Honor Your Mothers and Grandmothers
To honor ourselves, we must first learn to honor our mothers, grandmothers, and every ancestor before them. We do not realize how much we accept from them until they are gone. This Mother’s Day, send the ones you love well wishes. Honor the gifts they give you, big or small, because magic is hereditary, and tradition can be forever if you make it so.
Here is a poem I wrote for my late Abuelita. We were not very close in life, sadly. She passed before we could truly connect. Thanks to the stories from our family, though, I feel we are closer than ever. I thank her for my gifts and my life, and I honor her in my writing and my healing.
My Abuelita Nilda sat on a peak beside El Yunque and rubbed aloe into the bodies of the sick, the needy, the tireless. She was the town healer, a prestigious title given to those with the softest hearts. Everyone on the hillside came to her for aid. In their tin homes, they boiled inojo and drank it to fend off colds, sank into tubs of warm water and arnica to scare away the aches of the day. I never knew her as they did: homeopath, medicine woman, devoted worshipper. I saw a shriveled old woman, speaking a language beat out of me by the nuns from St. Andrews. I was too young to appreciate the steady hands that she retained even when she lost her mind.
Every three years or so, my family went to visit her in Puerto Rico. We swam in the ocean together, looking towards the U.S. Virgin Islands. I watched my grandmother, Luisa, Abuelita’s daughter, hold Nilda’s hands as she floated on an inner tube. She was so happy her people had come home, so happy, after the passing of her husband, that she could drift beneath the warm sun with us.
Beyond our pocket of kinship, I could see El Sol de Jayuya carved into a rock above the quay. A symbol of those long past, those hidden deep within my blood, the Sun God of Jayuya burns the pale skin I inherited from my father. Our ancestors gave Abuelita the beige gift of tradition. They left me with the taste of sofrito on my tongue and nothing more.
In the clear blue water, I watched fish dart around Abuelita’s ancient legs, kissing the bark of her skin, blessing her. The palm trees seemed to lean down and shield us. Dolphins danced in the waves and sang for us. The island loved her. I was uncaring of the magic surrounding her. Unknowing of the practice being handed down to me when she grasped my hands later that night and said, “Te amo, te amo, te amo.”
She died two years later, surrounded by her immediate family. I was trapped in New Jersey, tangled in freezing interstates. Now I am jealous of her connection to our family, to the island where she remains shall lie forever in the land that adored her. The cold seasons in Essex County are years away from Borinquen’s loving embrace. When I return one day, I hope it is to the familiar kiss on the sea wind, the memory of the barrio lights down past the rainforest hill, the lullaby of coqui and crickets. Abuelita’s room will be empty but I will smell her magic in the house, and when I come outside I will see torongil, pasote, savila, arnica, inojo growing up after my steady footsteps.