Sunday, October 18, 2015

Sunday Obituary: Fredy Babilonia Rodriguez (1933-2014)

Fredy Babilonia Rodriguez, early 1950s. Photo: E. Fernandez-Sacco
We weren't exactly close. He had stopped talking to me because I asked him to do a DNA test, in the hopes of learning more about his paternal ancestry, but he probably took umbrage because he thought it was a straight paternity test.

Location of Santa Isabel, P.R. Image: Wikimedia
Fredy lived in the barrio pueblo (town ward) of Santa Isabel, Puerto Rico, having returned to the island for his retirement. It was a struggle for a meager living, and he worked for a metal company in Brooklyn that made pots and pans. He might have had a pension, but someone stole the pension money from the company he worked for in Brooklyn. The embezzler left him and his co-workers without any money for their old age beyond whatever meager amounts Social Security could provide. His golden years were not exactly comfortable, and he was plagued by health issues. Still, I was glad to see him when I was in Puerto Rico, and to have the chance to talk to him a few times.

He began life in Moca, Puerto Rico, on  November 23, 1933, the son of Alicides Babilonia Lopez and Felicita Rodriguez Vale. They died, first Felicita and then Alcides, and the family was split up to be cared for by relatives. As soon as they came of age or near it, each sibling left the small town to make a life for themselves between Manhattan and Brooklyn. Perhaps it was the string of deaths begun by his brothers, each named William, dying, one as infant and the other as toddler, followed by his mother and then his father, that kept him moving. He married and had partners, and left a legacy of several children in the city, my wonderful cousins. They too would have liked to know Fredy better.

He loved baseball, and played locally in a team both in Puerto Rico and in New York. He told me about an incident in New York in 1952, where he boarded a bus and the driver had a heart attack along the route. He rushed up to the front, took control of the vehicle and was able to drive the bus and its passengers to safety. It was a newsworthy moment that brought him some coverage in the local press and a degree of pride that he responded so quickly.

Fredy Babilonia Rodriguez, 2006. Photo: E. Fernandez-Sacco
I'll remember his smile, the face that shares the features of my mother, my aunt and the grandparents I never got to meet or see in photographs. One of his daughters went to Puerto Rico and saw to his care after suffering a brain aneurysm. She hoped to bring him stateside once he recovered, but his condition was too fragile, and he died a couple of weeks later in the hospital in Ponce, on my mother's birthday. Seneko kakona, tio, QEPD.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Maria Monserrate 'Malen' Hernandez Vale (1935-2015)

X-posted in part from Mundillo, encaje y vida

Que noticia triste esta manana.

Malen Hernandez Vale passed away yesterday on August 22, 2015. She together with her siblings Ada Hernandez Vale and Mokay Hernandez Vale worked with other lacemakers to keep the awareness of mundillo alive. I was fortunate to spend time with them while researching lacemaking in Moca, and Malen made it especially possible as I stayed in her home in barrio Pueblo and in Rocha. She had a distinctive, scratchy voice, and was a feisty personality, a lot of heart in a small package. As her son, Julio Enrique Rivera said, she was a fire in life and is now a light in heaven.

Malen Hernandez Vale demonstrating mundillo at the Museo del Mundillo Puertorriqueno, Moca, P.R. Photo: Ellen Fernandez-Sacco, 2008.
What Malen shared with me was her passion for lace, and her stories of learning from her mother Julia Vale Mendez (1906-1991). She showed me her mundillo, made sometime in the 1940s, filled with dried banana leaves wrapped around a wooden core beneath the fabric that held the pins for making lace. She also donated some of her work, among them, a dress decorated with mundillo to the Museo Labadie in Aceitunas, known as the Palacete de los Moreau, named after the hacienda featured in Enrique Laguerre’s 1939 novel, La llamarada. At the Museo del Mundillo, back in 2005, Malen would come down from Rocha and help out with groups, giving impromptu demonstrations when the need arose. Julio brought her to town when the Festival de Mundillo was held, a massive gathering where people reconnected and celebrated their efforts to put lace on the map.

Malen with the mueble she learned on, 2006. Photo: E. Fernandez-Sacco
She was among the four children of Benito S. Hernandez Hernandez (1909-1980) and Julia Vale Mendez (1906-1991), and is my third cousin via the Vale line, there are likely more connections. Benito is remembered as the 'Sepultero de Moca' and worked making the concrete pantheons in the Cementerio Muncipal, a number of which you can still see with their chains alongside the perimeter in the cemetery. After Julia's death, Benito married Ulla's sister, Generosa.

Malen Hernandez Vale, Moca 1950. Photo: E. Fernandez-Sacco

Like many Puerto Ricans of the 1950s, Malen moved to New York and lived in Brooklyn. Her paths crossed with my aunt Maria, who was in Mrs. Perez’ class with her in Moca as a child. Although my aunt didn’t recognize her at first, Malen told her that they were cousins and that she knew her from the town. From then they visited each other until Malen returned to Puerto Rico. I was fortunate to know her, and will miss her deeply.  She was married to Julio Enrique ‘Ulla’ Rivera Gonzalez and had two children, Julio and Nicky, who survive her. She will be buried tomorrow in Cementerio Las Sauces in Moca.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Muertitos... thinking of Monin, Juanita Hernandez Babilonia (1921-2013)

Ok, here's my confession. I haven't been able to post for awhile, partly because I would begin to cry when looking at the pictures of people i've lost recently.

Some I met by chance, as over a decade ago when I was headed to the University of Wisconsin for a job interview in a gender studies department. At that time, connecting with family felt so much more tenuous-- only the 1910 census had been released, and people were headed over to the Family History centers to order microfilm and begin the process of losing their eyesight pouring over reels of images of volumes of the Registro Civil, Puerto Rico's Civil Register for Births, Marriages and Deaths that begins in 1885. Even this was remarkable to get ahold of, and it was my start in genealogy. Some of us began transcribing to share so that we could find relevant documents, and by email, new networks of family reconnected.

Message boards provided other ways to connect, some of those now defunct and stored on Rootsweb. The weekend before I flew out to Wisconsin, I got an answer to a post on a surname board. My cousin Ruth Gil Hernandez emailed me, and when I told her I was headed to Wisconsin, she offered to pick me up so that I could meet the family, her sisters Janet, Rosie and Marlene (QEPD) and her mother, Juanita 'Monin' Hernandez Babilonia. It was a wonderful weekend that began several years of calls and visits that stayed with me for a long time.

Monin with performer at the Fiesta de Moca, 2002
Born in 1921, Juanita Hernandez Babilonia was among the last of a generation tied to a Puerto Rico of the 1940s. Monin recalled an incident involving my grandfather that matched a story told to me by my mother about the work her father used to do. A young woman rushed into his small workshop, wearing a ring that had become too tight on her hand, and threatened to cut off the circulation to her finger. Alicides Babilonia Lopez did a variety of jobs to support his family, involving anything from repairing clocks, jewelry and guns, a technical ability that he passed on to some of his descendants. 

Monin told me that when she was young, she ran to see my grandfather, needing to remove a ring as fast as possible, and that he managed to saw the ring off her finger. She also brought his family some food and cheese from her father's store, and recalled seeing little children sitting around as he worked; by then he was widowed, as his wife had died in 1941, leaving him with six children. 
I had heard the name Monin mentioned as I was growing up, and her sister Provi. When I asked about her family in Moca, my mother wondered what happened to Monin, as she seemed to disappear at one point. Monin had married Robert Gil, a German American officer stationed in Aguadilla in 1944, who took her to live in Wisconsin a few years after. Decades later, Monin was honored at a Babilonia Family Reunion held in Naranjo, Moca, and had the opportunity to reconnect with Babilonias from different branches. 

Monin was the daughter of Pedro Hernandez Romero (1875-1962) of Aguadilla and Rosa Carlina Babilonia Lopez (1878-1968), who married in Moca, early in April 1901. My mother remembers Tia Rosa as someone very sweet, with blue eyes, like Alcides; their other siblings had brown or hazel eyes. Pedro was a successful businessman in Moca, and like his wife's father, was involved in public service, as Juez de Paz (Justice of the Peace). In addition to his bakery and goods store, he was a landlord of several buildings (both residential and business), sold gasoline and was co-owner of the Teatro Cachipique, that later became the Teatro Venus. 

Over the years Pedro's house went from a large wooden structure to a concrete building with a store at street level. In short, one way or another, everyone in Moca connected to his network of businesses, or even married by him in Moca. With Rosa, they had some twelve children born between 1902-1921, most of whom survived childhood, and lived in Barrio Pueblo. She sold off her land for the building of the Presbyterian Church, which is still in Barrio Pueblo, Moca.

After the Spanish American War, many Puerto Ricans discovered different denominations to join as a result of the influx of missionaries to the island. Other branches of the Babilonias belong to a range of denominations, that includes Catholic, Evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity, Presbyterian and Jehova Witness, other spiritual paths or no church at all. 

I called her frequently, and we talked of people and a place already gone. I had someone I could ask about details, about what the town was like and what she experienced. I enjoyed meeting her daughters and also a cousin, who happens to live in the SF Bay area, in addition to cousins in the Hernandez family in sector Cuba, Moca. 

Genealogy brings the potential to connect with others to learn about another place and time...

Sunday, April 13, 2014

An updated list of surnames associated with the Babilonia family

--> Sometime ago I posted a list of surnames tied to the Babilonias, and since then i've compiled several more.

The surnames connected to the Babilonia family on Puerto Rico include: 

Acevedo, Alvarez, Arocho, Arroyo, Barreto, Caban, Cardona, Carive, Charneco, Cordero, Cruz, Deines, Deliz, Efrese, Esteve, Estrella, Felicano, Ferriera, Ferrer, Font, Fort, Franquis, Galarza, Garcia, Gonzalez, Hernandez del Rio, Hernandez, Hidalgo, Holandesa, Iturrino, Kleibring, Lassalle, Loperena, Lopez de Segura, Lorenzo de Acevedo, Lugo, Matias, Medina, Mendez, Mercado, Miranda, Muniz, Nieves, Nunez, Ortega, Ortiz, Perez de Gerena, Polanco, Quinones, Quintana, Ramos, Ramirez, Retamar, Rivas, Rodriguez, Romero, Ronda, Rosado, Salinas, Sanchez, Santiago, Segui, Serrano, Silva, Sosa, Soto, Sotomayor, Suarez, Talavera, Torres, Vale, Valentin, Van Derdys, Vega, Velazquez, Velez and Vives. 

Many names, many people, many places. Let me know how you connect! 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A bittersweet find: the marriage certificate of Alicides Babilonia Lopez and Felicita Rodriguez Vale, 1940

This morning I realized I only had an index reference for the marriage of my grandparents, Alicides Babilonia Lopez and Felicita Rodriguez Vale. Ultimately, I found the certificate on FamilySearch. They were married by a justice of the peace, Catalino Villanueva Bosques at 2PM on the afternoon of 20 April 1940, in the pueblo of Moca. Alejandro Galarza and Americo Hernandez served as witnesses, and it was probably a small private celebration.

Alicides' father railed against the marriage, as his son married a woman who was in his eyes, beneath his family. Her features, straight black hair and skin the color of cinnamon bespoke her Native ancestry.  I suspect the gap in our front teeth that I, my brothers and cousins carry were also among her features. Poor, she was a lavandera, a washerwoman who cleaned clothes on the stones that lined the river nearby. It was a hard life. Alicides worked repairing watches, shoes and with his friend Rito Vargas, made coffins. Knowing that he was going to die, Alicides made his own simple coffin from boards, and made Rito promise that no matter what protest might arise, that this was it, this was the caja that he'd be buried in.

Alcides and Felicita married just months before she died in January 1941; he died in May 1948. The cemetery where they were buried, on the street known as Calle Salsipuedes, was destroyed in 1953 when a new municipal cemetery was built several blocks away.

I've yet to find a photograph of them, but one can only hope.

Alicides Babilonia & Felicita Rodriguez, 24 April 1940, Certificado de Matrimonio, Libro 8, No. 62. "Puerto Rico, Registro Civil, 1836-2001," index and images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 21 Nov 2013), Puerto Rico, Civil Registration, 1836-2001. Puerto Rico, Civil Registration, 1836-2001, Moca, Matrimonios 1930-1945, L. 11, 1-12, image 1366 of 2441.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Babilonia Family Reunion 2013!

Just received word that another Babilonia Family Reunion will be held this year in Moca, Puerto Rico on Sunday June 23. Location is still being determined, so check back for more details.

Recibi noticia ayer que el Reunion de la Familia Babilonia tendra lugar el Domingo 23 de Junio 2013.
Todavia el sitio no estas finalizado, pero aviso cuando tengo mas detailles.