Mami Didn’t Raise No Fool: How I’m Surviving Coronavirus Quarantine in La Diáspora
Just two nights ago, I was talking to my dad about a financial move I wanted his opinion on - when I started to break down and cry the most I’ve done so in the month and a half I’ve been in quarantine. He told me that when I get the chance again to come back to Puerto Rico, he wants me to take his name off my bank accounts, just in case something happened to him. Most conversations these days always include the words: “Si algo me pasa, pues.” I cried for hours - I cried so much that my partner was truly puzzled because he wanted to make it all better, but I assured him there was nothing he could do.
My parents, like many others, are within the group of people who are at higher risk of having severe symptoms if they get coronavirus. They are both well over 60 and have pre-existing conditions, they are both also thousands of miles away from me.
When the pandemic was not a pandemic just yet, I had moved into a tiny, new apartment off Madison Avenue in New York City with my partner. Thinking things would blow over quickly, I decided to stay in Manhattan. I assured my parents time and time again that I had plenty of gloves, masks, and canned foods to last me through the month. I also believed that I was doing them a favor by staying back and not catching the first flight home, as I refused to be the person who brought COVID-19 to Puerto Rico. Little did I know that it would only take a week for coronavirus to reach Puerto Rico’s shores via cruise ship.
There was one particularly tough weekend when my mom and I fought because I was refusing to go back to Puerto Rico. She would ask me to come home so I could ride off the pandemic with them. I hadn’t told her yet that a coworker had tested positive for COVID-19 and I, at the very least, had been exposed to it. But that day, I did and she didn’t back down. She offered to divide the house, put me in quarantine in their room for two weeks, and get me medical help if I really was sick. My parents’ need to have me there surpassed their logic and I remembered yelling at her over the phone: “I refuse to be the reason why you and dad die. If I have this virus, I WILL kill you.”
It was a little dramatic but it got the message across and they understood that this was something that was going to hit our world hard. Being in New York, we had been dealing with COVID-19 for longer than my parents had back in Puerto Rico. As we reached 10,000 cases, they only had 5 confirmed cases. It only took them 48 hours to understand the magnitude of the situation and they simply begged me to stay safe.
Having been raised as an only child, being far away from my parents has been one of the toughest things I’ve gone through. I can compare it to leaving Puerto Rico two weeks after Hurricane Maria and suddenly finding myself on the other side of the diaspora. I had gone from standing in eight-hour lines for one tank of gas to sitting in a Manhattan apartment, feeling this immense guilt because I had abandoned them for my dream job. I was suddenly faced again with my parents’ mortality and the fact that if something were to happen to me or them, we wouldn’t be there for each other physically. It was one of those painful sacrifices that needed to be done for our wellbeing and the wellbeing of those around us: for New Yorkers and Puerto Ricans, alike.
In order to stay sane as a #ReinaRebeldeEnCasa, I’ve first made peace with the fact that I can’t stress over things that I can’t control. There is only so much worrying I can do before I drive myself nuts - which is something Latinas tend to do a lot. Secondly, I’ve turned my home into Puerto Rican paradise: a flag decorates the kitchen, I’ve introduced my partner from a small town in Maryland to adobo and biftec con arroz y habichuelas, and I listen to old Latin music whenever I’m not working. During these tough times - and every time I go through a rough period in my life - I find myself drawn even more to my culture.
I’ve started to experiment with my curls while in quarantine, because why not? If it goes wrong, no one else is going to see. I’ve found myself sitting in front of my mirror and swiping on a red lip because that’s how I feel more powerful and in control of my life. If I have a chance to go out for a grocery run, I’ll grab my chunkiest hoops. And although I’ve given up a lot of things that Latinas love - like a full face of makeup, being on point from head to toe, and having claws for nails - I haven’t stopped dancing to Selena while cooking or snapping in Spanish when things don’t go my way. I remember all the Reina Rebeldes who came before me and how they were successful in beating the odds, and I’m inspired. My mami didn’t raise no fool.
Sophia Melissa Caraballo Pineiro is an award-winning online and magazine journalist with extensive experience in fashion, beauty, health, wellness, and food writing. She’s worked with several online brands - Shape, Bustle, Popsugar, InStyle - expanding her areas of expertise. When she’s not writing, she’s scrolling through Pinterest for some home decor inspo and dreaming of empanadas by the beach.