To My Parents, Who Accepted My Disability When Others Didn't


I was born in a country where having a child with cerebral palsy was considered to be shameful. While I was growing up, I didn’t feel welcomed by the community where I lived. To the people of my town, I looked different than the rest of the kids in my neighborhood. Some children with disabilities were hidden in captivity in the backyards of their own houses. Others were treated as maids by their own families. The families hid these individuals to avoid dealing with an embarrassing situation. Seeing someone in a public place with a disability was uncommon. There were times when discrimination and lack of resources went against my parents’ effort to provide me a good quality of life.

Back in the 70s, Mom and Dad became parents at a young age, which was culturally acceptable. My parents’ financial situation was weak, but they did not let that stop them from doing their best for me. My parents started researching resources to get help for me. Shortly after I was born, they were able to obtain information about options available in Santo Domingo, the capital city of the Dominican Republic. Dad used to work as a cab driver, driving a car back and forth from Bani, where we lived, to Santo Domingo, so he was familiar with the city. Bani was a small town located toward the south of the D.R.

Starting from the time I was 6 months old, Dad, Mom and I drove to the only rehabilitation center that existed in the area at the time. My parents had to pay for the services. Dad was the sole wage earner of the family and Mom was a stay-at-home mom. Dad didn’t make a lot of money, but my parents managed to pay the medical bills and the costs of the medication and special shoes I needed. The following is a thank you letter to my parents for everything that they have done for me.

Dear Mom and Dad,

I can’t imagine how challenging it was for both of you to raise a child with cerebral palsy back in the Dominican Republic at a time when the country lacked resources and awareness about my condition. All that comes to my mind is gratitude. You struggled so hard with the few resources  available in order for me to have a good quality of life.

Sometimes I try to put myself in your shoes. I ask myself what I would have done differently. I probably would have done almost everything the same way. The only thing I would have done differently would be to talk openly as a family about the prejudices I have to deal with. I don’t blame you for not talking about that. It wasn’t your fault. As humans, sometimes we are scared to talk about painful situations. Parents are no exception. Therefore, in our case you avoid dealing with things that could cause me pain. Consequently, you denied what was wrong and pretended everything was fine.

I know you weren’t aware of how I felt while I was growing up, until you read it in my memoir, “I Made It.” When I first started writing about living with cerebral palsy, it was hard. The most painful part was to write about my physical appearance and the way I had been teased by other children, excluded from so many things, and pitied by strangers. At the same time, it was therapeutic writing about my turmoil. I was able to get in touch with myself, which allowed me to release my pain. Now I am feeling relief because you are aware of how I felt and were able to understand why I wrote my book.

Thank you for all your love and support.

Love,

Juana

Juana Ortiz’s book “I Made It” is available at www.juanamortiz.com and on Amazon.

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