PREFACE: My name is Gerome Cabrera and this is my story. It is not a war hero story nor is it a story of rags to riches. This is a true story about my quest in seeking the “American Dream.” With a few exceptions, locations, names, and dates are accurate. The rest is derived from memory.
I am Brooklyn born, Miami nurtured, Queens raised, and Dominican cultured. I am public schooled and non-Ivy League graduated. I come from humble beginnings with no rich parent nor trust funds. Disregarding this very ordinary upbringing, I have obtained some of the best jobs on Wall Street.
If you are reading this, then you and I are alike – we grew up poor, we are minorities, and we have found creative ways to use our limited resources on hand to our benefit. My story will consist of several parts. Each part will shine light on specific events in my life that has shaped me to who I am today. I want to tell you how I overcame the challenges stemmed from growing up in a poor Hispanic household.
This will, hopefully, convince you that if someone with my background and upbringing can land some of the most sought out jobs on Wall Street, then so can you. After I have told my story, I then want to share my experience in landing careers in some of the top companies in the world.
The subsequent posts will contain tips, tricks, and the lowdown about interviewing, networking, job applications, career advancement, and many other commonly discussed topics about careers.
Part 1: I was born in Brooklyn, New York to a single working-class Dominican mother. When I was four years old, we moved to South Florida to be closer with my cousins and to start a fresh new life in the Sunshine State.
We lived in a townhouse in Sweetwater, Miami. It was not the greatest neighborhood to raise kids in the 90s. It was the kind of neighborhood where kids grow up too quickly and learn about things you shouldn’t know as a child. Brushing aside all the negatives of Sweetwater, my siblings and I created lifelong memories there.
My favorite thing about living in Sweetwater was the proximity of my cousins. In the town of Homestead, located near the southern tip of Florida, lived my aunt and her five kids in a huge house, foreign to what we’ve seen back in Brooklyn. In our eyes, it was a mansion with enough nooks and crannies to play hide-and-seek for days.
That same year we moved from Brooklyn, we experienced one of the worst things about Florida, hurricanes. In mid-August of 1992, Hurricane Andrew, a Category 5 hurricane, demolished South Florida.
When the governor declared a state of emergency, my aunt had suggested to my mother that we all stay over her house since it was bigger and most likely safer compared to our home in Sweetwater. We immediately packed our bags and drove down to Homestead, but little did we know, we were driving directly to Andrew’s path.
I was so young, but I remembered the traumatizing events of it all. My aunt had suggested we sleep together in the living room. There were ten of us sleeping on blankets and sofas. We were telling scary stories, making hand puppets with flashlights, and watching late night runs of In Living Color until we dozed off one-by-one.
Suddenly, my mother woke us up in the middle of the night. We heard the winds roaring and trees creaking as they arch to the ground. It sounded like the loud humming of airplane engines when sitting in the rear of the cabin.
My mother and aunt rushed us to the laundry room near the garage. The laundry room didn’t have any windows, so it seemed like the safest place to be. The room was tiny, hot and muggy, but we all crammed in there silently waiting.
As the winds grew stronger, we sat there listening closely to glass breaking, objects falling, and walls cracking, trying to figure out if the destruction was getting nearer, while my aunt prayed and my mother held us close together.
The wind and rain lasted for hours, and then suddenly, it paused. Complete stillness. Calmness. We waited a few minutes in silence, trying to listen closely to the outdoor environment, expecting the house to come crashing down as the structure creaked.
My oldest cousin, Joseph, decided to brave it out and open the laundry room’s door to peak outside. As the door opened, we all stared directly to the skies. The entire roof of the house was gone. The windows were shattered, the carpet was soaked, and there were debris from other homes inside our living room. There were tree branches and leaves scattered all over the place, and the second-floor walls looked as if tyrannosaurus rex bit a chunk out of it.
At first it seemed as if Hurricane Andrew had past. We began to scavenge through the debris for recoverable personal items. Joseph wanted to scope the neighborhood to see how much damage was done to the other homes, but as soon as he opened the front door, a gush of wind came rushing in and blew the front door off. The clouds erupted and waterfalls of rain came pouring down. The hurricane’s eye was short-lived, and now Andrew was back for more.
We immediately dropped all the scavenged items and ran back to the laundry room. On our way back, my cousin dragged the entire front door of the house inside the room. With the ten of us tightly huddled together and crouched on the floor, he positioned the door on top of our heads. His quick decision to use the door as a shield saved our lives.
As the fast winds and heavy rain started to ramp up, we heard louder bangs and larger things crashing down above us. The laundry room’s ceiling started leaking and the dry wall paneling began to fall on top of the door we had propped above our heads. Our clothing began to get wet as more and more rain came pouring through.
After hours of praying and asking god to keep us alive, the rains and winds unexpectedly ended. It was finally over.
We tried opening the laundry door, but something was blocking its way. So, one at a time, we climbed out through a hole in the laundry’s room ceiling. When we were all out of the laundry room, we just stood there in disbelief.
For miles, there was nothing erect. Every house had been plummeted to the ground and the entirety of Homestead was leveled to the floor.
We began to burst in tears when we saw that in the debris and chaos of it all, the laundry room was the only structure barely standing. The house we had once thought was a fortress, was now all crumbled to the ground.
After hours of searching in the rubble for our personal belongings, we were notified by one of the neighbors that the National Guard will be sending over shuttle busses the next few days to take us to the nearby shelter. Since we had nowhere to go that night, we gathered what was left of mattresses and sofas from the neighborhood rubble and camped outside under the open skies, surrounded by the wreckage left behind by Hurricane Andrew. It felt great to be alive.
The following day, the shuttle busses arrived and transported us to the nearby shelter. We were to stay there until transportation to Sweetwater was available. We were scared at first, but the people at the shelter were hospitable. It was a community of people, where politics, race, nor wealth did not matter, all under the same roof and dealing with the aftermath of Andrew.
I remember when we finally got to eat food. As we were opening our silver bags of military MREs, all ten of us just sat there in silence, devouring our meals one after another, enjoying our bellies being filled once again.
The most important thing in this experience was family. We were all together, happy, laughing, and with no worries. It did not matter that we lost all our possessions. All that mattered was that we were together. And when I look back during the moment when we were getting battered by Hurricane Andrew, I came to realize that none of us were crying while Andrew was right above us, because in that laundry room we were safe as a family.
If there is one thing that you should know about Dominicans, no matter how horrible the situation is, no matter how bad life can seem to be, they always try to bring about the best of things. Being cultured Dominican, I learned to remain positive during the roughest patches.