Alberto and Alegre Barrocas
are Jews from Cuba (or "Jewbans," as the culture is commonly
referred to in the Miami area). Both born in Cuba to Sephardic Turkish
immigrant parents, they performed together in a theatrical production
at the Jewish Community Center (she played the part of his young daughter). They
crossed paths again some years later, when Alberto was 19 and Alegre was
14; "hija mía," Alberto said to her, "you've
changed!" About eight months later, she became his girlfriend
and they married after a five-year courtship.
In Cuba, after working as
a diamond cutter, Alberto joined a shoe manufacturing concern where he
made his way up the ladderfrom travelling salesman
all the way to President of the companywhile Alegre
raised their three sons. In April 1959, the company was among
the first seven Cuban businesses in which the communists intervened; a
year later, it was confiscated. Around that same time, their four-year-old
began repeating pro-Castro comments, and word spread of children denouncing
their parents; Alegre said it was time to go.
The Barrocases left Cuba
in 1960 and lived for over four years in Rhode Island before relocating
to south Florida, where they worked hard to create another successful
shoe business. In time, Alberto was able to buy out his partners.
As each of their sons graduated from college, they too became involved
in the factory operations. Always active in the community as well
as the family business, Alegre worked from 1965-1971 in helping Cuban
refugees arriving on the Freedom Flights to make their way through the
immigration process. The Barrocases continue to provide philanthropic
support to several civic organizations, including the endowment of scholarships
and relief funds to assist shoe industry workers and their families.
Alberto and Alegre shared
a great deal of their history and their feelings with me during my visit
to their beautiful oceanside apartment; I came away from our meeting with
the impression that, when it comes to marriage, differences in viewpoint
are greater across generational divides than they are across national
I love this man. He was my first
boyfriend, in my life. The first man kiss me
She was fifteen year old. Fifteen years and two months when
she become my girlfriend. Girlfriend,
Latin style. Especially that time, you know, with chaperone,
and all that.
For five years.
For five years.
Good. Keep going. (She laughs.) I
enjoy listening to you.
Its a beautiful life, to be married. Is beautiful, enjoying
my children, when they are born. I enjoy life, and I suppose
this is the man for my life.
You think that I am the man
for your life.
(Overlapping.) I think you are
I never tried other man, this is the only man I have.
I am married
because I found the person that made me feel that
I want to start living the life. With her. She was
I am five years older; and I lived a different life. I
was sort of ayou know, not necessarily a playboy, but a good dancer
in Cuba, young. So girls wasnt such a big problem.
at seven years they wanted her to become an actress.
So she has personality, since she was a little one. And very beautiful.
And she become fourteen, fourteen and a half, already she was a girl that
guys were looking at. So, she didnt want with me so fast.
No. But, when she told me, "okay," I knew that was
my partner, thats all. My woman.
Your partner, no. Your wife. Partner
is somethingyour wife, your prostitute, the girlfriend, everything. The
mother; I take care for you. Is not only "my girlfriend." When
I was going to marry, we rented an apartment in El Vedado in Havana. I
went there with my mami to pick
At that time, I was travelling. Selling shoes was sixty-day trips.
Anyway, the owner, is coming to say, "hi, señorita, how are you,
is this your mother?" He say, "you know, I make advice
to you." This man was a capitán
for the police then, for Batista. He told me, "you know,
I teach you something. You try to be: novia,
his girlfriend; wife; prostitute; maid, and everything for this man now. When
hes coming home from the business, take the jacket"this
is Cuban style"take his jacket and his tie, and hang them up,
and bring the towel for his bath." I say, "Oh my
God, what is it, marriage?" (She laughs.) I
mean, I was scared!
You know, Alegre
let me tell you something. You didnt
listen to anybody to be like that. You are
like that. You are a very dedicated person. You
you and I, we had a lot
of problems. A lot
of arguments. Because we have so many
are different. I never
wanted to accept it, but you always say I was very strong, very hard person. And
even though I am likableand I was very likable, butprobably,
you have been right. I needed many years to understand all
that, thats why we are getting along better in the last five years
Hes very good person. Hes very nice, but he have
Cuban men, they have character.
I think this is the keyla
llavethe key to keep two people living together.
Its not only man and wife. People. If
people live together, they need to understand each other. You
know? And to respect. For me, the respect is the
And loyal to each other.
Not the slightest doubt of
of fooling around with somebody else. That keeps the unities
solid. Because they believe that the dedication is there, they
belong to the other person. And
we are like that. We are like that.
Everybody need to have the book. Understand the marriage, the
man. I have a friend, and she told me, "you always be
jealous with Barrocas." I say, "you know, Sarita,
you make your book, and the book
what Ive written in my
house is different."
Each couple writes their own book?
Right! My book is take care for this man, and for my children, for
And for Cuba.
Tremendous care. (Alegre
chuckles.) Beautiful, Alegre!
When we are talking about marriages, that they live for so long... I
dont believe theres one particular reason that apply to every
other couple. Its not a matter of if they like together,
or if they are good to each other, or one is stronger and the other one
accommodate to that easily, no. Not even that they are committed
in a religious marriage or anything. Not even that. People,
that they learn
that nothing else in
a communion from another persona man with another woman, or a woman
with another manwill make their life happier or better than what
they have. In poor, and in the rich.
And in sad?
Oh, in sad situations? You know, we lost a son. Eight
years ago. Forty-four years old, a cardiac arrest. And
the way we react to each other. The way we grab our hands,
and the things that we did spontaneously
the reactions. We
were so good to each other. For instance, we had a shoe factory.
And she used to work there, for 20 years. He was General Manager.
At that time of my life, my sonthere were three sonsthey did
a very important role in the business.
But what we did,
the very same day, after they came here to let us know that Charlie passed
away, about two hours later, we knew what we wanted to do. She
told me, "lets go to the factory." And I said,
"yes. Lets go to the factory." Nothing
else we wanted.
What I wanted to
say, the subject was how in those moments we went, we took our
hands and we went to the factory. And we walked through the
factory. I was talking about what makes a marriage goodthese
are things that you cannot describe why that happened. I believe,
many times, its because that couple has been born to belong one
to each other. Theres a lot of that.
You believe in fate.
I believe in fate, what means to happen. Those two people were
meant to be together. And in spite of any
difficult moment, they go over them, and keep going, with happiness.
Yes, with happiness.
What you have observed about differences
and similarities between your own approach to marriagefrom a cultural
viewpointversus what you see in the mainstream American viewpoint
The American people, I think, is the same. My age. Is
the same as my town in Cuba. I no think it is changed. It
is the same culture, you know?
There is no difference from nationality. There are different
cultures, but if the feelings are there, the reactions are the same as
human beings. Different cultures dont affect marriage. That
would be my answer. The success of marriage.
Divorce in 1-2-3.
Divorce in 1-2-3. You know? "Id like
to have a diamond," "No, no money for that." Or,
"Id like to change the car," and the man says, "But
I no have the money. Its too much." "Okay. I have
money. And I dont need you to live with me." They
his house. House is a temple. You
know? Is the place where you make
inside. Now, they are no have this mentality. With
poor people, it's not the same. In my factory, there are people
working, all days, and come to the house to cook, and to make a house
happy. This is not the kind of people doing that. They
are more family
More family-oriented, as they have less money. They
have to work harder for the money. They do more sacrifice,
like she brought the example of the ladies in our factory, working. They
will be there at seven oclock in the morning, that means they would
wake up at five, five-thirty, prepare breakfast for the children, for
them to go to school, and then they will come to the factory, and work
until three, three-thirty
they were looking for overtime, an hour extra, and they would try to [get]
it, and then come home about six-thirty, seven; and prepare food for the
family. That is because there is not enough money
there to live that kind of life that she was describing before. That
was, to a certain point, irresponsible, in the sense of the temple of
the home. The sacred. The
origin of all thisyou can go forty, fifty, sixty years agois
the life in college is so different
to what we had.
I missed that.
Yes; she missed to be in college here. But wait a minute! That
is the terrific point. No, its very terrific. Girls
have here, sex, okay. If they would have that in Cuba, it would
be the same. And theyd come with more sexual freedom. (To
Alegre.) The freedom of sex made the person come to
the marriage not the way you came to the marriage. When you
delivered yourself, that was
the whole thing for you.
I mean, I am talking sexually. That was something that belonged
to you and you would give it to only one person in your life. Because
you grew like that. You didnt see anything else. Now,
that, together with what you saideducation, workmake
women more liberated.
Alegre, when you were in this countrythis is very significant, I
dont forget about thisI was travelling, we lived here in North
Miami. And you met a woman in the gym, I believe; and then she was
trying to convince you: "Your husband is travelling. Forget
about it. He may be going to a bar tonight. Lets you
and I go! To a bar! And let us enjoy life!" and all that.
And that is the woman that, when she saw me, remember I told you,
that she made a pass at me. You didnt accept it. Right
away, your answer was no. You didnt conceive that you
could do that. I tell you, its the person. They
They dont expose themselves to the temptations.
Let me tell you the success of our marriage. In our life with our children.
We can talk our feelings openly. And if the other disagree, we take it.
I take it from my children. And we can argue without any problem.
And what some people might believe is a lack of respect, I believe that
we know each other better. That they dont have to stop themselves
to talk with their father or mother. We dont keep things inside.
And then we can be so open that we are a very happy group. Believe
me. We are a very happy group.
We talk everything.
We talk everything. You take Jacob; he talk everything. Charlie,
he talk everything. We argue plenty, but that is beautiful.
That make us love each other more.
This is true.
I think I love you more. Than you love to me.
Thank you. (They laugh.)