By Esmeralda Abreu Jerez and Julie Gnany
Art by Maanasi Shyno
In this conversation, Esmeralda, a first-generation Dominican-American from the Bronx, and Julie, an international student from Mauritius, talk about where to raise their children — in their home countries or somewhere else? While pulling apart the pieces of such a complex issue, they talk more about privilege, social hierarchy, and love for their countries. This article is a summation of multiple conversations they have had regarding the topic.
Esmeralda: I’m sorry but this shift was horrible. There was one customer who skipped the line instead of just waiting and expected me to ring her up immediately. These people genuinely have no common sense or respect.
Julie: I’m sorry, bestie. But remember, the customer is always right! This is America!
Esmeralda: Bull-fucking-shit! I feel horrible every time I have to deal with customers; I feel so bad about myself. I swear these kids weren’t raised right. Oh, my God will my kids end up that way?
Julie: You mean if they grow up here?
Esmeralda: Yeah, what if I go back to New York, have kids, and they turn out to be as spoiled as the people on this campus? The customers at Novack constantly expect us to hear them perfectly. They expect us to get their food and drinks in seconds. They never stop and think that we’re students too. What if my kids internalize American individualism because they will be raised by a Dominican-American, not an actual Dominican?
Julie: Do you think you should raise your kids in DR then? Because this is something that I think about too; that where we choose to raise our children will affect how they see themselves, how they see their culture, and what kind of people they become.
Esmeralda: I don’t want to raise my kids in DR because there is a reason my mom left. My family didn’t have many opportunities in our country. My mom could not find a way to support her family when the pay was low but prices were high. Even though my kids and I could reconnect to our culture, is it worth the instability and hopelessness that comes with living there?
Julie: I get what you mean. Growing up as a Creole in Mauritius, where we’re considered the bottom of the racial hierarchy, I lived my life under the assumption that I would not spend my adult life in Mauritius. As painful as it was for my parents, they raised me with the goal of studying abroad and setting down roots there. Even though we benefited from socioeconomic privilege and lighter skin, my parents instilled in me very early on that there would be very little opportunity for me to succeed as a Creole woman. But now that I’m here and studying in the US, the idea of settling down here, or anywhere else but in Mauritius, isn’t really what it’s cracked up to be.
Esmeralda: Exactly! Now in college, I am thinking about moving to another country. My entire life I grew up with the idea that I should be grateful to America for giving my family and me a better life, but at what cost? Even though I have put so much effort into staying connected to the island, every time I go back my family makes fun of me for being a gringa.
Julie: I think about that a lot. Over the break, I visited my Mauritian family in the UK. I have a few young half-Mauritian cousins that I got to spend time with, and it makes me sad to see that they don’t speak French or Kreol. I guess it just made me realize that unless you raise your kids in a community full of the Mauritian diaspora, they won’t be properly exposed to their culture. My kids will inevitably be disconnected from our languages, our music, culture, and family. I’m really scared that if all the exposure they get to Mauritius comes from going on vacation there every few years, they’re going to miss out on so much of the beauty that comes from being raised Mauritian.
Esmeralda: Also, the fact that I am even considering going back to DR is extremely privileged. My parents struggled through so much to get here, yet I am thinking of unraveling all of that and going back. And even if I go back, my kids will also be children of immigrants. It hurts to say, but I do not know what it’s like to live in DR. If I go back with my family, I’ll just be imposing the same situation my parents imposed on me.
Julie: Exactly! The fact that I even have the choice to decide to leave Mauritius and live somewhere else is rooted in so much privilege. I feel very guilty that I get to escape some of the stigma of being Creole in Mauritius, and that by doing so I’m not going to be able to make a difference for Creoles still stuck there. Although Creoles are probably those with the greatest incentive to leave, Mauritius’ systems of oppression make it nearly impossible for them to leave.
Esmeralda: That’s also one implication of moving back to DR is knowing that I would be privileged there. I have a pale enough complexion to be socially accepted and would move there with American dollars which has a lot more value there. However, if I stay here, my kids will be treated as “other.” Growing up here and understanding how isolating that feels, I would not want my kids to suffer that pain.
Julie: Absolutely. One of my biggest fears is that if I have kids in the US, they’ll struggle to assimilate. At the end of the day, it’s very unlikely that they’ll be white-passing enough to fit society’s norms and feel comfortable in this country. If they’re not able to ‘assimilate,’ which isn’t even something I’m sure I want them to do, I worry that they’ll never feel American enough, but also never feel Mauritian enough. They’re probably going to grow up in a place where people can neither pronounce Mauritius nor place it on a map. They’re not going to see themselves in the media or among people in positions of power, and I really worry about how that will affect their development.
Esmeralda: And even further down the line, who knows if my grandchildren or great-grandchildren will know our traditions? It’s not that being anything else is necessarily bad, it’s just that being Dominican has given me such joy in life. It’s connected me to an entire people, language, cuisine, and culture that is so full of life that’s helped me through the most difficult moments in my own life. Whenever I feel let down, I always know I can go back to my roots to comfort myself. However, building a family in this country means possibly severing that tie to my family’s lifeblood. If my grandchildren or great-grandchildren don’t know DR, who or what will they turn to?
Julie: Another question is should we even be stressing out about this? At the end of the day, we’re only going to be one-half of our kids’ ancestry. The people we choose to have children with just add another layer of complexity. What if they’re also immigrants and want to raise our kids in their own country? What if they want to raise our kids fully American? What if our jobs give us no choice in where we live?
Esmeralda: Honestly, right now, we see having kids only from our perspective. However, at the same time, having kids is a two-way street. It’s going to involve someone else and that will take a lot of compromise. Right now, we’re so young and do not understand that yet, but with time, we’ll mature and learn what it really will be like to raise kids.
Julie: And who knows if we even want kids? The planet’s dying, capitalism is taking over the wor —
Esmeralda: No, I just got out of a shift, and I only have one brain cell left. Let’s save that for later. For right now what’s most important is that we have the right intentions in mind. Wherever we are and whoever we end up with, we will always unconditionally love our kids and try to give them a piece of our culture.
Julie: That’s the goal: making sure they don’t end up as rude as Novack customers.