Omar A. Santiago Báez

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JUST MAYBE, SHE WAS RIGHT –

I don’t even know the woman in the photo. She died eleven years before I was born.  I always joke to people that my mother is too strict and that she mistreats me. But if I say that in front of my grandmother, aunts or uncles, they’d tell that my mother doesn’t even come close to my great-grandmother Ramona Pérez Rodríguez; mother of Ramón Luis, José Antonio and Gloria María; grandmother of Myrna, Ramón Luis, Jr., Sonia, José Antonio, Jr., Nelson, Tania, Raúl, Glorimel, Ismael, Jr., Luz de Lourdes, Miriam, Gloria Ivette, Nilsa Waleska, and Bianey. And I will not mention the great-grandchildren (like me) because it’s almost an infinite list.

My grandmother is Gloria María who is the mother of the last seven grandchildren mentioned, from three different couples, the first four from Ismael, my mom from Carlos Juan, and the last two from Joe, her actual husband of many years. Bisabuela Ramona played the role of mother too, to most of her grandchildren. She raised Myrna, Sonia, José Antonio, Tití Glori, Tío Junior (Ismael), Tití Lourdes, Tití Miriam and my mom (Ivette), who was the youngest. That’s why they always talk about her because she was really their mother too.

How could that kind-looking, smiling woman in the photo be that same person my mother,

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uncles and aunts tell such harsh stories about? For instance on the few occasions when the children received gifts like dolls and other toys, they were not allowed to play with them because she told them they would just break them. So, she kept them in the closet. At birthday parties, whatever beautiful dresses they wore to the party, they were made to take them off when they went out to play. That meant they played outside nearly naked.

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Tití Lourdes and Tití Miriam had to wake up early in the morning and get the chickens out of the cages under the house, and at dusk change the newspapers that covered the cages and put them back in. My mother told me the girls couldn’t stay out late, or go to the balcony of the house because Bisabuela Ramona accused them of searching for a man. “Cabriando,” she would say and beat them. She used her hands, sticks, belts, casserole dishes…

Those are the stories I can remember.  It seems like with such harshness, her grandchildren

would have surely grown up to be drug addicts, or prostitutes, or in jail, but it was the total opposite. They are all professionals. The oldest of my aunts, Glorimel, was the Superior Judge of the court of Coamo until she retired. Tío Junior is a retired electrical engineer graduated from El Colegio. Tití Lourdes is a retired Hospital administrator from Mennonites’ Hospital in Cayey. Tití Miriam was a public accountant before she retired. Although, when my younger sister was born my mother became a housewife, she had graduated from college with a degree in Special Education.

Bisabuela Ramona did what she believed was right. She sacrificed herself to give her grandchildren food and a house to live in after their own parents had left them behind to seek better opportunities. When she died, my mother was only thirteen-years-old.

My mom and my aunts and uncles loved Ramona very much. When I was searching for an old photo and I decided to write about the one of Ramona, my mother kept asking me if I had finished writing the essay. This strong woman with a smile on her face was a great woman, loving her people in her own way, helping them become successful, making me what I am. I am really proud of my family, and I know the woman in the photo is too.

And just maybe, she did the right thing after all.


Omar is a Chemistry major at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez.

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