Aruba + Self-discovery
The first plane I ever boarded was a one-way flight to New York where I would spend eleven years as an undocumented immigrant. Though the hardships and challenges I faced while undocumented were a big part of my life, not having the ability to travel accentuated the burden even more. I am a free-spirited, goofy, silly woman. I do not thrive well in spaces where growing, evolving, and changing is not an option. But for a long time, a big change was not plausible. When I graduated high school at only 16 years old, I was unable to move away for college because my immigration status made me ineligible for financial aid. I cannot pretend those four years were not painful. Witnessing friends traveling abroad on spring breaks, studying abroad in Greece, Ecuador, and the Dominican Republic was a sting I never admitted to. I was hurting. My soul was craving to see the world and I could not shake off the feeling that I belonged somewhere else. I wanted to leave. I promised myself that if I was ever granted permanent residency, I would leave as soon as I could.
On graduation day, my green card was approved and, finally, I was able to open my wings. Two weeks later, I, along with some college friends, boarded a plane for the first time after nearly eleven years. The next few years would take me to Canada, Texas, Norway, Denmark, and of course, my homeland-- the Dominican Republic. During every trip, I made sure to make some “me-time” where I wrote to-do lists, goal searched, and set up plans for my returns to New York. Every trip showered me with a sense of clarity that I still cannot fully contextualize. All I can say is that I was my happiest on my own. Though cliche, my soul was begging me for solitude.
I scheduled my first solo trip after a fellow poet friend encouraged me to visit her island. I wanted to embark on a fearless journey of soul-searching, goal-setting, and solitude. I wanted to avoid all the stress stemming from group-planning and just do, explore, and see as I deemed fit. Aruba was the best decision I ever made. Most people around me thought I was crazy for doing so, but I still boarded that plane and promised myself to spend the week giving myself everything I deserved.
As soon as I found myself in that King Suite at the Tropicana Resort in Oranjestad, Aruba, I thought about how crazy I was to even go on this trip. I felt lonely. Insecurities about not having a partner washed over me. I worried about how selfish I was because my mother, still undocumented, remained in New York. I was regretting the trip as soon as it started, but I had no other alternative. I was already there. I shook the feelings of uneasiness and headed to the beach, which was a five minute walk away from the hotel.
That evening on Palm Beach would foster the confidence I needed for the remaining of my trip. My heart skipped a beat as I watched the sun set . I felt myself falling in love with the woman I had become, a woman who booked trips on her own, a woman who came so far from the insecure girl she had been most of her life. While I sat on that beach, a gentleman approached me for me to take his picture and we conversed for a long time. His English was not the best, but he would become my companion for most of the trip.
Mateo is Italian and travels all around the world for business. He offered to show me around and though at first I was hesitant, my gut trusted him. We went to dinner and discussed Italy, the Dominican Republic, and how rude New Yorkers are. He was kind and filled with adventure. We became travel buddies and I was able to make friends everywhere we went.
The next day we visited the Natural Bridge, the Lighthouse, bought coconut smoothies by the ocean, and swam the afternoon away. He was my photographer for most of the trip.
While visiting the Natural Bridge, we spotted a beautiful beach in the distance and drove into a deserted road trying to find it. Because Mateo had rented a regular car and not a four-wheeler, we ended up getting stuck and unable to keep going as the rocks were too rough on the car. Instead of growing angry or stressed, we took pictures in the middle of the road and laughed about our own foolishness.
Eventually, we made it back and settled on Arashi beach--the most gorgeous beach I have ever seen, which is a lot to say considering I am also from the caribbean. Mateo and I basically had a photoshoot and I will drool over those pictures for a long time.
On my third day, I went on a sunset cruise where I met two women from New York who I got to laugh, drink, and take pictures with. One of them had also taken a solo trip when her best friend ditched her to travel with her partner instead. We gossiped and laughed out loud as her friend listened and rolled her eyes. As part of the sunset cruise, I dined on Pelican Pier all on my own. I was floating in happiness by then, completely sure that this trip was the right decision.
The next day Mateo left back to Italy and I was scheduled to perform at Aruba’s Poetry is an Island Festival. The festival was full of music, performance, and local poets and artists broadcasting their art. We ate, drank, and danced in the middle of the street to Aruba’s traditional beat of the drums.
I would finish each night, journaling and writing poems. Every day in Aruba was a day of closure, of letting things go, of moving forward from the toxicity at home. After an incredibly difficult year, I was ready for what was next. I found myself in love with the person in the mirror and happier than I had been in a long time. Mateo’s pictures allowed me to see myself in a new light. I felt beautiful, light on my feet, and ready to take on the world. Aruba brought me back to myself. I realized that it is a privilege to have evolved into this woman, who dines on her own, dances by herself, and opens her own wings.
What a revolution to have dove into the ocean, claimed ownership of my time, and felt so happy amidst so much darkness. What a light.