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Feliz Migra Day to Me

ClaudiLuiggiMe1991

From what my mother  told me, we landed in Florida around midnight on February 17th, 1991. What I remember was a car ride in a place I called “Nueva York”, because that was where I thought I was before I would learn that I was in fact in Nueva Jersey.  Luis and Claudia sat in the backseat. I sat on my mother’s lap, trying my best to see what was ahead of me past the snowfall. I was three years old, however, much too short to see anything even with her help.

The weather had not changed the entire ride to 290 Summer Avenue in Newark, where my grandmother Juana lived.  My gray jacket did almost nothing to protect me from the cold when I got out of the car. The first thing I noticed as I entered the house was the red carpet. My toy cars and I would get acquainted to the incredibly worn down quality of them later, but for the time being it looked royal.

We all walked into the small kitchen. That was were I met the other sponsor  for our residency in the United States — my step-grandfather George. He was a skinny little man from Pennsylvania that, despite his grumpy demeanor and two-packs-a-day voice, was very friendly to me.

Of all the memories from that day, the one that truly stuck to my mind was the family dog. He was a mixed German Shepard named Bobby. Everyone loved his excitement in meeting the four of  us, but I was terrified for his barking and size. I  wasn’t even as tall as he was, and I never really got used to him in the three years we lived in that house.

That was twenty-one years ago. My father was still tying up loose ends in Peru, so we didn’t get to see much of him in that first year. I picked up English, at least vocally, from watching episodes of Bonanza with George and music videos. While most of my memories of that time frame are almost purely fictitious at this point, I still remember that cold day, and my mother’s warm lap, and that goddamn scary dog.

I’m an immigrant, and even if I have been here almost all of my life, I don’t forget that. So today, I’m writing a story on Latinos in space, drinking chicha, and reading news in Spanish. In other words, what I do every other day. Feliz Migra Day to me.

“I’ll Call You Back, I Think I Heard a Bomb”

That’s what my uncle Marco said to my mother the morning of September 11th, 2001. Marco works for the Port Authority of NY and NJ, whose headquarters were in the World Trade Center. He was there for the 1993 bombing as well. He was calling my mom to check if they were still going to meet up at Windows on the World to get some lunch.

He hung up, and in a moment of panic and fear that her brother wouldn’t make it, she called the last person I ever thought she would: her mother. The relationship between the two was a tense one at best. When we moved out of Newark in 1995, my mother stopped all contact with her. I’d sometimes go and visit my abuela to help clean up the house, but there was no mentioning of my mother when I would sit down at night and watch TV with her. That’s six years of silence broken by the sound of a 767 smashing into the Twin Towers. For me, that encapsulates the true power of that day.

Marco made it out alive with no injuries, but one of  his coworkers, Pete Negron, did not. I never met him, but my mother had, so she had my sister print out a photo of him holding his baby son. It’s still there, next to all the other family photos on the end table in the living room. When the anniversary comes around I wonder how he’s  doing. I’m wondering how the kids who lost a parent on that day are doing today.

[ Update: I just found out that he had two sons.One was 2 years old and his older brother Pete was 11 when their father died. He spoke about his father at a speech commemorating those that died ten years ago, you can see it here.]

I remember where I was that day, but the image of my mom on the phone and my uncle running past the horror of injured people in the stairwells are the only ones that have stuck in my head. I’m trying my best not to make this a patriotic message, too many horrible things have happened since to go down that path. What I’ll keep my mind on today is family. I hope you are as well.