Emigration has taken my friends, my childhood acquaintances, neighbors from the place where I was born, and people I greeted once or twice in the street. One day it grabbed my paternal uncles, cousins, classmates with whom I shared the joy of graduation, and even the shy mailman who brought me the paper once a week. And, as if still unsatisfied, now it has come back for more, taking also the part closest to me, the most intimate of my life.
I remember when my sister told me she’d entered her name into an international visa lottery. Yunia was always very lucky in games of chance, so I knew what to expect from the outset. My mother tells of the day she gave birth to her, the doctors and nurses crossed themselves seeing a baby emerge from the womb with its amniotic sac almost intact.
“You came into the world in a bag,” they told her, as if this guaranteed prosperity, love, happiness. Hence, this Island seemed too narrow to contain the good fortune of my older sister. And more than twenty years ago she reached the same conclusion as the majority of my compatriots: How can one set down roots in a country where so few can bear fruit? I didn’t even try to convince her, I just watched her in a blur of paperwork here, a line waiting for permission there, meanwhile knowing that the moment of parting was near.
Finally, on Friday, her plane took off, taking also my only niece, my brother-in-law, and a little stray dog they could not abandon. My mother cried the day before, “I’m not ready! I’m not ready!” while my father hid the tears of one for whom “a man who is a man doesn’t cry.”
Nothing prepared you for the separation, Mami, for knowing that the ones you love are only ninety miles away but in an abyss of immigration restrictions.
You are right to mourn, Papi, because this distance should not be so definitive, so harrowing, so conclusive.
5 June 2011