“Here You Are”

“Here You Are”

my poems don’t rhyme anymore
they fall and they rise
or they keep falling
or keep rising
they twist your mouth
into uncomfortable shapes
they are awkward
unkind, they make sense
only to me
but still i wrap them
in myself
and gift them to you
the one with bright eyes
squinting in wonder
asking which words
which sounds
fit together
when do you pause
when can your tongue rest
you do not know
but still
here you are

“Images of My Mother”

“Images of My Mother”

I want to tattoo my body
with the image of my mother
watch my hands master spices
see my calves grow in size
so I too can run marathons
with four babies on my shoulders

When my voice turns into hers
My tongue will grow heavy
with tastes of herbs and te amo‘s
watch my whispers soothe cyclones
remind all daughters to breathe
again and again

When I crawl into her skin
and I taste the church’s wine
I see God underneath my eyelids
feel the lord’s blood join our own
and the darkness would feel warm
for the first time

I want to tattoo my body
with the image of my mother
so when I look in my reflection
I can finally believe
I too have the strength
of a thousand women

Love & Service in Maryland

Love & Service in Maryland

The frizz in my curls, grime under my nails, and the rips between my jeans faded away in the mist of northern Maryland. Last week, I was weightless. Surface burdens were cured with love, service, and a new family.

Eight days ago, twelve strangers gathered in a crowded airport at 5 in the morning. At the time, the only thing we had in common was a gate number and the commitment to use our spring break to bring a little bit of light into a community. What we didn’t know was exactly how much light we would bring into ourselves.

I fell in love with service 10 years ago in the Dominican Republic. When I was a little girl my cousin took me with her to see this elderly woman who lived in the village. She was frail, thin, small and wore a dress with tiny daisies. She sat on a wooden rocking chair in her living room that had pictures of disciples, saints, and a colossal rosary hung by the doorway. The room was small and all the windows were open. A faint tropical breeze eased the heat we endured from the walk through the village.

“Por qué estamos aquí?” I asked, confused on why my cousin took me here.

“Ella se esta muriendo,” she responded. The woman was dying. “We are here to say goodbye.”

We were not the only ones in the living room that sweltering hot afternoon in the Dominican Republic, the room was packed with relatives, friends, a pastor, and the sound of children laughing in the nearby farm. In this impoverished village with limited electricity, unkept dirt roads, and in the face of death, the one in the rocking chair in the stained daisy dress seemed to be the happiest woman alive. She was among those she loved and that was enough.

 It may seem unrelated, but for me the connection from this and my love for service is clear. I have devoted my entire life to love and community. When I wear a daisy dress and sit back in a rocking chair I want my final glimpse of life to be full with people who can smile in the face of sadness. I do service because everyone deserves to have the opportunity to live in happiness and among those they love despite their circumstances.

 In Maryland, we slept in a church’s attic for six nights. With no showers, we drove to the YMCA every day to wash after long days working for Habitat for Humanity. Together we power washed porches, installed dry wall, did trail work, scraped flooring, painted ceilings, poured cement, swept floors, fixed windows, and most importantly found love within ourselves. Our little group of strangers, through sweat, service, and enclosed spaces turned into a second family as our hearts swelled with joy from the satisfaction of the work we were doing.

On the third day of our Maryland service trip I met a woman who has been volunteering with Habitat for seven and a half years. Every Wednesday, she takes a day off from being a nurse to care for the community she lives in. After only speaking with her for a few moments, I felt a sensation unlike any other. I was in the presence of someone who truly understood the power of love and humanity. For six days out of the week, she professionally takes care of other people. She watches people die, babies born, cares for the sick, love for those who need love, and still after all of this volunteers every Wednesday. This woman does not see service as a box to be checked off or something on her to-do list. She unapologetically loves others for a living. If each human on this planet took a day to live like this nurse does, even for a few moments, the world will instantly become a kinder place to live in.

I live through the words of Cornell West: “…social justice is what love looks like in public.” I will never stop doing service because I will never stop loving. What is important about service is to remember that it does not live in the boundaries of a few days, but it must survive in each of us. I do service because for me community service is not only a trip or an extra bullet on a resume, it is a responsibility that comes with being human. The power of community does not end in an airport on the last day of an alternative spring break trip because the love in a community never ends. Community service is more than an Instagram post. It is more than a hashtag. It is a lifestyle with a balance of self love and selflessness. In order to serve we must rise like the mist in Maryland and love like the woman in a daisy printed dress.

A Declaration of Self Love

I’m familiar negotiating who I am to please others. Some may call me inauthentic, I call this self-protection. However, I have burned through my shields. Too tired to be exhausted, this continuous disguise has faded. It’s time I accept myself and no longer sacrifice self-love for overall acceptance.

The mask I wear runs deeper than my foundation, and so today I decide to shift my narrative. I am no longer a finished product of what I’ve been through, I am a project continuously craving care, love, and attention. Today, I am proudly high maintenance. I must treat my body with the ultimate fragility. I understand I am the only constant character in my life. I will contribute only to my self preservation. Tonight, in my sweat pants and coiled hair I am nothing less than a Queen.

I deserve to be heard. I deserve to be loved. I deserve to be royalty.

12:46am, February 28th, 2016 the minute I unapologetically decided to love myself

“23 Likes” A Photo Diary

I was looking back at my old Instagram posts and came across a picture of myself in a terribly ugly pink and blue sweater. I realized… that’s exactly what I wore when I found out my father died.

I looked at the post and below were a series of compliments. Who would have known those words would be meaningless and reread over and over as I look back on the day my father left me for the last time. After some thinking, I decided to put a collection of photos together all taken from my Instagram during the few months I went through the most grief but posed for the most “smiles.”

Each photo has a little glimpse of what was really going on behind the screen.

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166 Weeks Ago.

I took this picture the day my mother and I finally got the keys to our new apartment after we moved from Miami. It took 5 months for us to find a place to live in our price range. For months we both were living in a tiny apartment alongside my sister, nephew, and niece who were selfless enough to shelter us during our search. That night, mom and I had no furniture but what we did have was a frozen 10 dollar pizza from Walmart across the street and that was all we needed. It was a beautiful night, I wouldn’t have given it up for the world.

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164 Weeks Ago.

This was the fist time I saw snow in my new home, Boston. Posed, but the happiness you see in my face was completely authentic. I was scared but excited to start my new life in this city. 

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162 Weeks Ago.

Straight Hair. Picture taken after 2 and a half hours of heat applied to my hair. I straightened my hair for years to be “beautiful.” I hated my curls, especially under hats. I blamed convenience for ignorance. I wear my hair curly now. I still love this picture.

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161 Weeks Ago.

I took this picture the morning my father died.

It was ugly sweater day. I felt really pretty that morning. I was asked to be dismissed from class in the middle of my English midterm and told by my sister he was dead when we were driving back home. This was the hardest day of my life. I flew to the Dominican that night. I got 23 likes.

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159 Weeks Ago.

I took this “funny” picture in the hospital. Before flying back to the US from my father’s funeral, my mom asked if my grandmother wanted to come back with us since she wasn’t feeling well and we knew a hospital that could help her. She had a cardiac arrest the night we landed. I posted this picture so people wouldn’t know what I was actually going through. She wasn’t gone yet when we took this. I don’t think this picture is that funny. We spent New Year’s in the hospital.

The day after this picture was posted I was curled on the bathroom floor of a Boston hospital forgetting what it felt like to breathe. This picture only received 13 likes. I miss her so much. 

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159 Weeks Ago.

Baby Valentina giving us joy in the waiting room during the hardest week of our lives. I captioned it #Beautiful. No one would know exactly where this was taken until now.

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157 Week Ago.

My mom flew to the Dominican for my grandmother’s funeral. I stayed behind and too scared to sleep alone I stayed with my cousins for two months. They put this together so I wouldn’t be sad. My anxiety was unbearable. That night I woke up in the middle of the night and ended up passing out on the way to the bathroom. My head always hurt. My grief was physical. They helped me.

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157 Weeks Ago.

I took that of my cousins after church. I went with them every Sunday my mom was gone and prayed the same prayer. I remember that was the first time in a long time I laughed authentically. I love this picture… look at my nephew’s face. Priceless. 

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141 Weeks Ago

My sister, my mother, and I were laying in bed and I noticed the beautiful shadows form from our blinds. We rose our legs and I snapped a picture. Inside we were all hurting but it was Mother’s Day, we rejected the pain just for a moment. We didn’t know it then but time was healing us. 

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135 Weeks Ago.

My mother raises her arms with a huge smile on her face. She uses her light and her strength to overcome the pain from losing her mom and the father of her children. Look at her face… so beautiful. This picture represent healing. This picture only got 37 likes, but it deserved millions. Te amo mami. 


a six sentence story

It all started on a day like today. I decided to start a story with “It all started.” These three words, made of gunpowder to an unplanned rushed story, hold more potential than talent. When words refuse to lend themselves I write in a panic “It all started when my heart stopped working” or “It all started when he told me his sister died.” Yesterday told me to write “It all started when it never started at all.” Today, however, started like never before, on the cusp of tomorrow ending.


Student Activism at Suffolk University

What the McNair Scholars at Suffolk University Did to Keep Their Space


As a first generation college student and U.S citizen, I have navigated the streets of Suffolk University on my toes. Living in the body of a low income person of color on a campus overflowing with privilege, living unapologetically is nothing less than radical. It is unusual to meet administrators, faculty, and professors that openly ask to embrace the culture of myself and people like me in an academic environment unless you were in the arms of the McNair Scholars program. As a McNair, I was taught to believe my future PhD was less a dream and more an upcoming reality even as a Latina sin complejos. The office has grounded myself and multiple others as students free from fear and lack of access. However, Suffolk University clearly did not understand the power of students and student activism when they decided to take away the McNair space. We as students had no other choice but prove what the recently liberated are capable of. This is our story.

Before I get started, a little background: the McNair Scholars are a part of the TRIO program funded at 151 institutions in the US that is reserved for students with historically disenfranchised identities. This means that most of the McNair scholars are first generation college students/people of color. En otras palabras, son mi gente. Raised in a family that emigrated from la República Dominica, my skill set is broad but not necessarily tailored to be successful in an American private institution such as Suffolk University. The McNair Scholar program facilitates mentorship that helps people like me attain the cultural capital needed to pipeline us into PhD programs that will change the course of our lives forever.

In Suffolk, I consistently find myself negotiating with those in power in order to have some sort of agency on campus. What the higher administration needs to understand is that I should not be negotiating my worth with people who do not care to learn my story, my talents, or my experiences. They should be asking me and my peers what we need. This is a concept that non-first generation students learn way before stepping on campus. They learn that it is ok to talk to your professors after class when you have a question, they have family members who’s been reviewing their resumes since high school, they know to send thank you cards after a job interview… a gesture I learned only last year. After I became a McNair Scholar, I ascended from the “minority of the minority.” Inside the Center for Academic Access and Opportunity, I am treated as a future colleague by the advisors and directors who’s main goal is our success. In the Center, we are finally able to breathe. When we speak about our lives and our experiences, we are not pitied. We are empowered. Our one “down” identities don’t feel very down anymore.

In the middle of November, I received a message from a fellow scholar at the center with word about the status of the program we love. Suffolk decided to implement an open-door floor plan transforming a set of departments into an open community for offices on campus to share resources. This would push the entire Center into a tiny corner with absolutely no chance for privacy. Offices for one on one students would need to be reserved and there would be no space for showcasing student research. This set up was not conducive for students who needed one on one care and private resources. We knew we deserved an entire building, and they were only giving us a few square feet. Our space, our privacy, and our home would be at jeopardy if the students didn’t do anything about it. This was a clear representation that the importance of our program was not properly acknowledged by the university and our value was being looked over. It was a my responsibility to respond to that text with action and so the movement began. If the administrators in the office decided to do what I did, or anyone paid by the University spoke up and demanded a change in plans they could lose their positions so the McNair Scholars began communications about how to make them listen to us and give us our space back. We needed to stop negotiating, and start demanding. Flowers need space to bloom.

Activism requires vulnerability. Before using the power of all the McNair Scholars to demand action, I decided to share my own narrative to professionals to make them understand how much the program meant to me and why we were so passionate about keeping the space we had. As a young child, I was told every day by Mamí that I could do whatever I wanted as long as I had paciensia and inteligencia. Young, wide eyed, and hopeful I believed her. When we were priced out of our New York home, I believed a little less. When I didn’t do well in school, I believed a little less. When my dad died, I almost didn’t believe at all. I physically could feel myself lose trust in the potential I had, and learned how much harder I had to work to fight the statistics stacked against me. I needed to mentally build myself back and believe that I was not only capable of escaping government welfare paperwork, but I was worthy enough to lot my experiences define me. I defined my experiences.

I learned about privilege in 2013, when I slept over my friend’s house and saw the dad doing the dishes. Eating a toasted bagel with strawberry cream cheese, I watched my friend’s mother sip coffee and thought about the realities of students who didn’t have to translate their school paperwork for their parents. Some students didn’t have to buy a calling card to talk to their father. Some students didn’t walk straight to the clearance rack. Some students didn’t try to fit in, they just did. The envy started in my chest. It took years to break down this ugliness and realize that regardless of my background I am still the one controlling my future. I learned to cherish my story and take it with me to the Suffolk campus the following August. When I stepped in the library for the first time, I remember looking around and realizing that I was literally on the same playing field as all my peers. That my background, income, nor clothes could dictate my future.. Unfortunately, I slowly realized I was playing a card game where I never learned the rules. My naiveté was exposed, but the McNair Scholar program caught me when I was falling into a dangerous place.

This is why the McNair Scholars decided to refuse the disrespectful offer to decrease our space. Too many students like me step onto these campuses with these experiences and I am not scared to demand affirmation rather than invisibility but that took time of growth. Speaking to someone who never experienced living without, they would have never seen the absolute terrible idea of combining the center with other departments. The first step the McNair Scholars took included meeting and deciding exactly what we were going to do. We met in a conference room and wrote out all the plans and timelines. The objective was to maintain the McNair space and receive written confirmation before the Fall semester ended. We would send out an email and ask for support from administrators in the CAAO, then contact a high level administrator with enough power to give us what we wanted. In addition, we would only allow two days for a response from the high level administrator since we were working on a very time sensitive timeline (less than a month before Winter Break) in addition to meeting with someone who decided to move our office. The last resort, if these emails and meetings were futile would be to organize a sit-in on the 7th floor.

The emails went beautifully and when the administrator decided to meet with us, they limited the meeting to specific scholars: Stephanie Breen, Isaac Berko, and myself. The meeting started off simple, the administrator smiled at us and welcomed us into a conference room on the highest floor of the building. The hallways had windows in place of ceilings, and the sun’s rays illuminated the translucent navy blue and gold ridged doors. It was the most beautiful floor I’ve ever seen on campus. I remember thinking the irony of three first generation people of color walking onto this floor, professionally dressed and significantly prepared we were the ones in charge now. With the support of the McNair administrators behind us, Stephanie, Isaac, and I started fighting for our lives.

When the administrator tried to convince us we would be “better off” with a smaller space because they had had more windows than we did, Stephanie quickly revoked his statement and said we were fighting for space not for lighting. When they tried to tell us the open-door concept worked on the Suffolk Madrid campus and would be an upgrade, we thanked him for the upgrade but politely declined. When they talked about privacy taking away from the community on the floor, I made it very clear how privacy suggests safety something that can not be promised to people like us on this campus unless the right resources are provided for us. Half an hour into the meeting, you can tell the administrator was frustrated and so were we. Surely, the administrator did not expect us to be so prepared and respond to all of their points con paciensia y inteligencia.

In that room, we used our personal experiences, our honesty about campus inclusion, and our wit to stand our ground. Together we emphasized our need for privacy, the impracticality of the open floor concept, the importance the McNair program had in our lives, and the disrespect we felt when we found out our office would be condensed. The administrator responded with bewilderment. They did not understand how much this meant to us. I still do not think they understands how a group of students were able to organize and fight for a few hundred square feet on campus. In all honesty though, how could we ask them, in that hour, to understand the discomfort we feel every day holding the identities we hold? How could we ask of them the importance that our voices were to be heard? Universities nationwide take pride in being student-centric, but this becomes a facade when students are not represented in areas on a campus that make the most change. If a university is meant to serve students, than as students we have every right to ask what we need and expect these demands to be filled.

At one point, the administrator told us since we rejected the “upgrade” (as they put it), we should consult with the scholars and send them a list of resources that we need in order to feel satisfied in this moving transition. The scholars responded the following Monday with an email that included the following resources for our ‘dream space’: a kitchen, bare walls for posters, conference room, private offices with doors for administrators, a lounge, a couch, a computer lab, an office for the office assistance, a welcome desk, and ample space for gatherings. We strategically decided to send this because it included all the resources we already had and knew was impossible to replicate in an open concept floor plan. We were scholars after all. The administrator responded with merely two words: “thank you.” Empty. Brittle. Unproductive.

Stephanie, Isaac, and I have decided that the sit-in would need to happen as soon as possible. It was clear that our voices were being silenced and the McNair Scholars were ready to fight. Immediately, I started to contact various organizations to co-sponsor the sit-in and right before I had my first meeting with a club interested in helping us get more people participate in the sit-in, we contacted President McKenna for support. The President of Suffolk Unviersity

Below is an excerpt from the letter:

“When we say “us,” we are the marginalized, minority, historically disenfranchised, underrepresented students in this University who need the most support from people like you. After consulting with other McNair scholars we do not believe the new space will be worthy of our potential. Consistently campuses nationwide are telling us we don’t matter via budget cuts, vandalized cultural centers, and ignored pleas for action. The relocation decision is supporting the trend these campuses are falling into and we would like to set up a meeting with you to discuss our concerns.”

Soon after this email was set, we heard back from a woman on campus who held much more authority than the administrator we previously met with. She told us our voices were heard. She told us we were keeping our space. Students have rallied, fought, and won this battle. For the next few years, we can be comfortable sitting in our center and knowing it was our activism and our strategy that was able to convince faculty, administrators, and even the President McKenna that we are done negotiating. We are announcing our worth and our power on this campus. We knew change was going to happen because we would take not stop until we were satisfied. It is imperative for students to realize how much power they really have on campus. We learned throughout this process that we do have to work harder than anyone else to get what we need, and in that hard work comes more reward for the people after us. If I was an administrator, sending these emails and potentially organizing a sit-in I would have immediately been terminated. Your status as a student actually protects you on campus. Although we made people angry, sacrificed hours planning, and sent countless emails, the time was anything but lost. We won. Valió la pena.

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