Kelvin, My mom, Evan and I

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Family Made Gee Gee


“Gissellita, como se dice mesa en inglés?” said Miriam.  “Se dice comedor!” I responded excitedly.  At four years old, I had no idea that I had just translated from Spanish to Spanish.  This became the joke at all family functions.  You see, although I was born here my mother is from Honduras and only spoke Spanish.  Along with her, my babysitter Miriam and all her family are from Cali, Colombia.  Miriam and her husband Misael were like a second mother and father to me. They had three children all older than me.  Edgar was the oldest and looked much like Misael, short, stocky, and very protective of us “youngsters”.  He also was the same age as my biological brother Kelvin.  Unlike Edgar, Kelvin was tall and skinny with Bugs Bunny teeth, as only I called them.  Then there were the twins or mellisos, as we would call them, Wilmer and Milleralandy.  They are three years older than me and made me into their little toy.  So as you can imagine I never was taught any other language.  I guess they figured I would learn English in school.  When I turned four years old, my mother enrolled me in Pre-K at Cunningham Elementary School.  My mother did not know I was entering a world of discrimination that I had never been exposed to, and was definitely not prepared for.  For most of the year I had a difficult time because I was the only African-American girl in an ESL class in a mostly Hispanic neighborhood.  I was too “Black” for the Hispanics and too “Hispanic” for the “Blacks”.  I remember one day I came home crying to my mother because another child had told me that I was “Black” and that’s why she didn’t like me.  My mother walked into the kitchen, grabbed a cast iron skillet and told me “This is Black. Are you this color Gisselle?”  “No” I replied.  She went on to say, “You, are the color of cinnamon and don’t let anyone tell you different”.  I went to school the next day and told that girl and everyone around them couldn’t call me Black because “I AM CINAMMON!”  As the school year progressed with the help of Ms. Stafford, my teacher, the students learned to accept me and know that there are African-Americans descendants of Hispanics and all of us began our journey into learning the English language as equals.
By the time I got to the fourth grade I was fluent in English.  At least I thought I was, since I did not translate Spanish into Spanish anymore and was officially out of ESL classes.  At this point I regained my self-esteem, adapted to this new world, and learned not to get upset at people’s ignorance, rather help them by expanding their knowledge when it comes to different cultures.  Throughout the rest of my school years, I not only excelled academically but I tried to provide my classmates with knowledge about the Hispanic culture.  Try to help my classmates that we all come from a mixture of races and should never judge a book by its cover.  Now it was time to enter a new stage in my life.  I was soon to graduate and enter college.  I knew from the time that I was in sixth grade that I wanted to attend Howard University in Washington, D.C., live on campus and travel to my relative’s house in Manassas, Virginia on the weekends.  But sometimes life throws us curve balls and our plans do not go as planned.
Two months prior to my graduation my mother was told that she would need to undergo a full hysterectomy and my brother received orders to deploy.  In our culture, we are taught that family comes first and if one is down we have to be there to help them.  My aunts and uncles spoke to me and told me that I could not leave my mother alone during this time and my obligation was to stay and care for her.  So I did.  In the fall of 2004 I enrolled at the University of Houston Main Campus.  I walked into my first class and knew that this would be a disaster.  My class was being held in an auditorium with about 300 other students.  I have never been able to learn in an environment like that.  Part of the reason why I had chosen to attend Howard is because it was a private university with smaller classes.  In order for me to learn I have to have interaction with my professors.  Not only did my class become more difficult but my family life was also challenging.  My mother had some complications after her surgery due to her Diabetes and there was no one there to help her but me.  We were in and out the hospital and even joked about Memorial Hermann Southwest being our home away from home.  I spent most of my days in class, working, and sleeping in the hospital to make sure that my mother was ok.  Needless to say my grades fell and school became less feasible for me at that particular time. 

Let’s go back a few years so that you can better understand my family, particularly my mother. Martha, my mother, is the third of seven children born to Ofelia Casildo and Sebastian Guity.  My Grandfather Sebastian was a very hardworking man who believed in taking care of his family so that his children did not ever have to go hungry.  He did not have much family since his mother died when he was a child and he was raised by a chumagu, white, family in Tela, Atlantida, Honduras.  My grandmother was one of two daughters and was not close to her mother since she always showed preference for her sister Maria.  Both of my grandparents did what they could and although they were not rich they provided a home for their children and never went without necessities.  Still, they both wanted more for their children.  Since my oldest aunt had children and my uncle was already working my grandparents decided to send my mother to America. Although she was only seventeen years old, she was the first to arrive in the United States from Honduras, Central America in the family.  When she arrived in New York City, she had no family or friends.  The only person that she knew was a woman, named Carla, who had promised my grandmother that she would help my mother complete her studies so that she may better herself and help the rest of her family come to America.  Unfortunately, that was not in the Carla’s plans at all.  Carla treated my mother like a slave and made my mother give up all of the money that she earned in her paycheck.  One time my mother decided that she wanted to go to a hairdresser, when Carla saw her walk in the house with her hair done, she slapped her.  She was instructed not to ever use “her” money for such an unnecessary thing.  That was the day that my mother decided to escape from Carla’s “prison” and go to Damari’s house.  Damari worked with my mother at the factory and was a single woman who lived with her mother in Staten Island.  Although my mother never finished her studies, and never told my grandmother why, she worked hard and saved money to help her siblings migrate over to the U.S. and accomplish a better life.  When she was twenty five years old she moved down south to Houston and brought over her brother Marcos.  Tio Marcos is the fourth child of my grandparents.  Not only did he look like my grandfather but he also had my grandfather’s traits.  He is also a hardworking man and came to help my mother accomplish what my grandparents dreamed of, a better life for their family.   By the time my mother had been in America fifteen years and my uncle 10 years, they had helped all but one of her siblings come over and got both of my grandparents VISA’s so that they may visit us.  You see that is what my family has always been taught.  We have to be there to help one another regardless of what may or may not be going on in your life.  This is why I had to choose family needs over my own, because that is what I was taught to do. 
Once my grades dropped, and my energy level was close to none I decided to withdraw from U of H and enroll in a school where I could earn a certificate.  After spending most of the last year in and out of hospitals I decided that I liked the medical field.  So in December of 2005 I enrolled at the National Institute of Technology and by July of 2006 I earned a certificate in Medical Assisting and was working in the emergency room at Methodist Hospital.  I loved working in the ER and felt like I was learning so much.  In a short period time I was able to start intravenous lines, catheters, and help with CPR on a patient who was crashing.  My family had thought me how to be reliable and eager to learn.  I was always on time for work and felt like this was what I was longing for.  At last I felt like my life was finally going in the right path.  I had decided on my career goal.  I wanted to become a Registered Nurse.  Although I knew that it would take much effort, I also knew that I was finally in a place that I could manage.  My mother was still struggling with Diabetes and Sarcoidosis but her diseases had been under control we were not in and out of hospitals anymore.  Everything seemed to be slowly falling into place until the day I got a call from Karen.
 Although we are only first cousins, Karen and I, our relationship is more like that of sisters.  She is the life of every party; you are guaranteed to keep laughing while she is around.  When you walk with her in the streets of New York, you would swear she knows everyone.  Well in 2007 she was told that she may have developed cervical cancer.  When she called me I had no idea how to react.  In a moment’s time I felt all type of emotions; sadness, anger, pain, hopelessness, anything that you could imagine.  One thing that I knew for sure was that she needed me and I needed to be there, by her side as I knew she would do for me.  The following day, I walked into the Methodist ER and turned in my two week notice.  Two and a half weeks later I was on a plane heading to New York to be with my sister.  After sitting through two biopsies we finally found out that the mass was benign and she just needed to go through surgery to have it removed.  It was such a relief for both of us, our prayers had been answered and everything was going to be ok.  Once everything settled down and I was able to digest everything that had just taken place in the last two months of my life, I realized that my savings were running low and I was in a new city with no job.  To people looking from the outside in they would probably tell me I should’ve known better than to just up and leave everything but this is how I’ve been raised.  When your family needs you, you go.  You don’t think twice or put anything before them.  But now that we know that all is well, what do I do?  Do I go back home and ask if I could get my job back?  Or do I make the best of it and start over?
I decided to stay in New York for a few months.  I got a job working for the city information line called 311 and rented a room for myself.  Working at 311 I met two good friends, Wileena, a married mother of tow that lived in queens and Marisol, also a mother of two who lived in downtown Brooklyn.  In the short time that we knew each other Mari, Leena, and I shared laughs, struggles, and a few tears together.  Leena was the fighter and protector, at work and in the street.  She never let anyone cross us the wrong way.  Marisol was the party girl.  She kept us out and about experiencing all types of new adventures and I of course was the newbie and Carne Fresca, fresh meat, as they called me.  These girls helped me see that life was short and we should live it for us.  Don’t get me wrong, although I love my family and the fact that we were thought to stick together I also felt the need to live my own life and make my own choices without having to worry about everyone else.  I needed time to decide what direction I wanted my life to go in and that is when I decided that I needed to go back to school to become an RN.  After being in New York for ten months I decided to return to Houston hearing that there may be a position that may be available at Harris County Juvenile Probation Department for me.  In March of 2008 I started working for the department and began looking into the requirements for the local Nursing programs.  Three months later going back to school was put on the backburner once again as my boyfriend, Elvin Lalin, and I found out that I was pregnant.  He was excited about the pregnancy but seeing as though we had just reconciled since I had been back from the Big Apple, I went through a rollercoaster of emotions from panic to euphoria.  Lalin and I would make jokes about the baby’s height seeing as though we are both 5 “3”.  My pregnancy was not hard at all; at least I didn’t think it was.  When I was twenty weeks pregnant my Dr. Nanda sent me to get an ultrasound to find out the sex of the baby. I was so excited to finally find out what I was having because I hated calling the baby “It.”  Lalin said he did not care what the sex was so long as the baby was healthy but I wanted to have a little girl.  Shortly after the ultrasound technician started she said “well it looks like you are going to have a little girl!”  Not even twenty seconds after she said that my son turned around and showed his assets.  We laughed as she said “well I guess he didn’t like that idea”.  On February 5th of 2009 my son, Evan, was born.  Weighing in at 6 pounds 11 ounces and measuring 20 inches he brought me the greatest joy I’ve ever known.  I never knew that I could love so fast and so much until they placed him in my arms.  Once again family had given me the strength and drive that I needed to set out to accomplish the goal I set for myself so long ago.  I finally understood the real concept of family.  Although I love my family I never understood what they stood for until that day.  I realized why you should sacrifice for those you love.  So I waited for Evan to turn 1 year old to start my mission.  I finally had the drive to strive for my goal.  I spoke to a guidance counselor to get started and she said the best way to ease back into school after so long was to take one class and let it be one that is interesting to me.  So I took Psychology.  Although it was a prerequisite for the Associate Degree Nursing program it was also something that I found interesting.   Now that I have gotten acclimated to juggling family, work, and school I am able to take on a full semester of school and decided that I might as well go all the way.  So this year I have decided that instead of doing the ADN program I am going to go for the BSN program.  That way by the time that my son is five years old I will be finishing up with school and we can start a new phase in life, Evan in kindergarten and me in my new career.  Although there have been times in my life where I blamed my family for not being where I want to be in life. Now at 24 almost 25 years old and a little bit wiser and a mother myself I will have to admit that being brought up with my family values is the best thing that could have happened.  I now feel strong and confident that no matter what battles I have to fight or hurdles I have to jump across, sooner or later I will be able to achieve anything that I put my mind to and I hope that Evan can say the same thing about me someday.

The following Memoir is about my family, the trials and tribulations that we emerged from.  Throughout the blog you will see that although sometimes family means well and teach you good values there are times where you need to start to fend for yourself.  It has been hard for me to live my life solely for me and I will say that it could be a good and bad thing depending on the situation.  I love my family and the values that they’ve thought me but I also love that I am now able to live my life for me and my child.


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