In Dominican Spanish la ñapa refers to "the little extra" added on at the end. Just when you thought you'd gotten all that you would get, along comes your ñapa, like a baker's dozen, with one more kiss, one more pastelito, one more mango at the mercado.
It is a bittersweet assignment to have my mother, Julia Tavares Alvarez, ask me to represent her here today. To bring to a close a long, indefatigable, and inspiring career in public service. I am one of four daughters, so Mami had to pick one of us to represent her. I think she decided on me because I'm known as "the writer in the family." Still I have to pinch myself to believe that my mother will truly let me have the last word!
. . . Many of you have known my mother in her public role as ambassador. You've helped her in her battles and have shared this work with her. I ask you to forgive me if I've made you all minor characters in this story and given my own mother the principal role -- it's the handicap of giving the podium to her daughter. But before I close I would like to leave you with a different image of my mother, not as public ambassador, but a behind-the-scenes story that speaks volumes about the way my mother approached her work at the United Nations and indeed everything in her life.
My mother, who will always be known as "Mami" to her four daughters, is preparing to go to work. She has put on her raincoat with a zippered lining and is about to close her briefcase when I glance inside. Beside a stack of folders, there is a roll of paper towels and a bottle of Windex.
"Mami!" I laugh. "Why are you taking that to work?"
"You should see those windows at the Mission," my mother replies. "They are so dirty." Hers is a poor country with a small budget that can't afford the luxury of a daily cleaning service. "Somebody has to clean them."
Perhaps I should end with a more glorious image of my mother: an elder stateswoman on a stage being handed one of the many medals and awards she received over the years, her hand lifted in that acknowledging pose of public figures. But I am much more proud to present you with this other image of a woman willing to roll up her sleeves and do what needed to be done whether it involved giving speeches to world leaders and diplomats in support of the rights of elders and women or unrolling a paper towel and polishing a window so that we could all look out and see the world more clearly. I admire her for never letting the vanity of self-importance keep her from the lowliest task, for never forgetting the little people from forgotten little countries, for charming us with her words, and inspiring us with her example. And for leading us towards a goal which shines ever more brightly as the direction we should all be working towards. That direction is best summed up in this brief passage from one of her speeches -- for my mother should really have the last words here at the close of her career:
Make no mistake about it, my vision is not about simply shifting resources in the spirit of giving, but rather the creation of a true world community of feeling and consciousness. This is a world in which people have the same status. This is a vision that is not about charity, but rather, solidarity.
Julia Altagracia Alvarez
AKA "The Other Julia"
Copyright © Julia Alvarez 2007-2017.
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