A Mother's Mark: On Her Son's Head, And His Life

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Jose Cruz with his daughter Grace in New York City. i

Jose Cruz with his daughter, Grace, in New York City. Their conversation is part of the new StoryCorps Historias project. In Spanish, historia means both "story" and "history." StoryCorps hide caption

itoggle caption StoryCorps
Jose Cruz with his daughter Grace in New York City.

Jose Cruz with his daughter, Grace, in New York City. Their conversation is part of the new StoryCorps Historias project. In Spanish, historia means both "story" and "history."

StoryCorps

Jose Cruz grew up in the Dominican Republic. In the late 1950s, his mother left their home to find work in the United States. And as Cruz tells his daughter, Grace, his mother had a deep impact on his life.

But her departure took a toll on her son. She had always been a big part of his life in Villa Juana, a district of Santo Domingo. And as Cruz remembers it, his mother always told him he was the cutest boy in the neighborhood.

"She would give me a big kiss," Cruz said, "and I would go to school with this big stamp of red lipstick on my forehead. So, she built the self-confidence in me that no one could ever take away."

Cruz was 6 when his mother moved away, seeking a better life in the United States.

"My uncle said, 'You're going to cry when your mom leaves.' And I said, 'I'm not going to cry.' But I think I've been crying ever since."

Ana Martha Estela Santana Cruz arrived in New York in 1957. She wrote to her family often, sending postcards that showed pictures of her new life in America.

Jose Cruz's Mother

    • Ana Martha Estela Santana Cruz returned to Santo Domingo in 1977, after 20 years in the United States.
    • She died on Sept. 13, 2006.

"I always imagined that I would live in those postcards," Cruz said. So when he learned that he would be joining his mother in New York City, he naturally assumed that he'd be calling the Empire State Building home.

Instead, the family lived in a basement in West Harlem, with their front windows looking onto a garbage dump.

"But at the same time, I was finally living with my mother," Cruz said. "And I felt so good."

That was when Cruz was in the seventh grade. He can still remember the things his mother taught him.

"I don't want you to be the smartest kid," she would tell her son. "Just do your best, and I will always be proud of you, and I will always love you."

Jose Cruz is now the principal of Mathematics, Science Research and Technology Magnet High School in Queens, N.Y.

Produced for Morning Edition by Nadia Reiman and Michael Garofalo.

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