook. She was coy about letting me see it in the first place so I decided perhaps its best to wait until she is ready to present it in its entirety. As I wait for the day that she’ll grant me full access to the inner mechanisms of her mind, I pride myself in knowing that Mami and I share an equal love and appreciation for writing.