Visa para un pesadilla

Briana L. Urena-Ravelo
4 min readJun 14, 2016

When people discover

where my family’s from,

they unwittingly gasp and immediately I see

the images silently flashing behind their eyes.

Palm trees and white beaches,

coconuts and tropical birds and maybe monkeys

(wait, they do have monkeys right),

dancing, drums, laughing,

the clearest ocean and Campo slang, rice and beans.

A laid-back, Caribbean paradise.

Gushing, they exclaim

that it is their favorite tourist spot

and have been many times or

they have aspirations to go to visit

for their yearly summer vacation and

in their excitement remember they forgot

that I’m still there in person and

am not currently vacationing with them in their head.

So politely they ask me,

“Have you ever gone back to the DR, Briana?”

The answer is no.

More accurately,

as I’ve never been

to the Dominican Republic

in the first place,

it’s not exactly a place that I can “return” to.

Instead, that question belongs to my parents.

For my mother,

The answer is still no.

She didn’t return even when

the woman who raised her

her great grandmother,

the curandera,

passed away.

My mother knew it was coming, she says

because her grandmother came to her

in a dream

shortly before her death,

because my mother wears premonition

in her blood

like a funeral gown on a body.

And for my father,

he only just returned

for the first time in 27 years

last fall

to say goodbye to his dying brother.

He could not return

once again

for the funeral,

or to give his brother’s daughter,

his niece,

away at her wedding.

For many of us, this is not strange.

As better opportunities bring us closer to our sueños

they bring us farther from our family,

our culture,

our hearts.

We come here

not running from paradise,

but dead ends and desolation.

This is why my father scoffs

and thinks me naïve

for wanting to live in his homeland.

“Visit, yes, but live, no! For what? There’s nothing there!”

He spends a whole 20 minute car ride

alternating between Spanish and English,

bemoaning the state of his country.

My mother, on the other hand,

always smiles as she tells me stories

her of her and her twin brother

(the Ravelo-Reyes Ibeyi)

with parasites in their bellies,

barefoot, stealing mangos

gambling for meat,

happy despite a desperate,

starving poverty

I will never know

and to which I am currently serving

a poetic injustice

because of my pure inability to match

my mother’s linguistic cadence,

tropical rhythm

luchando literary license.

But more than that I lack her words,

I lack the knowledge of pain

of these unspeakable,

terrifying truths,

of being so vicious split in two

of being thousands of miles away from familia,

of being here in America

and still not having much opportunity or hope

a dark “in-between countries” place

where even death cannot promise

to usher us back home

because our poverty is stronger

than our end.

But yes, by all means ask me,

ask me if I’ve gone back

to a country who I’m

as consistent as a hurricane about,

that I revere and fear and

doubt and dream of and

criticize and rage and and yet

feel so unbearably hungry for

(all why asking if it’s even my place)

when she is is powerless to once again

command the Caribbean like when

she first birthed from the skull of a god

and usher her children safely freely back and forth

from home to home, from body to body

from dust to dust.

Ask me if I’ve “gone back”

Reminding me that they barely even want me here,

don’t think I belong,

and so it makes sense

to subtly tell me

to “go back” to a place

I’ve never been,

and when it isn’t guaranteed

That a woman like me

would be welcomed there, either.

Please, ask me if I’ve “been back”

When Dominican mothers leave their nenes

to nanny white people’s children here,

or when the nenes who are here

living the “American dream”

are yet targeted

and killed



in cold blood

and their mothers lack the visa to come

to say goodbye

and bury them.

I have spent so much of my life

putting together borrowed sad Spanglish stories

like salvaged art

to decorate

my poorly constructed makeshift refuges

that are constantly under siege

that do not last

that are sad excuses for a home

for safety, for familia

because at this point,

that is the best option

someone like me

usually has.



Briana L. Urena-Ravelo

Writer. Community organizer. Errant punk. Ne’er do well. Fire starter. Email: