Lost in Translation: An Immigrant Story


The following is a tale as old as America. It is a true story.

The people in this story would like to keep some sense of Internet anonymity and so I will use pronouns and titles instead of names as I weave my tale.

Grab a cup of tea or coffee, sit before a fire and imagine that you too are on this journey.

The Tale of 3 Brothers

Over 40 years ago in a small Mountain town in the Caribbean country of La Republica Dominicana; during the reconstruction of the great country after the assassination of the Dictator, Rafael Trujillo, there lived two very different families.


The first family was led by a small farmer who was full of integrity, hard working and quiet in nature. His wife was the pillar of the family, God fearing and the epitome of love. Together they raised 8 children. Their oldest son was quick as a whip, full of charisma and the life of any gathering with his daredevil antics.

The other family was led by woman who was graced with abundant strength, a quick tongue and an imposing personality. Her husband was a hardworking man and dedicated father with a penchant for unfaithfulness. Together they birthed 12 children. Their third child and oldest son befriended the oldest son of the other family, forever uniting the two lines when he introduced the charismatic boy to his younger sister.

The boy and girl fell in love almost immediately, barely in their tweens. The two boys were mischievous at best, playing hard and always trying to one up the others daredevil drive. The younger sister was always near by to be the voice of reason. The small village was the setting for their adventures until the night the older brother tried to stop a fight only to be stabbed by an ice pick in the process. The families mourned and the boy and younger sister decided that they wanted more than life in that small town, surrounded by memories of their best friend. After the girl’s 18th birthday, much to her mother’s dismay, the two lovers moved from the tiny village to the country’s capital. Both armed with an elementary education and her a talent as a seamstress.bonaubridge.jpg

After a few years of getting settled they started their family and the 3 Brothers were born within three years. Their love for each other was great but the temptations of the city enticed the boy more every day and his eyes wandered in every direction. He chased skirts, school and excitement. His charisma and wit opening any door that dared to stand in his way. After completing a bachelors degree in Refrigeration and diligently working in a plastic factory while she worked as a seamstress for a wealthier business owner, they decided to build a home for their three young boys. Together they saved enough money to buy a small plot of land. It took two years for them to build their house by hand, with their three small children helping as well.

The oldest of the brothers, almost 30 years later, remembers clearly the process of construction. The dirt. The rocks. The cement blocks being stacked, one by one. He remembers the celebration of moving in and the pride his father held as a man. The pride of providing for a family, of building a home on land that is yours, is one that has lasted a lifetime. It is also why, even after losing his family to another country he still held on to the house. It is now a place that is theirs, whenever they want it. Roots that have been firmly planted so that the 3 brothers can always return and have a home that is theirs.drhouse.jpg

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When the 3 Brothers left their island home the oldest was 10. Before that occurred the foundation of their integrity and determination was built through the vastly different experiences of growing up on their island paradise.

From kindergarten (4) to fourth grade (10) the oldest brother (and his siblings once old enough) attended a private school several miles away. They walked everyday to school and excelled academically but struggled with the structure. They were not the best producers, regardless of what they may have known. All three boys were mischievous, active, and quick witted. By 6 the oldest had learned almost all of his multiplication tables. By 5 the youngest did too. The middle brother was a late bloomer, according to their father, he learned them at almost 8. The methods may have been archaic (if you take too long expect a pinch), but the boys flourished academically under their fathers watchful eye. The teachers often reported that the talking, lying (storytelling) and playful nature kept them from receiving the best marks but they were otherwise good students, eager to learn.

Besides their seamstress, factory, and referigeration work, their family also owned a small colmado (neighborhood grocery store) that was attached to the house (their father now uses it to sell lottery tickets). All three boys worked as shop keepers, handling money and goods, starting at 6, 5, 3.75 respectively. Whenever their father had a refrigeration job to do the oldest and youngest would help. Igniting a love of electronics, building and tinkering in both boys. The middle brother was different. He did not enjoy the math and science that surrounded him. He preferred the arts, books, and history that were introduced at school. He wrote stories and poetry to pass the time when not playing or watching cartoons with his brothers. The oldest memorized every joke he ever heard and was often the entertainment for adults, there was no such thing as censoring explicit information and the neighbors found the scrawny joke teller to be the best of entertainers. The middle brother had the integrity of a monk, never allowing an indiscretion to pass him by unreported. The youngest was often the instigator of such indiscretions, often able to convince his eldest brother to join in tom foolery.

Every summer the boys returned to the mountain town to spend their days helping on their paternal grandparents farm. Abuela and Abuelo were far from modernized. They woke with the crow of roosters every dawn, fed the animals and tended to chores with Abuelo while Abuela started the fire in the outdoor kitchen and cooked over cast iron Calderos. After washing dishes via a series of buckets, the men loaded the horses and rode up the mountain to tend to the farm while Abuela took the laundry to the nearest river. There using the massive rocks, she beat the stains out of the families dirty clothes with a bar of Jabon. The boys rode on horseback with their Abuelo to pick the harvests that could fetch a good price at the Mercado from his silver mist coated mountain acreage. They learned to distinguish different roots, harvest tobacco, coffee, cacao, paprika, mangos, platanos and guandules. They cared for the chickens and the pigs near the house, ate four meals a day, and spent the evening playing dominoes and cards with the family. After supper, at around 9:30 pm, they would fill a 5 gallon bucket with water and bathe. Using a plastic cup as a shower head. Before bed their Abuela would read them Bible stories, pray and send them to bed with love until her death.bonaocollage.jpg

That same year their mother took a once in a lifetime opportunity and emigrated to the United States with her sister at the insistence of Mama, the matriarch of her family, leaving her three babies with their father as she prepared the way for her family to follow suit. Mama was brought to the United States by her second oldest daughter, who had come with her husband. After going through the initial residency time frame Mama filled out the paperwork that would allow her children to all join her in the land of new beginnings. However, being the shrewd woman that she was and considering her great disliking of her sons in law, Mama only requested for the legal emigration of her children, leaving every daughter’s marital status as unwed. The choice was either to join their mother in the U.S. or stay behind with their husbands. Only two daughters chose to stay behind.

For two years the mother worked to save enough money to not only be able to afford the residency applications but also the air fare and living expenses that would be necessary to bring her three boys to her. By this time infidelity on both sides had crushed any chance of the lovers reuniting once again. The pain and distance had been enough to tear their family apart.

In September the 3 Brothers tearfully left their father behind and boarded their very first airplane. Alone they flew from Santo Domingo to San Juan, Puerto Rico, their point of entry. Alone they went through customs. Alone the three walked through the Airport to their next flight, heading for JFK where their mother anxiously awaited their arrival. Together they made their way to their new home in Connecticut. For hours the three brothers watched the New England Autumn Scene race past their windows. Their island weather had not prepared them for a New England Fall and all three were trying to get accustomed to their new Jackets. The oldest fondly recalls the smooth material and vivid green of the Jets jacket he wore and his first snowfall less than a month later.

 The boys were enrolled in the local public school, still speaking only spanish. The oldest transferred into the next grade (5th) without a problem, the middle also into his own grade (4th). The youngest was so far ahead of his peers that he skipped two grades and was placed into the same 4th grade class as his older brother and their older cousin who was 2 years behind because of the language problem. The boys were placed into the ESL program so that they could learn English. The course work was still too easy for all three boys compared to the individualized attention they had received at their private school. They found it easy to play instead of focus. This was especially true of the youngest. It was decided by the school that the boy was too emotionally immature to handle the rigors of fourth grade and so he was returned not to the next grade below, but to the grade of his aged peers, 2nd grade. The boys who had already mastered multiplication and division and were eagerly learning algebra with their father were deemed unable to learn because of the language difference, in a school with a majority of hispanic immigrant or 2nd generation immigrant children and almost entirely bilingual teachers.


The 3 brothers stayed in the ESL program until High School. The oldest only attending a handful of courses entirely in English upon his graduation. There was no real need for anyone in the family to learn English. The area in which they lived was entirely populated by Latinos and Hispanics. It was hard enough to acclimate to the culture and technology, let alone add in a new language.

For example:

About a year into living in the United States the family was able to afford a small apartment without needing to share. In order to accommodate the boys in their new latch key environment, their mother saved and bought a brand new microwave. The boys read the directions to their mother and became accustomed to heating things up for the first time without a stove. By this time all three boys could cook a full dinner for their family on the stove, but this was a safer option. They knew what chores needed to be completed and they readily obeyed their mothers rules about being outside. Together they walked home from school with the oldest as the caretaker for the younger two, if in name only. Their mother worked two jobs and only had enough time between the two to make sure that homework had been finished and to hear about their day. Aunts and Uncles lived in the same apartment complex and were available if the boys needed anything.

Like all brothers, while close emotionally, these three fought often. They were sarcastic little buggers who loved to watch television and often fought over the remote. One afternoon the oldest had procured the remote and refused to relinquish his rights, regardless of the state of his bladder. While in the bathroom, rushing to get away from the prying hands of his brothers, the oldest dropped the remote into the clean toilet. The boys were terrified! Their mother would kill them if he broke the remote. They all knew that electronics malfunctioned when wet, they were especially worried when the channels on the cable box started changing without aid. The oldest brother decided that if they could rid the remote of its water they could save the remote. He then made the executive decision to use heat to get rid of the moisture. The fastest way to heat something in the apartment was the microwave. While the younger two were otherwise occupied the oldest put the remote into the microwave and turned it on for one minute. Almost immediately sparks started flying and all three brothers started freaking out. They did what all boys afraid of trouble do. They hid the evidence and swore not to tell. The boy scout of the three could not handle the lie and when asked fessed up, much to the chagrin of the other two. Their mother laughed at them and called the cable company for a new remote.

Many other cultural and technological comedies occurred as they grew more and more accustomed to American Life. However, even after 5 years the boys knew only conversational English. They lived in the Latino Ghetto of the inner city, because that is where they could afford to live and where their mother could find work.  She worked hard so that her boys could have a better life. She involved them in every free inner city program she could find that would emphasize education and get them out of the city. The youngest found it easiest to learn the new language, but all three struggled. Academically school was still easy for them so they did the bare minimum, enough to keep their grades high enough to please their mother but not really trying either.

They grew into Americans, exploring their interests and building new dreams.

The oldest discovered a love of computers and began tinkering with an old DOS initiated IBM that had been gifted to the family. He quickly learned his way around it and played floppy disked games late into the night. Early in High school he found that because of his ESL status, his grades were not even considered for the Honor Roll or Valedictorian honors and so he stopped trying. In math class he would sleep or read through class, never turned in homework and maintained a high c average with 90-100 percent on every test. In science he quickly befriended the teachers and challenged them with his curiosity, but never did the homework and aced every test. At 17, unable to afford college and desperate to get out of the gang infested projects where they lived, the oldest began talking to military recruiters. His mother was convinced after being promised that her son would have a desk job and so she signed the paperwork allowing her minor son to join upon graduation. She was told that because it was a peaceful time, her son would be safe and well taken cared of. After a few summer courses at the community college he entered the Marine Corps, where he quickly excelled. Within months his conversational English abilities became fluency. His career flourished with his role as an administrator which gave him an outlet for his perfectionism and his eye for details. His incredible memory allowed him to memorize most orders with ease, allowing him to often correct higher ranking officials on their misuse of SOP. Within two years he returned home and bought his mother a house in a nicer area of town, so that she would no longer live in the projects. The house also allowed her to stop working two jobs because she could rent out some of the floors to help cover expenses. He regularly sent her part of his paycheck so that his youngest brother could have more than he did. He was the first in his family to apply for citizenship and is now proudly an American. He dreams of completing a degree in education and going back to that inner city as a teacher, to inspire others as his teachers and principals did for him.

The middle son worked diligently. He didn’t slack off like his older brother but struggled with his higher course load taught in English. His love for poetry and literature was ignited again with an introduction to Shakespeare and his creative talents bloomed unnoticed. He was quiet by nature and often kept to himself in order to keep out of the drama of inner city life but poured his soul into his favorite past time, the swim and diving team at school. He worked a part time job and dreamed of life outside of the city and upon graduation, he too joined the Marine Corps. His creativity and artistry combined with his sense of justice have served him well as a cook and drill instructor. He gained his citizenship the year after his brother and is also proud to be a naturalized citizen. He was the first to buy his own home, his career is blooming and he hopes to one day open his own restaurant so that he can share his love of food and art with the world.

The youngest, having lived equal parts of his life in both worlds found it easiest to learn the language and acclimate to the culture. He was also an active member of the swim and dive team and excelled in his mathematics. He might’ve had a scholarship due to his high grades and quick mind but like his older brother he often preferred to focus on other pursuits. He had also planned on joining the Marine Corps, just like his older brothers, but both of them were vehemently against the idea unless he joined as an officer. At their urging he began community college classes where he excelled in mathematics and business. Shortly thereafter his girlfriend became pregnant and his son was born. Changing his focus and life forever. It took longer than he wanted. Life tends to throw curve balls but eventually he finished an accounting degree and began working for a paycheck firm.  He has physical custody of his son and devotes most of his energies into cultivating that active and creative mind with the help of his new bride.

This is where the story ends, for now. It is not really over, each is beginning a new chapter in their life and taking each day a step at a time. Not even fully into their 30’s collectively there is a lot of life to live.

I did not mention their names as I spun their tale because not one of these 3 Brothers will tell you that they are gifted.

They scoffed at the idea when I presented it to them.

I know them well and honestly thought they would refuse my request.

Why bring attention to them?

None of them even thought that their story was worth telling but I did.

Maybe because I love history, but mostly I just love a good underdog story.

Call it imposter syndrome or whatever you want, but they do not believe they are even smart. Years of mediocre grades and an ESL system that belittled their intelligence drove that out of them. Giftedness only became a topic when they began researching Giftedness for their children. Even with all the evidence they question the reality of the concept. Most unidentified adults do.

Through them, and others in their family who also have inspiring stories, I learned that not all gifted adults have degrees. I learned that giftedness can truly be found anywhere, in anyone. I also learned that our educational system doesn’t even look for giftedness in the ESL classes, at least not back then. The Magnet schools in that area are amazing, even 15 years ago they were fantastic, but it doesn’t mean that they catch everyone who walks through their halls. Maybe it was a great thing that they weren’t caught, maybe its good thing that they don’t consider themselves gifted. It doesn’t matter to them at this point because they are already successful, in their minds, and in every way that matters, they have risen above. They may not be millionaires or have Ph.Ds but they still struggle with the everyday realities of Gifted adults.


11 thoughts on “Lost in Translation: An Immigrant Story

Add yours

  1. Lovely Story Tabitha! Reminds me much of my husbands father’s family. They came over from the middle east after much bloodshed and heart ache. Their country was in shambles, people were being killed by gun fire, they actually missed some that went through their own home. My husbands father was born to a rich father who died when he was just born and he grew up in poverty because the govt took his fathers money. Him and his brothers grew up and self educated themselves they all became super intelligent, worked hard and became quite successful. My husbands father decided to come to America after bullets tore through their home. Once they were here, his father was dirt poor and lived in the ghetto’s of Detroit with his wife and 4 kids. My husband was 3 yrs old at the time. My husbands father then had to work all over again to become successful and he did. It took him many years but he rose back to the top. It often brings me to tears to hear their story but its a very moving one when heard in its entirety just like yours.

    Thank you for sharing Tabitha. I loved reading it

    Liked by 1 person

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