Alberto Vasallo

My name is Alberto Vasallo. I was born in Havana, Cuba and currently live in Boston’s West Roxbury neighborhood.

Havana was a fantastic city. It was like a mini-New York with tropical flavor, bustling with activity and excitement 24 hours a day. In Havana, everyone knew each other and we all got along. It was like one big happy family. Cubans are known for being fun-loving and good dancers. Despite the fact that we were poor and my mother washed clothes for a living, we never lacked food.

By the time I was 24 years old, Havana was no longer like it had been in my childhood. We were forced to escape looking for freedom. But my mother and I were caught and became political prisoners. The second time I escaped in a boat and made it to Key West where I was welcomed as refugee.

For me, and many who knew her, my mother was a saint. She always shared whatever she had – a piece of bread or a meal. She often gave her food to someone else in need. I learned a lot by her example.

My brother was living in the Boston area and I wanted to be with him, so I ended up coming here in 1965. I lived in Cambridge, a city I grew to love. I found work in a textile factory and knew it was temporary; I had other talents and wanted to better myself. Whenever there were opportunities for advancement, I pursued them. I worked as a bank teller. After that, I began selling gold jewelry, wigs, pots and pans, just about anything! I also worked as a summer program coordinator at SNAP, a community organization in Boston’s South End.

In East Cambridge, I experienced discrimination by some of my neighbors, but I succeeded in changing many of my neighbors’ attitudes. Every so often I would find my car antenna broken or flat tires and I would remain peaceful, like Mahatma Gandhi. My family wanted to explode, but I always stayed calm. One day after a snowstorm I went out to shovel the snow from in front of my house and an elderly couple came out with their little shovels to clear the snow from in front of their house. I told them to take it easy, that I would shovel the snow for them. Meanwhile, the neighbors were staring out their windows. The couple wanted to pay me and I refused. They invited me to have coffee. That day, I went home with a great sense of satisfaction because I knew that things would change. Sure enough, the next day the neighbors said “Good morning, Alberto.”

El Mundo newspaper began as a project with a friend in 1972. It was my idea. Alfredo de Jesus and Tony Molina had radio programs but there was no newspaper. Necessity drives one to do things although I never thought I would make a living at it. I had the desire to help the community because I was born in a home where I witnessed humility; where there was giving without the expectation of receiving. I never imagined I would benefit from El Mundo. El Mundo’s objective is to champion the Hispanic community, preserve our culture and our language, and to set an example. Our youth need to know that by working hard they can achieve the American dream.

My wish for Boston is to see its diversity represented in the local government.

I have not done enough and would like to do more. In this county, the sky is the limit.