What she told me that afternoon blew my mind...
My mother said she’d been married to another man before she met my father. “My first husband was a revolutionary,” she explained, telling me about the 1960's Dominican Revolution, in which the Dominican people rose up to overthrow the American-backed dictator General Wessin y Wessin, and restore power to their democratically elected president. “He was killed in the uprising,” she continued. “They found his body floating down the river.” Even though my mother was an educator and not involved in politics, my grandfather feared she would be targeted by the same forces who killed her husband. To keep her safe, he orchestrated a plan to smuggle my mother out of the Dominican Republic and into Venezuela, a place that nowadays would be the furthest from a safe harbor. As a young woman, my mother fled her home via an underground railroad, leaving behind her parents, her friends, and my older sister, at that time her only child. In Venezuela, she met my father, an entrepreneur who owned a string of grocery stores. I never remember meeting him but from what I hear he passed on to me a head for business (at least that’s the word on the streets). The stubborn, don’t take no for an answer, travel and seeing the world came directly from her, my mother.
If you’ve seen the movie starring Selma Hayek and James Olmos titled “In The time of the Butterflies” then you know what revolution I am talking about. If not, I highly recommend watching it. My mother was right in the middle of all that mess.
I was conceived in Venezuela and all 12 pounds of me was introduced to the world in Providence Rhode Island, (yes, I said 12 pounds). At the time I was the only one with a navy blue passport which helped in many ways. My mother said that the first thing the nurse said was “well, you have yourself a football player” as if she could see into the future or was a practicing voodoo (I promise to share more about that at another time). Shortly after I was born I went back home to the Dominican Republic with my mother. Time had past and we were all reunited back home with my sister, grandmother and uncles and aunts of which there were 42 of at the time. Yes, 42 aunts and uncles (mostly aunts but that’s a different story).
You see, I was raised in a house full of women who were living in a country that looked at them as second class citizens at that time and who thought their place was in the home, something that all of my women debunked and challenged. These women were strong AF and I was the only little guy running around. When kids would pick on me, since I didn’t have brothers or an example of how a man should handle those situations, I learned how these strong and sometimes crazy women handled them. I remember my favorite cousin, Iris would walk me around the block when I was 5 or 6, she wasn’t much older than me, maybe 9 or 10, but she was one of those kids who you really didn’t wanna mess with. I learned how to stand up for myself but most of all I found my value through my personal girl gang squad; I refer to them as “all my women”. They had everything to prove and all the odds were stacked against them which they met head on with a" don't take no for an answer" chip on their shoulders. I credit them all for moving our family forward.
Fast forward a few years and picture me addressing the national media in the Dominican Republic in both English and Spanish at a press conference for the International Children's Heart Foundation which I was the CEO of. One of my proudest moments ever was me sitting down at the media table and listening to the former First Lady at the time, Margarita Cedeño de Fernández (now the Vice President of the country) say "you see, men like Alberto who’ve had the opportunity to live outside of our country and now come back to our island is what keeps me going”. While she was saying that all I could think about was how proud all my women were of their skinny and light skinned boy that they all needed to protect
To this day, my girl gang is stronger than ever. At times they still think I am six years old and thank goodness because when I had no one to call from the jail after being arrested they all came to the rescue, starting with my older sister Yvonne.
In 1965, the workers and farmers of the Dominican Republic poured into the streets, arms in hand, with the goal of creating a truly democratic, independent country. Under the leadership of the heroic Francisco Caamaño, they successfully held off U.S.-backed right-wing forces, and even members of the U.S. military itself for some time, although unfortunately, they were eventually defeated.
Images from "Allow me to Explain" (LINK) and Google