Authentic Eagles: Luis Miguel Torres On Family

As Boston College students, it can be tempting to hide our struggles in the constant quest to appear perfect. Embracing our  truths can help us to understand ourselves and experience the world around us as genuinely as possible. Authentic Eagles is a series that gives a voice to the people who have experienced firsthand the trials and tribulations of being one’s authentic self at BC.

Luis Miguel Torres, A&S '16

The Eternal Train Ride

As a child I had a distinct similarity to a train; I moved around a lot. However, unlike most train passengers, I didn’t know where I was headed or what stop was next. This was a common theme up until the beginning of my teenage years. My parents’ separation had caused this eternal train ride, and I was never able to find a home. I moved from house to house, but never felt comfortable enough in an environment to call it home. A home is a source of your most vivid memories, while a house serves simply as shelter. My childhood is a blur because I never had a home to create memories in. My father noticed the detriment his separating from my mother caused, but I was never one to voice my feelings. He would tell me, “If you can’t say how you feel, write it down.” So here it goes.

At the beginning of my parents’ separation, my mother retained custody of my sister and me. My mother, whom I love dearly, has always been a paranoid woman. She came to New York City from the Dominican Republic, and was set on success. Aside from her paranoia, she is also very intelligent; hence, she knew that to reach success, education was the path to take. This was heavily instilled in me as my day comprised of school, homework, and the library. There were some days where the library could burn down, and I wouldn’t shed a tear because I hated reading. Nonetheless, I knew it was something I had to do because my mother had taught me so. I was only eight years old, but the importance of a solid education was something I already valued. Sacred Heart, a private catholic school in Bronx, New York was my safe haven. My mother owned a discount store across the street from my school so my world became the four-block radius that surrounded Sacred Heart.

Furthermore, because my mother sheltered me in such a small area, I made a lot of neighborhood friends. There was one friend in particular that I still remember today. Her name is Jo-Ann. I don’t remember much about her personality, but for some reason I know she was an important part of my childhood. For this reason, when she moved to Puerto Rico, I was as sad as a five-year-old can be. I don’t remember her face, but I do remember what the back of her head looks like from the time she had said good-bye to me and walked away. The feeling of abandonment I experienced during this moment caused me to speculate about whether or not all relationships are temporary, does anything in life really last?

Shortly after, the tension within my parents’ separation became unbearable for my mother. She became afraid of my father with little reason for it. She believed that she had to protect her only son and daughter, but I never understood why she felt this way. I was in class at Sacred Heart when Ms. Walsh said on the loud speaker, “Luis Torres report to the main office.” I had never been in trouble before so as I walked to the main office I left puddles of sweat throughout the hallway. I opened the door to the office, and there was my mother. She had come to take me out of school early, so I thought. Little did I know that this would be the last time I stepped inside Sacred Heart, not just Sacred Heart, but also the four-block radius around it that had become my world. The next stop on the train was Maywood, New Jersey.

My mother had enrolled me in the Memorial School in Maywood, New Jersey. It was a nice environment, something I was not accustomed to. The school food tasted great, but what was most different was that I was the only Latino in my school. Everyone else was white. This was new for me, and I never was able to get used to it. The kids would ask me to speak in Spanish, and I did thinking that they genuinely wanted to learn about me. The reason I never grew accustomed to New Jersey was because just two weeks after I had moved there, the court ordered my father to take my custody. For three months I could not speak or see my mother, supposedly that would help me transition to living with my father. The next stop on the train had come sooner than I expected. I was about nine years old then, and I had moved three times in one year.

As a result of the constant moving, I had finally come to the conclusion that everything is temporary. All the relationships I had formed were gone, and in those two weeks I spent in Jersey I didn’t speak to my father. I remember thinking that he was dead. But now that I was living with my father, what was the point in making friends within my neighborhood? The day for me to move would just come again. I was now living in the John Adams Projects on Jackson Avenue in the South Bronx, the worst area I had lived in thus far. The South Bronx is home to violence, and any person can be easily steered into the wrong path. Hence, making friends was not only difficult for me, but dangerous. Going to the playground also became dangerous; I even lost the desire to have fun. What nine-year-old child doesn’t want to have fun? My father, a very overprotective man didn’t allow me to go outside. He understood the neighborhood we had lived in more than I ever would.

But, in spite of all the movement there was one constant: my father also preached the importance of an education. Like I said before, the South Bronx is home to violence, and it can steer you in two ways. You can fall through the cracks and join the wrong crowd or you can take the negative environment and use it as motivation to want better. Through education, I chose the second path.

Moreover, two schools had seen my face leave within that year; I was now enrolled in Public School 161, but this was no safe haven like Sacred Heart. Although school was easy, I was a source of scrutiny for my classmates. If you looked into my classroom you could easily see who I was. My face was round much like the rest of my body, and because I loved Pokémon so much, I thought of myself as Snorlax. Weight was the least of my problems at the time, because my new house wasn’t a friendlier environment than my new school.

My father had a significant other, and she had two sons and a daughter whom lived with us. Her sons would constantly hit me, and fights were a common occurrence. The mere act of sleeping scared me because her sons would hurt me as I slept, and I would wake up with new bruises each morning. My mother was still trying to regain my custody at the time so I would pray each night for God to “get inside of the judge’s head” so that I may be relieved of the torment I now found myself in. My father isn’t a bad man; he just made poor decisions, especially when it came to women. Because I wasn’t allowed to speak to my mother, I lost the ability to trust women. My father had paraded with so many of them that I now saw them as objects. As a result, the ability to trust and love was something I found myself struggling with. The only person whom I loved at the time was my sister. Between my eighth and ninth birthday I had greatly changed because of the uncertainty each new day brought.

Initially, the new move was difficult, but success in the classroom made it easier. Whenever something at home would bother me, I’d turn to my books. Reading now came easy to me, and math was something I would always turn to in order to forget about the environment that now surrounded me. I was praised for my academics, but I never felt proud of myself. I thought, like everything else, that the praise I received was temporary so there was no need to internalize it. I never realized how proud my father actually was of me until my fifth grade graduation. I was valedictorian, and shattered the school’s previous test score records. A responsibility that came with this feat was to write a speech. This was the first time I had ever sat down and thought about something I was grateful for other than my sister. On that summer day in June, I delivered my speech, and saw tears fall from my teacher’s eyes. Both of my parents were present that day, this is the only day I remember them being in the same room together during my childhood. That in of itself expressed the importance of the moment. I now was able to see the worth my parents saw in me, and thus I vowed to continue my academic success.

Graduating meant moving on to a new school. I didn’t move to a new house, but a change of school meant that I would lose what little relationships I had formed from third to fifth grade.  I was no longer in public school; my father enrolled me in Mount Carmel Holy Rosary where I’d stay until the eighth grade. At first, I lived in the South Bronx while I went to Mt. Carmel, but once again I moved, this time to Spanish Harlem. The reason for this move was that my father impregnated another woman, so we had to move in with her so that he can take care of his responsibilities as yet again an expectant father.

I was now about 14 years old, and had begun to understand that my childhood was geared by the woman my father dated at the time. I was often unhappy because of the woman he chose. This only allowed me to continue to see women as objects that can be disposed of. As a result, once I became comfortable with talking to my female classmates, I used them for pleasures, and made them believe that I cared for them when I never did. Fortunately, I do not feel this way today, and I owe that to my sisters. It took my baby sister’s birth for me to realize how precious women are, especially my two beloved sisters; Anabel and Cassandra. I now knew that it was my responsibility to take care of them as well as I could. In graduating from the eighth grade, new responsibilities developed such as being the primary caretaker of Anabel which further allowed me to break the notion that all women are disposable.

For the first time in my life, I was stable. I lived in Spanish Harlem from my thirteenth birthday until I was 17 years old, but I had still not called it home. I now attended All Hallows High School, a place that molded me into the young man I am today. The school was run by the Christian Brothers, thus, solidarity and community service were constantly preached. Solidarity refers to family, there were about 600 students in my school, but we were all one. This was something I had never grasped in my earlier years. Through my continued academic success, I was nominated by my teachers for the Liberty Leads Program. Once accepted into the program, solidarity was something that was still evident. I had an academic advisor who could relate to me, and he served as a role model. His name was Sylvester Rembert and along with my father, they both served as the two male figures in my life that saw something in me that I had never seen in myself.

Through the Liberty Leads Program and Sylvester’s nomination, I was able to go abroad to the Dominican Republic. On June 29th, 2010, I left John F. Kennedy Airport for the land of ancestors; these ancestors may or may not have been my own. I traveled with a group of 15 people, and this would not be my first visit to the Dominican Republic. But it would be the most memorable. The flight was set for the brink of dawn. I arrived at the airport while the skies were still swallowed by darkness. A couple of hours later, the plane roared into the light-filled sky. I left the dark, confined environment that I knew in Spanish Harlem for the lit environment of La Hispaniola. As aforementioned, I never found a home in Spanish Harlem, but I did in the Dominican Republic. While I was on the trip, I was unsure of why I felt so comfortable. Was it because I was on my mother’s homeland? Or maybe because the Dominicans practiced forms of public embrace other than “daps”, our ghetto version of a handshake back in Spanish Harlem. They welcomed one another with kisses on the cheek; witnessing the natives address each other made me realize that people back home weren’t so welcoming to newcomers.

In Harlem, we did not practice solidarity and community service. In the Dominican Republic, nothing could break the unity I saw. Hence, I was also embraced as family. Was it because I, too, was Dominican? No. The rest of my Global Teens traveling group contained a total of zero Latinos, and they were embraced as I was. This embracement was the reason why we reached our goal for the trip which was to advocate for human rights, in particular the right for children to receive an education. Education is something that had geared my life, therefore, I knew its value, and I wanted to be able to share it with the people I came into contact with in the Dominican Republic.

After painting a school during the service trip, the neighborhood children gathered at the school’s gate, simply to stare in awe, their eyes wide open, waiting to leap through the gate and take a look. These smiles brightened such a damaged community. They loved their “new” school, and I fell in love with the feeling that I may have changed a young child’s life. I understood that the only reason why I was able to affect these children was because of what both my mother and father had taught me; the importance of an education. In giving these children an opportunity for education, I felt linked to the Dominican Republic. I was now comfortable in calling it my home even though it is 1,649 miles away.

When the trip was over, and I was set to depart from Santo Domingo, I vowed that I would bring solidarity and community service with me. If it were not for these two things, I would have never had a successful high school career. Forming meaningful relationships with friends and family was no longer a daunting task. I still understood that certain things are temporary, but I had learned a new lesson; change is not always a bad thing. Because of this new lesson, I awaited my high school graduation with joy. I wasn’t the valedictorian or salutatorian, but I was once again selected to deliver a speech, this time for the Liberty Leads Program. This was something I had wanted once I was told that only a select few were chosen to deliver a speech. I poured emotion into my oration, something I hadn’t done since my fifth grade graduation. Liberty Leads had changed me, and I made that clear in my tone. I was given hope through this program and the ability to accept new people into my life as family rather than as just acquaintances or friends. I also had All Hallows to thank for this; the brotherhood I formed there travels with me to wherever life leads me.

After graduating, my next move was to Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. I was no longer on the New York City Transit train; I was now on the “T.” Boston College was where I would take my newfound solidarity and commitment to service. I am now 18 years old, and I never would have imagined how much I would learn about myself in one short semester at Boston College. In coming to a new environment, I somewhat forgot about the importance of building relationships with people. I quickly relearned this lesson as I sought for guidance in my first semester; college was in no way similar to what I had experienced in high school. What saved me were the relationships I had made back home because two of my roommates graduated from Liberty Leads with me, and my other roommate was in the same kindergarten class with me back in Sacred Heart. Having these friends from home is a gift from God. A gift that reminds me every day of the importance of forming lasting and meaningful relationships with those whom you come into contact with every day. These are the relationships that are not temporary. I started my journey homeless, but now, thanks to my experiences in the Dominican Republic and All Hallows, I called two places home.

The analogy of an eternal train ride still exists in my life. The only difference is that I now see each new stop as a new beginning rather than the end of something that previously existed. In my short time at Boston College I have found a new way of expressing myself; writing. Instead of speaking about my experiences, I can now write about them. Through writing, my experiences can become immortal. My ability to teach meaningful lessons to other people won’t end with my death because my writing would live on. I believe that this is what my father was trying to tell me when he said, “If you can’t say how you feel, write it down.” About ten years later, I finally wrote it down.

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