The Woman Who Made me the Nueva Latina I am Today

Janet tells about the dual lives she experienced in the D.R. and in Miami, and how her mom was always there for her.


By Janet-Lynn Jones

As a child, I remember waking up to the sound of my mother singing to Juan Luis Guerra’s Ojalá que Llueva Café as she cleaned the house – passionately singing to every lyric as if Juan Luis had written this song for her. She made sweeping the floors seem as if she were dancing on clouds. She always seemed the most free when she would be lost her in favorite music.

At the time I didn’t understand, nor was I a fan of bachata and merengue. To be honest, it would annoy me and I would plead with her to turn it down. She then would say, “Ayyy Janelin” (that’s the way she would pronounce my name) “You are Dominican. In order for you to understand me and who you are, you must understand my music.”

Growing up I would spend my summer, winter, and spring breaks with my mother’s family in Dominican Republic – which allowed me to have two dramatically different childhood experiences.

In Dominican Republic, the electricity would go out at least three times a day. If I wanted to bathe with warm water, I would have to first boil the water on a stove. Many times, there would be no water at all so I would have to go to a friend’s house and bathe there. I would bring a bucket of water home for the evening in case the water wouldn’t return till morning.

Every meal of the day consisted of Mangu, and there was no option to raid the pantry for snacks because there weren’t any.

Children played outside all day. My personal favorite was when I would get a crushed coke can and whatever stick I could find to play my own version of hockey until the sun came down. I wore the same t-shirt for an entire summer and no one cared. I remember feeling so alive.

In contrast, my Miami childhood consisted of being picked up in luxury cars from my private school, to then attend a rigorous schedule of ballet, piano, and martial arts. My brother and I weren’t allowed to play outside, so whatever free time we had was spent learning the choreography to music videos, acting out his screenplays, and playing video games.

Everything that was considered a luxury in Dominican Republic we had at our disposal at home.

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Right before high school, I stopped going to Dominican Republic because my parents lost their businesses and my father became very ill. His diabetes got out of control, requiring multiple amputations and causing his organs to fail. My mother became responsible for being the breadwinner, nurse, cleaning lady, and cook for our household.

At 4:30 each morning, I would begin to hear the clinking of the casuelas as my mother cooked the meals for the day. The smell of arroz blanco y frijoles would fill the household and the sound of loose change spinning in the dryer would always wake me up. This was layered with the sound of her humming as she folded clothes.

Movement would come from the nearby bathroom and the sound of the wheelchair trying to enter the narrow doorway would mean my father was up and I had about 30 minutes left in bed.

The smell of Cuban coffee meant my mother had felt him too. By the time I got up and made my way to the kitchen, I would be greeted by perfectly displayed white serving bowls holding the food for the day. My mother, who usually would be on her way to work by this time, would leave a note with any reminders for the day and a Te Amo.

When I got my drivers license, I was able to help my mother to some degree (although my mother never asked for help) by driving my father to some of his doctor’s appointments. Once the bell rang at school I would drive home to help clean his wounds then drop him off for dialysis before rushing back to dance team practice. I would pick him up on my way home, change the gauze on his wounds then head out to my evening dance classes from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. When I arrived back home later in the evening, my mother would be bathing my father and setting his bedroom for the night. She would then sleep on the couch to not disturb him in the morning and do it again the next day.

This was life for about seven years. My father passed away in our home on Christmas Day when I was 21 years old.

Until I became a mother, I never appreciated the hardship my mother endured or what she did for us. Instead, I thought this was normal life. My mother made everything look so easy and I was under the impression that this was exactly what being a woman entailed: being selfless.

Like many of you who are reading this, my mother came to this country when she was 24 not knowing any English. She worked endlessly to provide a better life for her family. I think about that deeply sometimes. I was born into opportunity thanks to my mother’s sacrifices. I am American, yet I define myself by the music, food, aromas, and warmth of my mother’s country. Although I do not know my mother’s struggles, I carry them with me and feel some type of responsibility to them – a responsibility to have the same hunger to do better for my family and the world around me because I’ve been given the opportunity to do so.

That is the beauty of being a Nueva Latina. We carry two different worlds inside of us and our perseverance comes not only from our personal ambitions, but the responsibility we carry from our parent’s sacrifices.

Today I am a wife, mother, and business owner trying to change the world one woman at a time. Any ounce of greatness in me is thanks to my mother, Arelis Altagracia Dominguez. In my thirties I finally understand Juan Luis Guerra: “Ojalá que llueva café en el campo. Que caiga un aguacero de yuca y té. Del cielo una jarina de queso blanco y al sur una montaña de berro y miel. Ojalá que llueva café.”


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