by Isabel Montilla, Co-Director of Human Resources & Organizational Integration
My dad is from Puerto Rico and I grew up traveling around the states with him as he was in the Air Force for 28 years. We spent four years in the Philippines and five years in England, but we never went to Puerto Rico.
For years I’ve wanted to check out where he grew up, spend time with my people, and give myself a sense of connection to place.
I finally, recently, went to Puerto Rico and spent time in Old San Juan, visited the Castillo de San Felipe del Morro, El Yunque, kayaked through a bioluminescent bay, did all the things a tourist does, and I also looked for the places my father eventually told me about.
My father never spoke about his childhood and never shared stories about growing up in San Juan when I was a child. What I discovered when I was preparing for my trip was how poor my father’s family was. My dad grew up in “La Perla” and he learned English while caddying at a golf course. (La Perla is a slum astride the northern historic city wall of San Juan.)
My father shared with me how most nights when he was a child he went to bed hungry. That he and his uncle Santos would be sent out in the evening to beg for food, that the trash bins behind the American base at El Morro were good places to find some, and he laughed when he told me how well he ate one night when he discovered a partially eaten turkey. He told me of the kindness of an Army Officer who he would caddy for who would gave him his sandwiches, and of the waiter who would let him eat any leftovers at the restaurant where he washed dishes. That was then and what is true today is my dad is generous, unconditional, kind and loving.
Dad never spoke about and never forgot being hungry. Over the years I’ve seen his own little acts of generosity to others. He volunteered for years at St. Vincent de Paul in the food pantry, if you asked dad for a dollar he’d give you five, and would never ask what you wanted or needed the money for. He would buy someone he didn’t know a meal, and he has followed strangers to quietly put a twenty dollar bill in their hand.
Because of dad I’m from a family of givers and he is one of the main reasons I am here at GLIDE, and for that I am forever grateful. I celebrate “Goito” every day and I know some of the best parts of me came directly from him.