By Belinda Castiblanco
It’s hard to find your place in a strange place. I knew that my mother lived in New York. I used to think about the city that never sleeps, the skyscrapers, the endless lights; in short, about everything Hollywood had sold me in television and movies. When I arrived in this country, I was 17 years old. My mother, whom I had not seen for almost six years, was waiting for me at the airport. I vividly remember my desire to have a mother, not figurative, but flesh and blood. There she was standing, personifying my hopes, almost like a mirage. I am sure that she also had high expectations about me. I did not recognize her, she looked tired, strange– as if a shadow covered her appearance. She did not recognize me either. “What happened daughter? How short you became? You should be taller, like your dad.” Those were the first words she said to me while she hugged me for the first time after all those orphan years, words of disenchantment.
I also felt disappointed. My mother did not live in the big metropolis, but on Long Island, in the suburbs. Compared to the deforestation of San Salvador, the North American suburbs are forests full of sequoia trees. “Where we live…it looks like a mountain,” she told me. On the way to my new home, because it was quite late at night, from the back seat of the car I could not see the mountain she was talking about. For some reason, perhaps the same reasons for why fences for horses, or for any other being that needs to be controlled, are usually painted white to make them look pretty and hide the limit of freedom they represent, what I did see was a pair of equestrian schools at our exit from the endless 495. The next day I realized that such a mountain did not exist. However, the mountain that I would have to climb to find my place in this world was very real.
I arrived on a Sunday. On Tuesday I was already working in a factory using my mother’s documentation since I was still a minor, a month away from 18; they could not wait for me to integrate the labor force of this country. I did not know that that was part of the deal, you come to work, to make money, to live for the money. That decision was made for me. What I truly wanted was to continue studying, not only to find a better job one day, but to know more, to never stop learning, to really grow. My mother didn’t notice how tall I was inside my head. I guess that is the real American way. Sometime later, I enrolled in community ESL classes. I did what I could to continue. Sadly, for young people, things do not always work out as expected. The world is against dreams that walk you on direct paths to your goals. “If it is not hard to achieve, it is not worth it,” that is the saying.