by Madelyn Romero-Melgar
I’ve always known my mother was born in El Salvador, but for a long time I didn’t know what being an immigrant meant. For us, it meant instability and uncertainty. It meant exhausting our options: spending a few nights with family but getting kicked out by their landlord, sleeping in shelters, or in our car. For my mother, it meant sacrificing her standards, like putting up with men that didn’t respect her, just to have a place for us to stay. Places that never lasted because my mother was a fierce woman, but each time we moved, she would comfort us with a promise that one day we would have our own house and our own rooms.
In the quietest neighborhood of Bay Shore, the White House peacefully watched my older sister regularly beat me at board games. It sang along with us to “Graduation” by Vitamin C on the radio. That song made my sister sad because it reminded her of old friends. One night, I saw a shooting star and wished for a million dollars. I went to bed imagining what I’d do with all that money. But the next morning when I shared the good news with my sister, she said it wouldn’t come true since I revealed it. The White House eventually kicked us out because of loud fights between my mother and her boyfriend.
The Apartments welcomed my brother into this world. We lived on each corner of those apartments; it knew us well. The East corner watched my brother take his first steps. The South corner danced to Selena with me. The West corner taught me how to ride a bike. The North corner taught my sister and I English. One night, my mother left to attend a party with her boyfriend. My sister snuck us out at midnight to go to the opposite corner of the apartments where my aunt lived. That caused problems for my mother within her family and her relationship. There were many fights here too. We eventually had to leave.
My mother told my sister and I that she was sending us on vacation to El Salvador. That vacation lasted most of the school year. It wasn’t much different than the Apartments, but instead of kids, I played with the farm animals. One day the girls in my class put gum on my skirt and laughed at me. My sister stood up for me and stayed with me during recess instead of playing with her classmates, even though those girls liked her. Eventually, she walked us out of school to never return again. My sister called my aunt back in the states everyday to remind her that we were there.
When we came back, my mother wasn’t ready to receive us. They split us up and I stayed on a busy street called Gibson Avenue with my aunt. Gibson introduced us to a case worker that wanted us to choose who we wanted to live with. I watched my sister cry uncontrollably for the first time. I knew it was my turn to be strong. We didn’t answer that woman but somehow we reunited with my mother.
1580 was a big blue house that stood between two towns. It gave my sister her own room but I still had to share with my brother. 1580 introduced us to kids with trampolines, and in its own backyard it had a tiny pool that we played in everyday. My mother eventually ripped it apart because we kept wetting the floors. 1580 taught my brother that he could run and hide behind me when he was being punished and that I would protect him. It taught my sister to stand in between and break up our mother’s fights with her boyfriend and their separation meant we had to leave again.
Cardinal Court welcomed my baby sister into the world. It enjoyed Selena too. It taught my brother how to ride a bike and it was one of many places I defended him from the bigger kids on the block. Cardinal toughened me up and it gave me two scars: one from falling off my bike and one from opening a can of food, which should have gotten stitches but I didn’t want to bother anyone. One day, I accidentally caught my sister smoking. She told me to keep it a secret and confessed that it helped her relax. We had to leave Cardinal behind for the same old reasons.
After a long car ride, we ended up in North Carolina. My baby sister cried a lot. I think she missed her dad. I enjoyed rocking and singing her to sleep. North Carolina didn’t get to know us that well because her father eventually came to get us.
We arrived at a dead end street in Brentwood called Wendy Lane. I continued putting my baby sister to sleep since I learned how to calm her down. My new friends would come to my window to rush me to play baseball, football, and manhunt. My older sister was in high school, had a boyfriend, and started to work. Wendy Lane witnessed my first kiss and my first fight. It taught me how to make mac-n-cheese and write poems. It idly watched my mother’s boyfriend argue with us and throw our stuff away and it noticed when I stole his cigarettes and beer. My mother made many attempts to leave but we always came back. One day, as I was playing outside, I noticed police cars pulling up and my aunt pulling up to the house. I was greeted by my sister saying, “We are leaving for good this time.” Saddened but not surprised, I waved goodbye to all my friends as we drove off.
On Wendy Lane my mother pretended to work overtime as she secretly took her citizenship classes. My mother’s first act as a citizen was to fulfill her promise. We moved on our own to a little white house with blue shutters in Central Islip, a town we’d never heard of. Cranberry Street officially welcomed my mother into this world.
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Madelyn Romero-Melgar was born and raised mostly on Long Island, New York. She is first-generation American and her parents emigrated from El Salvador. Throughout her life, she has faced many challenges that created a passion within her to help children and families. She is passionate about child development and developing healthy family dynamics. She is graduating from LaGuardia Community College with a psychology degree and aspires to transfer to a four-year college that will help her achieve her goals. Find her on Instagram @madx320.
Image credit: “Welcome.” Flickr Public Domain.