I Take a Leap Over the Sea and
I Land on My Feet (1944–1949)
The city of New York had always been an enchanted world for me—part reality and part dream. I knew the city as the place where my mother and her brothers had gone to visit. Although I had been told that the trip ended abruptly because of my uncle’s illness, the city always remained a fairy place in my mind, derived from stories of returnees and movies.
My mother was about nineteen when she traveled to New York. We rarely talked about the trip. There was never much time for talking together. I learned about this trip from Aunt Magui, who remembered when they left. She said that my mother had been very courageous to leave Puerto Rico. They lived in the city on Amsterdam Avenue at 120th Street with Victoria, the sister of Rafael Hernández, the composer. Their stay was not too long because my uncle, José Belén, had gone partying without a coat and caught pneumonia. This forced the three to return to Puerto Rico with Uncle José. He died of pneumonia following their return. This seemed to be one of the things that my grandmother held against my mother. I thought that I could go to New York one day the way they had.
When this adventure was spoken of at home, my aunt referred to a steamer called the “Carolina.” In the living room of our small house, there was a big steamer trunk where my grandmother kept presents