Through history, there were many explorers who share my surname including on Columbus’ voyages. I wonder if I am related to any of them? It was exciting as a child to see my family’s name on a map. The Torres Strait is a narrow body of water between Australia and New Guinea. I was convinced exploration was in my blood.
Now I am writing about my family history. Through research, I have traced my families back for several generations in Puerto Rico. My parents were born on the island and were children when their parents took a ship to New York City in the late 1920s. They grew up in Harlem during the Great Depression. My maternal grandfather was a carpenter and grocer. My paternal grandfather taught English at a New York City college. Unfortunately, both fathers died when my parents were young. My grandmothers had to figure out how to keep their families together during those rough economic times. I grew up on the stories of my parents’ struggles.
My mother and her siblings were split up to live in boarding schools. Later, they were brought back together. My maternal grandmother cooked food for people in the neighborhood. My mother helped deliver the food. My grandmother was paid by the government to make leather items for cars. Her children received a good education from public schools and New York City organizations. There were sports competitions and literary activities.
My father had been guaranteed a free college education after high school. However, when his father died, he had to drop out of school to help support his mother, brothers, and sisters. When he turned 18 he fought in World War II in the Pacific. He was trained as a radio operator and tail gunner. After the war, most of his work experience was in sales — dental equipment, auto repair, and truck parts. Despite not being able to pursue his educational dream, he read history throughout his life.
I was born in Manhattan. My parents worked hard and moved us from Harlem to a housing project in the Bronx. It was new, the buildings were only 4 or 5 stories tall. It was near the river and it had open areas to play. It also had a kindergarten, which I attended before we moved from New York City to Newark, New Jersey. It was still an urban area but we lived in a residential apartment building.