Monday, February 23, 2015

Old family photos connect us to our past, in powerful ways.

This is my maternal grandmother. 
Rafaela Ramirez Suarez
Born October 14, 1943 in Bayamon, Puerto Rico

She is the 3rd daughter to Maria Suarez Bravo & Gabriel Ramirez Lopez. Rafaela grew up in a home of all sisters, there was a total of 5 daughters. I imagine they were all close because my mom remembers seeing all of them often & hearing many stories about them. 

I'm not sure how old my grandmother was when she moved, but sometime in her early teens or preteens, she moves to New York City, along with her parents & other sisters. After several years of city life, her parents choose to make the move back to Bayamon, PR. However, my grandmother & at least one of her older sisters Cecilia choose to remain in New York City. Here they both stay for the remainder of their lives. 

At the age of 16, my grandmother has her first child, who is my mother. There have been different stories about who my mother's birth father really is. We have no proof, but the man who raised my mother & gave her his last name is Nicolas Rodriguez, you can learn more about him here. Apparently, they met shortly after my grandmother got pregnant with my mom. I was told, for a long time he assumed my mother was always his biological daughter but had doubts because of the timing of her birth & because she looks nothing like him. Honestly, the true answer to who her father is died along with Rafaela. I assume she knew, or maybe she wasn't certain herself, it's hard to say.

According to what my mother was told, my grandmother was sexually assaulted by her older sister's husband. No legal action was ever taken. Apparently, this was slipped under the rug as a dark family secret. I was told that this "sister's husband" is whom my mother's biological father is. I've always had trouble digesting this story. I feel like there are so many disturbing loose ends. Especially the fact that my grand aunt remains with this supposed sexual assaulter & has several children with him of her own later on.
There is even a family function years later when my mom reaches adulthood, that her aunt & bio dad are at. My mom says every one there, including herself pretend as if nothing is a miss. It's so crazy to me & I've already accepted it's something I'll never fully come to understand.

A year after my mother was born, my grandmother has another daughter. Then a son, she names Nicolas after his father. They never legally marry but split sometime after the last baby was born. My grandfather & grandmother never reconciled their differences. Their split got really ugly, violent & eventually resulted in having all 3 of their children being placed into an orphanage in upstate New York. Till the day they died, they both still held resentment towards each other. Not even for the sake of their children or grandchildren do they ever attempt to speak to one another again or appear at the same family function, if they knew the other would be present. It's really heart breaking. So many suffered & have been permanently affected because of their poor choices. 

Growing up, I remember visiting my grandmother often. She lived not far from us. She was a small lady that walked with a heavy limp & only spoke Spanish in a soft gentle voice. By the time my siblings & I were in her life, she was an alcoholic. I never knew when she was sober or drunk. We didn't have much of a relationship. I only knew that my mother loved her dearly, cared & protected her in every way she could. Rafaela died in 2000, when she was 57 years old. I was 19, at the time & I remember getting the phone call about her death. I was away at college for her funeral so I missed it. I only have 2 photos of her. The one on the top is my favorite.
Old family photos connect us to our past, in powerful ways.