Leandra y Casimiro
December 24th 2018, Christmas Eve. A feeling of vulnerability and overwhelming grief that I could never put into words. Pacing my parents’ room, crying for hours, and nearing a panic attack. I had known it was coming because I had visited her hospital room almost every day after school. But I was blinded by the naivety of my young age with the hope that she would get better. Though today I am only a few years older, I realize that my false assumptions could never have come true, no matter how much I wished they would. Because of this momentous event, my favorite holiday has never been the same.
My grandmother’s passing was very hard for me to deal with as it was the first family loss I had ever experienced. I treasured the time I had spent getting to know her, especially since I never had the opportunity to meet my grandfather who passed away before I was born. I didn’t even know what my grandfather looked like. After some time, I became curious--I wanted to learn more about my family’s history and understand how my grandparents made a life for themselves in the United States. To gain a better sense of their lives, I began interviewing family members and collecting family photos.
My grandmother is most often described as strong, kind, and gentle. My grandfather is most described as very funny, strict, and giving. “Grandma, she was the total opposite of him and I could see that’s why they were married,” my father recalled as he spoke to me about what my grandparents were like. My grandmother was from Toa Alta and my grandfather was from Corozal, neighboring towns in Puerto Rico. In 1950, my grandmother came to New York with her only child at the moment, my uncle, meeting with my grandfather who came beforehand. The reason for my grandparent’s migration to the US is mostly unknown, but it was concluded amongst some of my family members that they were seeking the “American Dream.” “When they got here it wasn’t a picnic, it was hard on them. It was very hard,” my uncle said. The hard work is shown through my grandparents' various jobs. My grandfather worked as a merchant marine, at the P.S. 145 school, at the VA hospital, and as a taxi driver, amongst many others. He rarely had time to himself; after work he would eat the big dinner my grandmother had made and then immediately fall asleep. My grandmother also had many jobs, including babysitting, taking over my grandfather's job working in the boiler room of the apartment they lived in, and working at my father’s school, La Salle Academy, as a lunch lady.
Throughout their time in New York City, my grandmother managed to keep her family in the Lower East Side. They lived in three buildings: a little tenement on Grand Street, the Baruch Houses, and an apartment on Grand Street right next to the FDR drive. I have many memories in their small apartment on Grand Street--the lively christmas parties, photos of family members placed across her apartment, and the smell of my grandmother's cooking. I remember staying with her in the summer of 2017. She would take my sister and me to the park, have us grocery shop with her, and just hang out with us in her apartment and talk. Though I wish I had more time with her, I’m grateful for these memories.
As I worked on this project, I realized how much more connected to my grandparents I began to feel. I thought I knew a lot about my grandmother, but she became a different person to me as I learned more about her past. Before embarking on this, I didn’t even know my grandfather’s name. But by piecing their story together like a puzzle, I now feel closer to understanding how my grandparents lived and how that is important to my family’s history.