A Jeep And A Gun
When the music stopped playing, her cries overwhelmed the silence. It was my father’s birthday, and the patio burst with merengue dancing and shots of vodka. Seconds later, blood seeped into that same floor. My cousin, father and I rushed to our next door neighbor’s house, ultimately stunned at the sight of her on the floor; bleeding from a wound shot from a jeep quickly scurrying away. “They stole my jeep,” screamed my neighbor. Those were the last words I heard from her. Hours later she was pronounced dead, and I stood aghast at what I’d seen. “Why would someone want that jeep so badly,” I asked myself. At age five, I just couldn’t comprehend killing a pregnant woman for her jeep.
Una jepeta y una pistola. I remember the first time I ever heard that. I arrived home and was immediately alarmed at the sight of my uncle slapping my cousin back to her seat. “Who do you think you’re kidding, you just want to see those colleges para abrir la pata and go sexing around. You think I’m some pendejo, eh?” ranted my uncle while still sitting on his high-level seat. “Don’t ever come to me with that, you don’t even have the grades to go to college. Mira, mi’ja just get a man who has a jeep and a gun; who has money and can protect you, as soon as you get that, te me vaya,” exclaimed my uncle. The saddest part is that he wasn’t the only one angry at my cousin's dream to go to college. It seems as if my family is allergic to diligence. But as Junot Diaz once said “they are allergic to trying.” That way of thinking and frame of mind causes my family to look at me with disgust when I mention NASA, robots or solar cells. At that moment I’m no longer Dominican, soy gringo; a white male. My aspirations have alienated me from my own family.
I do not aspire to be the typical American gringo; the wealth, the good job, or the house with a dog and fence. What I aspire to most involves the emanation of energy from photon particles moving at the highest speed in the universe- in other words, light. While growing up in the Bronx, going downtown every couple of months was a journey, a privilege that always fascinated me. Perhaps I just wasn’t used to so much light; my neighborhood is only illuminated by the red and white on the Dominican and Puerto Rican flags scattered across the buildings. The window of my father’s 1993 Astro minivan was slightly tinted to prevent any heat from coming in, hopefully saving some money for gas. Suddenly as my father drove past 86th street, I noticed something. The buildings were growing, eating the space surrounding them with each passing street. It was intimidating, yet beautiful. Each building, the emitted light passed through the untinted crack of my window, and flickered on and off, illuminating the interior of my father’s van. I had found my refuge, but I realized those lights were not mine. At age seven, my parents told me that those buildings were filled with rich, successful and accomplished people. But at seventeen I realized that those lights were my key to freeing me from the chains of a jeep and a gun. I realized I wanted to be in a place where I could see those lights every day; where the lights no longer flash, but are steady. The lights in my neighborhood were dim, and I ranted at my parents asking why we couldn’t go back. My life since then has been a constant struggle towards changing that light for my entire neighborhood, so it shines just as bright as the lights in downtown New York.
I don’t know what success means to me. My accomplishments root from a constant struggle to resist thinking like my family, a fuku that has cursed my relatives and their ancestors for centuries. Were it not for my aspirations, that thinking would be mine as well. I’ve had to separate myself from my family to let my aspirations grow, and not be chained down to a jeep and a gun defining what success is supposed to mean to me. I finally did learn why someone would kill a pregnant woman for a jeep. The answer was simple: those who go the farthest, risk and dare the most. But the reality is that my success does not include a jeep or a gun. Success for me is making tho
se flashing lights my own, but even better to inspire others to own a share of flashing lights so with diligence and effort, their light will never burn out.