Suyapa chronicles life with her lively grandmother.
I was still sleeping soundly when I heard a bang on the door. “Noemie! Levantate.” I woke up, startled and confused, and then I realized it was only my grandmother. I got up, still blurry from sleep when I felt a tinge of cold water come over me. “Happy birthday!” she said and then she hugged me. The first thought that ran through my head was, What is wrong with this woman? But at the moment I didn’t bother asking, I just wanted her to get rid of the cold from my skin.
My grandmother is eighty-two years old. She was born in Iriona, Honduras, and raised twelve kids and ten grandchildren with my grandfather. And yet she still has the energy to shoot a basket. She always shows my cousins and me that she still has the life of a Youngblood. When we do something wrong, she looks at us with her fiery brown eyes and that’s when we know not to play around. When we all play basketball, I always have her on my team because no one messes with her and she can shoot. When we get dressed for church, she loves to wear her salt and pepper wig, which covers her already salt and pepper hair. Her coconut brown skin is just as comforting as hot chocolate on cold winter evenings.
She was raised in a culture where men ruled and women reaped. This culture that my family is from is called Garifuna, which has descendants from different tribes in Africa. Over the years she has shown me how the culture affects me and how it works. She has taught me the dances and traditions. One of her favorite traditions is to have a ritual during my birthday, which includes waking me up, throwing water at me, and giving me my birthday hits with her sandals.
Although she never got a good education, she knows plenty. She knows the difference between lettuce and cabbage, which to this day I still can’t figure out. She knows that there are fifty states and she knows how to survive on her own. She was married at the age of sixteen, and when she had her twelve children she made sure they had an education. She’s always telling me to think before I act and have compassion for others. When it comes right down to it, she might have wits of steel, but she always has a heart of gold. And although she has her weird moments (e.g., throwing water at me), I will always love her. In the end, I’m proud to be a Garifuna and to be called her granddaughter.
Suyapa Martinez is a class of 2010 mentee alum from Brooklyn, NY.