Alegre & Alberto, Bal Harbour, FL - married 1949

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 boundaries.


Alegre:
I love this man.  He was my
first boyfriend, in my life.  The first man kiss me…

Alberto:
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.

Alegre:
For five years.

Alberto:
For five years.

Alegre:
No bed.

Alberto:
Good.  Keep going.  
(She laughs.)  I enjoy listening to you.

Alegre:
It’s 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.

Alberto:
You think that I am the man… for your life.

Alegre:
(Overlapping.) I think you are the man… I never tried other man, this is the only man I have.

Alberto:
I am married… because I found the person that made me
feel that I want to start living the life.  With her.  She was very young… I am five years older; and I lived a different life.  I was sort of a—you know, not necessarily a playboy, but a good dancer in Cuba, young.  So girls wasn’t such a big problem.  However, Alegre… 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 didn’t want with me so fast.  No.  But, when she told me, "okay," I knew that was… well, my… my partner, that’s all.  My woman.

Alegre:
Your partner, no.  Your
wife.  Partner is something—your 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 it out—

Alberto:
At that time, I was travelling.  Selling shoes was sixty-day trips.

Alegre:
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 he’s 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!

Alberto:
You know, Alegre… let me tell you something.  You didn’t listen to anybody to be like that.  You
are like that.  You are a very dedicated person.  You know… you and I, we had a lot of problems.  A lot of arguments.  Because we have so many… our personalities are different.  I never wanted to accept it, but you always say I was very strong, very hard person.  And even though I am likable—and I was very likable, but—probably, you have been right.  I needed many years to understand all that, that’s why we are getting along better in the last five years than ever.

Alegre:
He’s very good person.  He’s very nice, but he have
character.  Mmmmm!  Cuban men, they have character.


Alegre:
I think this is the
keyla llave—the key to keep two people living together.  It’s 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 more important.

Alberto:
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.

Alegre:
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 I’ve written in my house is different."

RF:
Each couple writes their own book?

Alegre:
Right!  My book is take care for this man, and for my children, for my family…

Alberto:
Tremendous care.

Alegre:
And for Cuba.

Alberto:
Tremendous care.  (Alegre chuckles.)  Beautiful, Alegre!


Alberto:
When we are talking about marriages, that they live for so long...  I don’t believe there’s one particular reason that apply to
every other couple.  It’s 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 person—a man with another woman, or a woman with another man—will make their life happier or better than what they have.  In poor, and in the rich.

Alegre:
And in sad?

Alberto:
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 son—there were three sons—they 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, "let’s go to the factory."  And I said, "yes.  Let’s 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 good—these are things that you cannot describe why that happened.  I believe, many times, it’s because that couple has been born to belong one to each other.  There’s a lot of that.

RF:
You believe in fate.

Alegre:
Mm-hmm.

Alberto:
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.

RF:
With happiness?

Alberto:
Yes,
with happiness.


RF:
What you have observed about differences and similarities between your own approach to marriage—from a cultural viewpoint—versus what you see in the mainstream American viewpoint towards marriage?

Alegre:
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?

Alberto:
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 don’t affect marriage.  That would be my answer.  The success of marriage.

Alegre:
Divorce in 1-2-3.

Alberto:
Ahh.

Alegre:
Divorce in 1-2-3.  You know?  "I’d like to have a diamond,"  "No, no money for that."  Or, "I’d like to change the car," and the man says, "But I no have the money.  It’s too much."  "Okay.  
have money.  And I don’t need you to live with me."  They no have… love.  For his house.  House is a temple.  You know?  Is the place where you make… angels 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

Alberto:
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 o’clock 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…  And 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 this—you can go forty, fifty, sixty years ago—is the life in college is so different to what we had.

Alegre:
I missed that.

Alberto:
Yes; she missed to be in college here.  But wait a minute!  That is the terrific point.  No, it’s very terrific.  Girls have here, sex, okay.  If they would have that in Cuba, it would be the same.  And they’d 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 didn’t see anything else.  Now, that, together with what you said—education, work—make women more liberated.

Alegre, when you were in this country—this is very significant, I don’t forget about this—I 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.  Let’s 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 didn’t accept it.  Right away, your answer was no.  You didn’t conceive that you could do that.  I tell you, it’s the person.  They don’t—

Alegre:
Temptation.

Alberto:
They don’t expose themselves to the temptations.


Alberto:
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 don’t have to stop themselves to talk with their father or mother.  We don’t 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.

Alegre:
We talk everything.

Alberto:
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.

Alegre:
This is true.


Alegre & Alberto - Bal Harbour, FLAlegre:
I think I love you more.  Than you love to me.

Alberto:
Thank you. 
(They laugh.)  Thank you.