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August 17, 2009

Reaching Liberty

The following is an auto-biographical story I wrote a long time ago while taking my first writing class. Since is based on the inspiration The statue of Liberty gave me to migrate north, I thought it would be appropriate to post it now that the statue will reopen to the public this coming 4th of July for the first time since Sept 11th, 2001
Katty Avila.

I remember telling my mother “One day I’ll make it there and I’ll climb the very top of her crown” Her response to my little, almost ridiculous ambition was “Dream on dear, dream on.”

This was the night my mother and I watched the Statue of Liberty’s centennial anniversary, viewing it through our 13" black and white television. This TV set was the window to the outside world; I could feel the excitement of the celebration right then and there.

For my mother, as for many people back in my country, the celebration was just a very regular event, just another international broadcast in one of the local channels. It’s amazing what the air waves did to my imagination the night Lady Liberty turned 100. Watching the roller skaters (blades were not a hot item yet), fireworks, with not much color to them from my perspective. The whole spectacle made me think of how much the people involved in this event must have invested to make it look so organized.

I watched in astonishment.

Despite her discouragement I never stopped believing that one day I would actually make it. I could, however understand why my mother did not share the same vision that I had that night about coming to the US.

Like most of her relatives, my mother had a very special bond with her parents, who were born, lived and died in a remote, small town in Venezuela. For them to live somewhere else was inconceivable. Sometimes I got the feeling that they thought of me as a traitor for wanting to leave my country for another one.

Back then was not the United States but actually making to the top of the Statue of Liberty. I had a certain fixation for Lady Liberty.
To me, making it there was reaching the top of the world.

My mother and I lived in a low middle class society in Caracas. If you weren’t too demanding you could considered it comfortable. We made enough money to buy our essentials every week. Since public schools required students to wear uniforms, my mother never had to worry about keeping me in style every season. I did not have to deal with not being accepted or about looking better than my schoolmates. Although high school was a mix of different social classes, you could clearly recognize the high class kids. In under developed countries the children of the powerful will let you know how important they are to themselves.

Despite our economic circumstances, that idea of reaching the top of the world never left me alone. I had this vision that told me I was going to make it there no matter what.

Other than my mother, I never shared my little fantasy with anyone, it was something very personal and I felt way too selfish to share it with any of my friends. I felt they would never have understood what it truly meant to me, although sometimes I got the impression that for some of them it was also the unreachable goal.

North American pop music ruled the air waves and music videos were the new sensation. All of us looked up to those talented artists like Cindy Lauper, Madonna, Michael Jackson. For my friends, it was something more transitory. Thriller was a hit. I, along with all my friends would work on its choreography, wishing we were all part of that amazing production. Everyone returned to their own little world while I stayed submerged in my own fantasy, never mentioned it to anybody. I was afraid of somebody ruining my illusion or maybe I was afraid of being considered a lunatic.

Four years later, during school vacation, at the age of 16; I got my first summer job in a clothing factory where my mother worked. There I met a North American man who did not speak Spanish. I initiated a broken English conversation that he found to be quite amusing. To be honest, one of the reasons I started working there was because I knew my mother’s boss had an American son-in-law. I was so eager to exchange a few English words with him. I had never had any connection with an American citizen up to this point. I learned his wife was very sick. They needed somebody to help them with the care of their three daughters. Seeing my interest in the language and in the American culture they hired me as their nanny for a couple of months, the amount of time they were going to spend there.

By the end of those two months the girls and I had created a great bond. A few weeks before their trip back to the States they would constantly ask their parents to “please bring Katty with us”.

I found it inconceivable the first time they asked me if I would like to come to the United States. I was thinking ‘please don’t let me wake up’. My mother would not accept the idea of me her only child being so far away. I was unrelentingly persistent, me the one who never had left my mother’s side. My grandparents at the time said to her “Let her go, you’ll see, she won’t last that long out there on her own. She’ll be back before you know it”. They spoke from experience, as a small child every time we went to visit them up to the age of 11, I had a fear she was bringing me there to leave me and never come back. I would cling to her refusing to let her go. My poor grandparents must have thought I hated them.

My mom knew this time this was not going to be the case. She knew this was what I had carried inside for so long, and though it was not easy for her, she then realized she had to let go. The dream to go north had come true, and the first thing that went through my mind was ‘here I come Lady Liberty!’

A year and half later after living in Boston, I met an Au pair, another nanny from Denmark. Her parents, in one of their trips to the States asked her to bring a friend along to their next visit to New York City. I was the lucky one.

I had the opportunity to tour New York with a Danish tour guide, who explained the visited sights of the city in their own language, Danish. I was the only South American in the bus and I was driving all of them crazy. I would ask my friend to translate for me what the guide was explaining. The tour took us in a three day expedition through the Big Apple.

There were rumors of canceling the trip to Liberty Island for lack of time. Some of the tourists wanted to stay in the city for their last minute shopping, so the big debate started: “to go or not to go”, that was the question.

At this point I had not mentioned 'my greatest ambition', I didn’t want to be pushy, after all I had been invited to this trip. I was not paying for anything. Yet I had this great anxiety of screaming at these people what this meant to me. Sure I could go some other time, on my own, but the disappointment at that moment was devastating.

On our last day, Tuesday morning, my friend and I woke up to an early phone call in our hotel suite. My friend’s parents were calling to say we were going to Ellis island and to the Statue of Liberty. ‘Oh Say, Can You Seeee!” my mind was singing. I thought I would never make it there.

When we arrived at Battery park I immediately recognized the lane where I had seen Madonna take her famous walk by the water in the video “Papa Don’t Preach” it was not real. I was overwhelmed.

As we approached the Statue, I felt overpowered. I started thinking I could not deserve such a feeling; the realization of my deepest, most desired dream is taking place.

When we finally arrived at the island, the first thing I wanted to do was to run up to her head. I was not aware that a multitude of people were going through the same experience as I was. Thousands of people waiting in line to get to “the top of the world” stopped me.

There were all sorts of warning signs displayed at the base of the statue: “People that suffer from back pain, headaches, digestive problems and pregnant women should not go up”. This all seemed silly to me, but my friend did not think it was funny, she did not want to go up. I decided I would do it on my own.

After two hours and some claustrophobic anxieties later, I got to the crown of Lady Liberty.

My whole childhood came back to that moment in time. “Mom, I made it!” I wish she could have been there to see that moment happen. Even though the time was limited, I tried to live every second. I took as much as I could; I looked through every single window, and there I was. It was glorious!

The trip to Liberty island will live with me for the rest of my life.
I did not tell many of my friends about that silly fantasy, but I do enjoy telling them about how I reached the top of the world.

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