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Puerto Rican Pride: Celebrating Heritage in the Obits

Shutterstock / a katz / esfera

Love for their families' cultural history was a central part of their lives.

An obituary is a timeline, a record of where a person has been, what they've done, and who they are related to. It can be a simple list or a highlight reel of sorts, featuring the greatest jokes, sayings, and memories from a loved one's life. The most memorable obituaries paint brilliantly-colored portraits of life – and not just that one person's life, either. Because obituaries, at their heart, are about communities. An obituary tells someone's life story in a particular way: through their connections to family, friends, church, school, military unit, and hometown.

In this new Legacy series, we look at how many people's obituaries celebrate their passionate connection to their cultural heritage. We're beginning this week with a group of Americans who are feeling extra close to their community this season: Puerto Ricans. The life stories featured below all highlight the central role that love for their Puerto Rican heritage played in their subjects' lives.

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Born in San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico, Gerardo Alverio (1919 - 2015) served in the U.S. Army during World War II in one of the segregated Puerto Rican units known as the "Borinqueneers." In Connecticut after the war, his family was one of New Britain's first Puerto Rican families and "soon became part of Connecticut's small, tight-knit Puerto Rican community of the 1950s." Gerardo and his wife "taught their children about the value of education, their heritage, pride in their culture and doing their part in the community for the betterment of all."

 


 

 

Carmen Ocasio was born in Caunilla, a suburb of Utuado, Puerto Rico, and in 1952 moved with her husband to Vineland, New Jersey. There she "was one of the founding members of Accion Social Puertorriqueno" and held memberships in numerous organizations including El Festival Puertorriqueno, Mujeres Latinas en Accion, Club Borinquen, Centro Comunal (Casa PRAC), and the Spanish American Relief Fund. In 2001, she was named Madre Ejemplar (Mother of the Year) and Grand Marshal of El Festival Puertorriqueno Parade in recognition of "her dedication to the community and her support of Puerto Rican cultural values."

 

 

 

Iris "Shirley" Verdugo (1937 - 2013), "a feisty bilingual Puerto Rican lady" from the island of Culebra, moved to California at age 15. A "career volunteer," she "passionately participated" in many organizations including NACOPRW (National Conference of Puerto Rican Women), MAPA (Mexican American Political Association), Puerto Ricans for Kennedy Campaign, and the Corona Free Clinic (where she served as director).  She also served many years as an advocate for Spanish-speaking families in a nearby town, helping them combat immigration issues and racial injustices.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Pedro Collado (1965 - 2016) "was a son, a brother, a Marine, a husband, a father and a friend to all." He loved music and cooking, had a passion for riding horses and motorcycles, and he "was very proud of being Puerto Rican and he showed it."

 

 

 

 

Born in Corozal, Luis Quiñones (1941 - 2016) left Puerto Rico in his teens, eventually settling in California. Many in his family "were lucky to hear about his adventures as a child in Puerto Rico and later in New York." And although he made California his home, "a piece of his heart remained in Puerto Rico and whenever he could he would travel back to spend time with his siblings and their families."

 

 

 

 

 

Francisca Melendez Medina (1934 - 2017) was born in Maunabo, Puerto Rico, and later lived in New York City and Westerly, Rhode Island. Francisca, aka Panchi, "loved her boleros, telenovelas, and her Café Bustelo and was enormously proud of her Puerto Rican heritage." She had a "tremendous passion and talent for cooking, always making sure everyone was well fed with her delicious Puerto Rican food."

 

 


 

 

Born in Santurce, Puerto Rico, Evaristo Jimenez Sr. (1923 - 2013) enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard in 1943. During his many experiences and travels a merchant seaman, "he encountered the transition that America was undergoing as Blacks and Hispanics in the United States were undergoing unnecessary hardship." But "he never wavered from his love of countries – United States of America and his beloved island of Puerto Rico."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Born in Manati, Puerto Rico, and raised in New York City, Benito Sanchez (1935 - 2014) was a proud Puerto Rican. "If you didn't catch his pride for his heritage in conversation, his car adorned with Puerto Rican paraphernalia or the gigantic oversized flag of Puerto Rico waiving proudly from his serene retirement community balcony drove the point home."

 

 

 


 

A proud "borinqueno" from Quebradillas, Puerto Rico, Command Sergeant Major Francisco Estrada Roman (1926 - 2017) served over 34 years in the U.S. Army. After his retirement, CSM Estrada continued his service to country as a civilian employee at Fort Bliss in Texas. When asked, if given the chance, would he reenlist in the Army, the then 90-year-old responded with an emphatic "Hell yes!"

 

 

 

 

 

 

Born in Juana Diaz, Puerto Rico, Guillermo Vega Perez (1933 - 2014) served his country in the Korean War as a chef in the Army, an experience that "laid the foundation for his lifelong love of preparing and sharing food with loved ones and friends." Guillermo was "very proud of his Puerto Rican 'Jibaro' culture and for many years played guitar and performed music in a Puerto Rican band."

 

 

 


Lydia Almodovar (1929 - 2011) was born in Guanica and grew up in a small town in Puerto Rico "which forever gave her pride in herself and her cultural traditions."  An active member of the Puerto Rican club in Mountain View, California, Lydia "relished the opportunity to share her culture with her children and proudly engage her family with the community."

 

 

 

Yolanda López-Cepero Izquierdo (1927 - 2016) was born in San Juan and enjoyed telling stories of her childhood in Puerto Rico. "Her greatest joy was teaching her daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren American history by touring historic sites with them and she was proud to stand for every U.S. Armed Forces hymn because her family was represented in each one."

 

 

 

 

 

 

Evelyn Camacho Guzman (1953 - 2016) "was very proud of her heritage, being Puerto Rican." Born in Brooklyn, New York, she attended high school in Puerto Rico and "lived from coast to coast."

 

 

 


 

Born in Naranjito, Puerto Rico, Luz M. Roache (1936 - 2017) "was the embodiment of 'joie de vivre.'" When she died Sept. 24, 2017, just days after Hurricane Maria swept through Puerto Rico, her family made a poignant request: in lieu of flowers, they asked for donations to be sent to one of the disaster relief charities set up to aid Puerto Ricans affected by hurricanes Irma and Maria.