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photo by Neil

He was born in Puerto Rico, the "Latin American showplace of the United States", he called it, of poor parents. He remembers his stomach swelled up from hunger, like 9 or 10 inches out.

"When I was seven I started coughing up blood and worms, big long ones," he said, holding his hands 12 inches apart, "started coming out of my mouth. But it wasn't anything to get really excited about. Everyone in my neighborhood had them, you know. And I lived through it."


He got his first pair of shoes when he entered Jr. High School. I think the state bought them.

"Boy! Was I proud of those shoes!"

The state supplied lunches throughout high school. He'd go in the morning thinking about lunch.

"My mother would pick these little fruits that grew in the cemetary, chop them up and mix them in a glass of water, and that would be our meal for the day." For him and his parents and his brothers and sisters.

I asked, "What did your parents do?"

"They did what everyone else was tryin' to do," he snorted. "To get enough food to live to the next day."

He got a scholarship when he graduated from high school. With it came money for tuition, books, etc. The thing that was heavy about the scholarship money was that it was all his. He'd never had any money of his own before.

"I'd never handled so much money before. Only when my mother sent me to the store to buy bread, and then it wasn't really mine. I'd get back with the bread and my mother would divide it up among us kids. She'd tell us to 'eat some but to save some for later', and we knew that if we ate it all we wouldn't see anymore for a very long time."