It’s 2008 and there I was, standing on a subway platform, in downtown Manhattan waiting for my train, not to board it… but to jump in front of it. Fresh out of family court, feeling tired and very much defeated after going in convinced that my days of physical, mental, financial, and sexual abuse were over.
You see… after living between my country of birth (Dominican Republic) and the U.S. for the first half of my life, and my absolute confusion over my “duties” as a woman, coupled with society’s mixed messages; I had no idea who I was. That is how I ended up in an extremely toxic relationship right out of high school, desperate for affection, and ultimately became homeless as a result. Even though poverty and desperation made me go back into the hands of my abuser for a second time, so that I could be close to my child and have a roof over my head, I ultimately became the first woman in my entire family line to ever leave her abusive partner. The very core of who I am has always been connected to science, I‘ve always craved a deeper understanding of the world around me. This was a need which was never satisfied growing up, and it actually became a huge source of anxiety for me. I never had exposure to science growing up, so there was no way for me to know what it was, or that my passion actually has a name. I used to be obsessed with knowing how everything worked, and as cliché as this will probably sound, I always wanted to go into space. I had no idea that such a thing could be done, let alone by someone like me, but it never stopped me from looking at the sky every day and dream of it. As time went by however I went ahead with life, trying to be what I thought I was supposed to be. Once I left my abusive relationship, and started to realize just how many cards were stalked against me, I decided to become unapologetic about my life, because not everyone is born into good circumstances, is well informed of the ins and outs of the society we live in, or is able to follow “traditional” paths in life. Some individuals rely on survival to even dare to dream, once out there trying to find myself I realized that, to many people in this country I was just some Hispanic stereotype. A single mother, with abuse background, lack of higher education, what many people in America grow up to think would make a person less worthy of respect. I used my awareness to move forward, I was determined to challenge whatever stereotypes I faced.
While homeless, literally sleeping on train stations in Manhattan, and simultaneously fighting for the right to keep my own child, I found out on a newspaper (I fell asleep on) that I could train as a Home Health Aide “for free” and then pay them with work after. I went, and every day like clockwork, I slept at train stations, cleaned myself up in public restrooms, and showed up for training. Within a month, I was done. Thankfully we had to wear scrubs which I was allowed to pay for after the training, this meant I had something to wear every day. Finally, I started working as a Home Health Aid six days a week, 12 hours a day at $7.25 per hr until I saved enough to get a room. Working all those hours was of course very exhausting. A lot of times, work conditions were very unsafe; I even got hurt on multiple occasions. I was barely making any money, my credibility as a mother was constantly under attack by people I once thought of as family, and by strangers at court. Spending so much time around death, and illness as part of my work also took a big toll on me, yet somehow at night, I still dreamed of studying science someday. Of course I didn’t even know how to do that. After court mediations were done, and I was able to move on with my child, I decided to change course so that I could earn more money and maybe finance school. I became a medical assistant, but the pay wasn’t much better, and I was now in debt from student loans. This was the byproduct of the absolute lack of information and mentorship provided to first generation students. For a short time I gave up the very idea of ever becoming a scientist, and decided to stick to the field I knew which was healthcare. I then decided I would try going for medical school. I knew a private university would almost guarantee I got prioritized (trust me I know, I used to handle those applications at some point in my life), but after realizing the price tag on my plan; I quickly gave up that idea. I kept searching for affordable education, not for medicine, but in the sciences. I thought this time I could just go for a scientific career, but pay for it with my healthcare work. No matter how hard I tried to give up the idea, I just couldn’t forget about becoming a scientist, it was part of who I am.
Life didn’t get any easier of course, I was still poor, trying to raise my child any way I could, and amongst this chaos I had to bury a baby daughter. I was starting to become painfully aware of the trauma I was constantly carrying with me, I couldn’t sleep, my body had turned on itself and I developed autoimmunity issues, and I started to realize that whatever relationships I held were a sad attempt at feeling cared for, but nothing more. Still, I refused to give up the idea of entering the world of STEM. I wasn’t going to give up science, I had already given up too much of me in life, whether it was out of anger, out of rebellion, out of love, I just refused. I found a public institution and made the decision to go for it. I was so naïve, I thought I’d walk in there, ask and get some advice, instead what I found was discouragement, doubts, It was as if; I was somehow predisposed to failure, because I wasn’t what’s called a “traditional student”. I was tired of being defeated so I didn’t listen and I enrolled anyway. When I entered the biology lecture hall for the first time, I had tears pouring down my face. To me that was a small victory.
It’s been an arduous road to say the least, but through a lot of hard work, I am finally “settled” with my son, and in the process of pursuing Space BioPhysics full time, unfortunately, things did come to a halt in January 2017 when I got struck by a car walking home from work. As you can see I survived that as well, and even though this accident has affected every single aspect of my life ever since, I continued to persist. My life is an example of how background should not be used to discount ability, to bypass worth. I’ve found that struggles can be used to inspire, rather than act as obstacles or means to discriminate.
In the end, perseverance is my only superpower.