Angel _Social

Papa Endured So I Could Live

By Angel Alvarez | June 5, 2023

I could have died during childbirth, of pneumonia, by suicide, or by a police officer’s bullet. I was born a brown-skinned, brown-eyed, black-haired boy, with a white-skinned father and brown-skinned mother. Despite racism and socioeconomics, I survived for over fifty years thanks to my Papa. 

Papa was born into a well-heeled Spanish-Italian family in Peru. He was one of eight siblings–six boys and two girls. Papa attended college in Peru and again in the United States. All of his brothers – my uncles – earned doctorate degrees while Papa earned a master’s degree in engineering, the highest in his field. Papa was also an army lieutenant. It surprised me to learn that the World Book Encyclopedia, a U.S.-based source of information, identified Peru,  of all countries, as having some of the best-trained military officers in the world. Not just in South or Latin America–the world. 

All his life, Papa learned quickly, worked hard, and was not afraid of trying. However, his advanced degrees from Peru were not recognized, so he had to repeat his education in U.S. colleges. The only thing he could not overcome was his thick Spanish accent; white coworkers made fun of how he spoke English. Despite his white-ish skin, tech companies refused to promote my Papa because he was not an “American.” In the 1970s and 80s, he had to accept less pay for equal work compared to his white American coworkers. He had been warned that complaints of discrimination might be met with termination. 

With a young wife, four young children, and a mortgage, Papa could not afford to lose his job. Enduring humiliation to afford the mortgage payments and take care of his family was his way of protecting us and expressing his love – acts of service. Papa talked to me about drugs before so-called friends tried to induce me to try them. He convinced me that I was smart. He was there for me after I tried to take my own life during my adolescence. He advised me to stay away from gangs, which also kept me away from the police. During my incarceration, he worried about me.

My 2020 Christmas wish was to hug my Papa, but there were no in-person visits due to the pandemic. In a phone call, I told him that I loved him and missed him. The following week, on New Year’s Eve, he and Mom were hospitalized with COVID-19 and placed in separate rooms. Mom had always been crazy in love with Papa–they were inseparable. At the hospital, Papa kept asking for her. Mom survived but Papa passed away from COVID-19 pneumonia on January 15, 2021. I imagine he was in agony, alone, and worried about Mom. Before the pandemic, Papa’s sister and older brother had passed. COVID-19 took my other aunt and two more uncles. Papa died wanting to care and protect Mom – as he did for all of us.