Growing Up Latino The Bronx and Discovering A New World

Leading the charge for the Boy Scouts mission to engage more Latino youth

 

Growing up a Latino minotity

I grew up in the Bronx, back when White Plains Road was a mainly Irish, Jewish and Italian neighborhood. We were the only Latino family for what seemed liked miles, but in reality was probably just one mile. Our home on White Plains Road was a matriarchal household; my grandmother Lupe, widow and traditional Puerto Rican grandmother who fed me all the good Puerto Rican soul food that I love to this day.

My grandmother lived on the bottom flow of the 2-story home, with my mother, Lupe, recently divorced from my Cuban father who chose not to hack it in NYC as an exile. My aunt Ida, mother of two, also divorced and a school teacher lived upstairs with my cousins.

So, three Puerto Rican women, all single, all working raised this group of kids. All of us went to school around the corner at PS 102 where we lived the lives of baby boomer kids, watching Walter Cronkite marvel at Mercury and Gemini, the Yankees going downhill after the ’64 wipeout against the Cardinals and listening to my grandmother Lupe talk about everyone in the neighborhood and the stores of Puerto Rico. But mainly cooking for all of us, watching us after school and yelling at us for being late, or brining our friends home to our basement to play.

Discovering a new world

Somehow, I and don’t know how, I was introduced to the Cub Scouts at PS 102. Don’t really remember how or why, as my mother who was constantly travelling around the world for her job or in Manhattan did not know a thing about it. Nor did my grandmother or aunt. My younger brother did not join nor did my younger male cousin.

I was the only member of the family who connected with Scouting. I remember putting on my blue uniform, leaving the house and walking to our Cub meetings at PS 102, doing the activities in the Cub Handbook and slowly rising to Weblos.

I entered Boy Scouts and discovered a new world, more on my own, more demanding of my time, effort and focus. The Boy Scout Handbook with its step by step instructions for advancement was both exciting and intimidating; there were so many projects and so many requirements to get those merit badges.

We travelled to Camp Alpine, just across the Hudson River, in what seemed like a foreign country for me, just deep woods, lean to cabins, tents. I went to summer camp for a week in the summer and learned to swim for the first time at age 10 (my grandson learned at 3).

I remember serving meals in the dining hall, making mistakes and being made fun of. I also remember being elected patrol leader, my very first leadership position in my life. I decided to make the Order of the Arrow and prepared myself for my night out in the woods , alone, waiting ever so hungrily for dawn to come and the best tasting boiled eggs I ever had.

I left scouting early, after reaching Star Level as I graduated high school at 16 due to skipping a couple of grades. In retrospect I wish I had stayed home and continued in Scouting because I wanted so much to make Eagle. I could have used the extra couple of years of “seasoning” as a young man. College called however and it was onto a new adventure.

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