Becoming An Immigrant Was The Toughest Decision I’ve Made In My Life #TheYearOf40

Warm tears streamed down my face as I laid in bed, in a new city, in this new life I had embarked on. “Tú que te fuiste con el viento casi muriéndote por dentro, pero sin poder soltar una sola lágrima… viendo desaparecer las manos saludándote…” The Franco De Vita’ song on the radio made the tears flow like a river as I was reminded of the toughest decision I’ve made in my life: moving to the US.

It was the weekend of my birthday and I had gone from Michigan to New York City to spend it with friends and my now husband (who I had started dating then). I had been in the US just a few months and still felt the weight of being in different territory, and the image of my ill grandmother saying goodbye at the airport was embedded in my head.

Turning 27, having a new boyfriend and living in the land of eternal winter, a.k.a. Grand Rapids, Michigan was like a bucket of cold water that signaled my life was headed on a journey without return to where I came from. Deciding to move forward in a country I already knew and liked, but that didn’t represent home for me was the toughest decision I’ve made in my adult life. Realizing how quickly things were changing for me both made me question my decision or plainly made me sad.

February 11, 2004, marks the date I boarded a definite one-way plan to the United States, a day that was full of emotions, especially about my grandmother Mamá Amparo who was very ill at the time. I think that’s what being an adult means, making those gut-wrenching decisions that change the course of our lives. I arrived in New York and stayed there for a couple of weeks, enduring the winter cold that seemed more excruciating coming from the year-around summer weather of the Dominican Republic.

Leaving Mamá: The Toughest Decision I’ve Made

Mamá Amparo had just turned 79 years old when I left Santo Domingo. She was fragile, with an expression that showed she was partially there but not completely. As I walked to the point where only passengers can enter, I thought this was going to be the last time I was going to see her.  Mamá Amparo had been dealing with mental health issues for almost four years: severe depression, paranoia, suicidal thoughts, and attempts.

During that time we were all on edge at home, keeping track of her and afraid of her harming herself when we weren’t looking. Caring for her was difficult because it pained me to see her like that. Her spark had been dimmed, and I missed her laughter and the long phone conversations with her friends. She wasn’t the same, she lost interest in the things she once enjoyed.

By the time I was leaving to move to the US, Mamá Amparo’s health had improved, but she wasn’t completely healed. When I boarded the plane that day, I was overcome by a sense of loss, a feeling that accompanied me for a long time. Months went by and I still pondered about my decision, even when other areas of my life were moving forward.

By far, age 27 was the most eventful year of my life. I moved to a new country, met my husband, said goodbye to Mamá Amparo fearing the worst, and by the end of the year, my sister managed to get her a visa and brought her to the US to stay with us for a few months. The most important lesson I learned that year was that change is always good, even when sometimes it seems scary or uncertain.

What’s the toughest decision you’ve made?

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© Dania Santana ~ Embracing Diversity
Multiculturalism, Diversity & Inclusion Expert | Author | Speaker
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