What about becoming a nurse or a secretary?
My mom’s comment was not an attempt to deflate the balloon of hope I’d been secretly carrying. She didn’t know. No one knew why, as a little girl I’d get so excited whenever we went to Kennedy airport to greet family members arriving from Borikén (colonizer name: Puerto Rico). Younger kids often run to the windows overlooking the jumbo jets parked at the gates, mesmerized at their colossal beauty. Nothing new about that.
But back then airport security was lenient; non-passengers were allowed entry to the terminal area. And while I was happy to see relatives, I was all the more elated to see aircraft up close. At five or six years old, I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up — an airline pilot. I wanted to travel and see the world.
Still, I kept quiet until middle school. Around 12 or 13, I gave my parents the newsflash. The exact circumstances of that day remain foggy, but their opposite reactions remain vivid in my mind. Sharing my childhood dream didn’t seem like a bold statement, and I couldn’t fathom why mom was opposed. My dad, on the other end of the spectrum, shared my enthusiasm. If our daughter wants to be a pilot, then we must stand behind her ‘til it becomes reality. To him, it was that simple.
Years later I would understand her side. Honestly, I didn’t entirely fault mami. As a teenager who hadn’t graduated high school, she’d arrived in New York City from Borikén in the mid-1960s. Marrying her first love (my dad), they’d eventually become young parents to three children: two boys and a daughter (me, the middle child). Working in a hairbrush factory those first few years, she told herself life would get better. Dad was a manager at another factory. They’d struggled financially for a long time and had already divorced by the time I gave the news. So, it made sense that in her mind a “traditional” career choice would guarantee her only daughter a much more comfortable life.
She didn’t know about Sabiha Gökçen (adopted daughter of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of the Turkish Republic) who is known as the world’s first female fighter pilot. Nor had mami heard about pioneer aviator, Amelia Earhart whose solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean made headlines. Two fearless women who had defied…