Lourdes Ramirez (Lizet’s Mother) Quotes in Make Your Home Among Strangers
I was exhausted and very near tears, actually. I was shocked to find that it did not feel good to be home, to have seen her standing there in the airport. The entire three hours of the last flight, though I’d been nervous about seeing her, I mostly felt very happy to be getting away from Rawlings and that first semester. But spotting her before she saw me in the terminal—in that fake gold outfit, her face oily, her hands fidgeting with the rings on her fingers—had made my stomach turn […] I'd seen my mother in that moment as not my mother; I saw her as a tacky-looking woman, as the Cuban lady the girls on my floor would've seen, alone in an airport. And I did not like that I suddenly had this ability to see her that way, isolated from our shared history.
As much as I was ashamed of my hearing results, by what that long letter stated the committee had decided—that I was the product of a poor environment—I willingly took it: I wanted to be at Rawlings, and I was grateful that they'd taken my background into consideration. I wanted to rise—I used exactly that word in the thank-you e-mail I wrote to the committee after printing out the resource list—to rise above what I'd come from. I'd felt sick as I typed it, felt like a traitor after I hit send, but now at the clash of my mom's bangles as she turned the steering wheel to cut off a car in retaliation for them cutting her off moments before—all the while lowering her window, her arm extending out, then her middle finger at the end of that arm, waving a fuck you as she yelled the same phrase in Spanish at the driver—I knew I'd meant it.
—You don't know shit about sacrifice. You don't know shit about shit!
—Zoila's right, you only care about Ariel because what else do you have going on?
She shoved me again and the room spun […]she was letting me fall. So I reached back instead and caught myself, slid my hands against the sandpaper of the wall, pressed my spine against it and sank to the ground, my butt hitting the floor too fast and too hard.
—You can go to whatever college for as long as you want, but about some things, you'll always be fucking stupid, she said.
She tossed the paper at me on the floor and said, You think you have problems? You, your sister, your idiot tía out there? You made your problems.
She turned her back to me and walked out of the room, screaming as she left, Nobody has any idea what Ariel and Caridaylis are going through right this second, but I do. I know what it means to lose so much. None of you know shit because you haven't sacrificed shit for anyone. Selfish pigs, that's what you and your sister are.
Her version of our life made me more Cuban than I technically was, degrees of Cuban-ness being something I'd never thought about until Rawlings, until the Where Was I From From question. Mami's invented version made me a more authentic Cuban, and part of me wanted to hear her tell it. I wanted to see how she pulled it off—if she had to convince herself before she could convince anyone else, or if just saying something and having people believe it could make it real.
[…] Did you see that? There’s something so special in her. God bless her, she is trying so hard.
[…] My mom knew I was the first student from Hialeah Lakes to go to Rawlings even though she never acknowledged it. In the grand scheme of human achievement, I recognize this is not a big deal, but still, when I eventually showed Mami the acceptance letter and pointed out the handwritten note near the bottom stating I was the first, she’d said, Maybe you’re just the first one who ever applied? […]
—Mom, I said. It's not the first time someone’s taken care of a kid. I mean, I get it, but it's not like what she’s doing is actually that hard. She's – she's a glorified babysitter.
She released my arm, almost threw it back at me. Her now-shut mouth, the way she rolled her shoulders to push out her chest, the ugly flash of a tendon in her neck: I knew then this was the wrong thing to say. I didn't even really believe it, but I needed to say it to her. I was trying hard. What I was doing was fucking hard. My mom stared at me so long that her eyes seemed to shake in her head.
Mostly I was disappointed in Leidy and Omar for not recognizing what was really going on with Mami: she was becoming her own person finally, trying to learn who that even was via a newfound passion. So maybe she’d retrofitted the circumstances of her life to fit in to her new surroundings. So what? I of all people couldn't fault my mom for having the wherewithal to adapt her behavior, for being a creature thrust into a new environment and doing perhaps exactly what it took to survive there.
I slapped my own chest and yelled, Why don't you watch the news and figure it out yourself like I did?
—That’s why you're mad at me? EI, what the fuck were you gonna do from up there?
I pointed at him and said, Exactly, Omar! That right there, what you just said? That's exactly why I'm here. To fucking do something since you and Leidy obviously didn't.
—Oh! Okay yeah, he yelled. So now you know how to handle everything, huh? You got it all figured out, don't you. You think you're so fucking smart.
He threw the car in reverse, shook his head as he turned the wheel. I'd made it halfway up the concrete leading to my dad's door when Omar lowered the passenger-side window and yelled my name, made me stop.
—Whose fault is it that you weren't here, huh? Maybe you need to think about that.
—We get the news, you know, up there […] do you have any idea how the rest of the country is seeing this? I'm tired of it. We look like a bunch of crazy people.
—What's with this we crap? he said. I'm not with her, you're not even here.
—We as in Cubans, I said. He smiled with only one side of his mouth. He laughed again.
—You're not Cuban, he said. This hurt me more than anything else he could've said—more than Who cares what anyone up there thinks, more than Like there’s anything coming down here is gonna do—and I think he saw it in my face, saw how impossible what he’d just said sounded to me.
—Don't look at me like that! he said. You're American. I'm wrong?
—Yeah, I said. I'm—what do you mean I'm not Cuban? I was born here, yeah, but I'm Cuban. I'm Latina at least, I said.
—Latinos are Mexicans, Central Americans. You're not that either he said.
—What? Dad, are you—other people think I'm Cuban.
He stood up from the bed and moved out through the door, leaving me alone as he said, Okay, sure you are. Whatever you say, Lizet.
I already know what each would say should I ever have to tell them about an upcoming research trip to Cuba: my dad would talk about being a little disappointed in me, about the unfairness of me being able to travel to a country he can't enter, but he'd mostly not say anything, only leave me guessing at his meaning […]; my mother would bring out familiar words—betrayal, loyalty, traitor—words that have come to define our relationship no matter how much time passes but whose sting has faded and turned into something I can manage […].
To tell them would also mean inviting them along in a way. We still have family there. […] And when I tell them there'll be no time for that, that this is a work trip, that I'll mostly be on the water, in or under a boat, that what they want me to do takes me clear across an island I don't know: Oh, I see. You don't have time to take a piece of paper and a crayon to your grandmother's headstone? You don't have time to do that for me who will never see it? Oh, that's right, of course you don't. I should've remembered how busy you always are. I shouldn't have even asked.