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 where over. Standing there waiting to end my misery, I thought of a little boy who would grow without his mom, then I thought maybe, just maybe, there’s more to life than this. My son who is the light of my life was very small at the time and was being used in court to punish me because I dared to think that I could be so much more than just somebody’s domestic punching bag. After a few trains came by, I snapped out of it, turned around and walked away, but that was only the beginning.
You see, after living between my country of birth (Dominican Republic) and the U.S. for the first half of my life, 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 marriage right out of high school, and ultimately became homeless as a result. Even though poverty made me go back into the hands of my abuser for a second time, I ultimately became the first woman in my entire family line to ever leave her husband.
The very core of who I am though has always been connected to science, I‘ve always craved a deeper understanding of the world around me. This was a need that 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 or is able to follow “traditional” paths in life. Some individuals rely on survival to even dare to dream, and I realized that to many in this country I was just some Hispanic stereotype.
While homeless and simultaneously fighting for the right to keep my own child, I found out on a newspaper 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 which 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 and I even got hurt on multiple occasions. I was barely making any money and constantly being around death took a big toll on me. Yet somehow, at night I still dreamed of studying science. Of course I didn’t even know how to do that. With the court drama on hold and having been given the rights to my own child back, I decided to change course so that I could earn more money and maybe finance school and became a medical assistant, the pay wasn’t much better, and I was now in debt from student loans. For a short time I gave up being a scientist and decided to stick to the field I know and just try going for medical school to make sure I always had a paycheck, I knew a private school would guarantee I got priority, but after realizing the price tag on my plan to survive, I quickly gave up that idea. Still I kept searching for affordable education not for medicine, but in the sciences. I thought I could maybe go for a scientific career but pay for it with my medical work. No matter how hard I tried to give up the idea I just couldn’t forget about becoming a scientist, it kept me going. My life didn’t get any easier of course, I was still poor, trying to raise my child, and amongst this chaos I had to bury my youngest baby daughter who passed away due to a neuro-tube defect. I was starting to become painfully aware of the trauma I was constantly carrying with me, but I refused to give up, I wasn’t going to give up science, I had already given up too much of me in life, out of anger, out of rebellion, out of love I refused.
So I found a public institution and made the decision to go in for it. I was so naïve. I thought I’d walk in there, ask about science and get some advice. Instead, I got discouragement. It was as if I was somehow predisposed to failure because I wasn’t what’s called a “conventional student”. I was tired of being defeated so I didn’t listen and I enrolled anyway, and when I entered the biology lecture hall for the first time, I had tears pouring down my face.
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 Biophysics full time, unfortunately, things did come to a halt in January 2017 when I got struck by a car walking home from work. Thankfully, I survived, and even though this accident put a stop on my plans to study and work at the same time, and has affected every single aspect of my life I continued to persist. To aid my mental health during the rehabilitation process, I started to use an old and unused Twitter account to not only advocate for science and science communication, but also for the importance of representation for women of color in STEM. I want to challenge many of the stereotypes attributed to having nontraditional lives. Even though I’ve encountered opposition online, in STEM, and even my personal life from those who claim to advocate for survivors like myself, I continue to use my life as an example of how background should not be used to discount ability. 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 super power.
Mi historia is a collection of stories from the Latinx community about their life. Their struggles, their triumph. Their history - our history - highlighted during a month where we celebrate our roots. These are their stories. These are our stories.
Hi! I'm Melissa, an Australian-based Latina science educator, podcaster, and freelance writer. I spend a lot more time on Instagram and Twitter, but blogging is my first love. Thanks for stopping by — I hope you stay a while.
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