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...