it is the first and last word
Puerto Rican and Dominican children (young and old)
say to their elders (i am uncertain if it’s true
of other Latin American countries).
it is said to parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, godparents,
or any other elder (not necessarily blood related).

it’s an “obligatory” salute. a sign of respect.

it is to me, one of the sweetest words.

the response is even sweeter:

“Dios te bendiga”
“Dios te cuide”
“Dios te acompañe”
“Dios te haga una muchachita buena”

and it is usually followed by
whatever descriptive affection
they have for you:

“mi hija.
mi santa.
mi amor.
mi cielo.
mi reina.
cabezona (my uncle’s favorite).”

at the sound of it
i am overwhelmed
by their Love.

it is never said in anger.
but even if angry, the blessing is
always given.

i am constantly making sure
my nieces and nephews
say it to me. i encourage my siblings
and cousins to make sure their children
do not forget.

it is the blessing that has kept us safe
even in harms way. it is the blessing that heals
us when we’re ailing. it is the blessing that lifts
our sad spirits.

yesterday, i sat at the dentist’s office,
a young woman walks in and sees her aunt.
smiling she says, “bendicion mi tia bella.”
to which her aunt responds, “ay mi querida sobrina
dios te me bendiga. que gusto verte.”

i smiled.

those words hold so much power
in my life.
i know when the elders in my family
pass on… it is the sound of this blessing
in their voice that i will miss most.
i know it is one of the many words
i will miss out of my parents’ mouth.


it is the word you say to receive their blessing
and God’s protection. its history is biblical,
but it is spiritual at its core.

to me… it’s the shield of Love
my elders keep me wrapped in.