My grandmother, Maria, was born and raised in Puerto Rico. I used to love to listen to stories about
her nine brothers and sisters who each took turns going to school and working to support their family. My
grandfather was an English bank inspector whose job required quite a bit of travel. As a result, my mother was
born in Port of Spain, Trinidad and lived in South America, Puerto Rico, and Cuba. My mother lived in a
turbulent Cuba with my grandparents at the start of the communist revolution. Since my grandparents were
unable to leave the bank in Cuba unattended, they sent my mother out of the country alone at the age of 15.
After emigrating to the United States, my mother attended college and married my father. My sister and I were
both born in the U.S., and moved to Puerto Rico as small children. I spent six years on the island, moving with
my family to California at the age of ten. Here I was forced to adapt to a new cultural environment which
included shifting from the daily use of Spanish to English. Adjusting to a new culture was difficult, however, I
feel very lucky to have experienced a bilingual and bicultural upbringing.
In June of 1992, one of my worst nightmares came true. My grandmother, whom I was very close
with, became ill. The doctors believed it was her gallbladder which was causing her pain and scheduled her for
surgery. I flew to San Francisco the night before her operation in order to take her to the hospital while my
mother was at work. In the waiting room, my grandfather and I grew impatient, as the surgery took longer than
expected. Finally, the surgeon emerged from the operating room and called us into his office. “She has
cancer”, were the first words out of his mouth. After this, everything was a blur. My grandfather, whose
memory was failing, wrote furiously in his notebook while asking the doctor to repeat himself. The words,
“metastasized…pancreatic…no treatment…hospice…3 months at the most…” stayed in my head as I sat in
During her stay at the hospital, my grandmother experienced some difficulties due to cultural
differences. For example, she did not want a male nurse assigned to her to change her bedpan or bathe her. She
felt more comfortable with a woman. In addition, none of the nurses spoke Spanish. I dropped the summer
school course in which I was enrolled in order to help...