Some years back, Nana, my Cuban tia/prima* (aunt/cousin), helped make a project a reality. I had collected some of Rafa’s baby clothes that I just didn’t have the heart to part with and Nana cut out, designed, laid out, and sewed a handmade baby quilt special for Rafa and very personal for me. When we did our first round of packing in preparation for our move from DR, it was the first thing I packed. That quilt will travel the world with us. I know that for certain.
We brought back some of Santiago’s clothes that I’ve been saving for our visit home this Christmas; a Christmas she would be spending with us. Years have passed and the labor intensive quilt would require hours upon mountains of hours to complete. But there was no hesitation from her; there was just no way that she wouldn’t make Santiago – her príncipe, as she adoringly calls him – his own special handmade baby quilt too.
But our story with Nana doesn’t start or end with a quilt. No, our story with her, has far more history.
See, due to the situation in Cuba, I didn’t meet Nana until I was 27 years old, until I had already met Husband, then boyfriend. In that respect, she’s as much his Nana as she is mine. The next time she would be able to visit, as luck would have it, Husband (then fiancé) and I were getting married, I was pregnant, and we were preparing to start our life in the Dominican Republic. Our first year in DR, when Rafa was born in October, Nana came and stayed with us from January to March. And the following year, when Santiago was born in March, she arrived at the beginning of April and left when we came back to New Jersey for the summer.
It’s as if she’s been a Guardian Angel in our relationship, put in our path right at the beginning of our story. She has lived every momentous moment in our life together. It’s poetic actually. She loved my mother so much and, as many Cuban families experience, had foregone decades of proximity. She couldn’t attend my mom’s wedding or visit the hospital when either of her daughters were born. But maybe, the solace is that she got to do that with me.
The handmade baby quilts that she poured her love into are far more than baby clothes to be remembered. They surpass first birthday outfits, newborn hospital hats, and holiday firsts. They’re a symbolic patching of our family’s strength through the years that separated us. These baby quilts, made with fragile hands that helped care for and raise our babies, are mini stories that tell one big story; a story that connects all our lives, generations apart. This quilt will travel the world with us, and with it, so will Nana.
Santiago’s Handmade Baby Quilt
rafaella’S handmade baby quilt
- aunt-cousin / tia-prima – Nana is technically my cousin; one of those cousins that is a cousin to my mom so not sure what degree of cousin she is to me. However, she’s older than my mom and a totally different generation to me so I consider her more my tia than a prima.