PREFACE: My name is Gerome Cabrera. This is my story. It is not a war hero story nor is it a rags-to-riches story. This is a true story about my quest 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. I come from humble beginnings; my mom isn’t wealthy and raised my siblings and me on a $25k annual salary. Even with all the challenges growing up within a Hispanic family, I have obtained some great 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 to climb up the ladder.
My story will consist of several parts. Each part will shed light on specific events in my life that have made me who I am today. I want to tell you how I overcame the challenges stemmed from growing up in a poor Hispanic household.
My story will, hopefully, convince you that if someone like me can break out of the poverty-cycle that Hispanic parent(s) work hard for their children to escape, then you can do so too. Why am I sharing my story and writing this blog? Well, I grew up without the knowledge nor foresight in education and careers. I learned through trial and error. Not having privileged resources shouldn’t thwart you from becoming successful. Sharing my experience can help others in similar situations.
After I have told my story, I 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 – The Laundry Room: Where I Learned that Being Dominican is all about Family
I was born in Brooklyn, New York to a single working-class Dominican mother. I am the youngest of three: my brother and sister are five and six years older, respectively. When I was four years old, we moved to South Florida because the woman that my father cheated on my mother with was threatening her with gang violence. To protect her children, my mother uprooted us to the Sunshine State to start a new life.
We moved to a townhouse in a small community within 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. But, the community, with over thirty kids running around from morning to night, was a lot of fun; we played games like “Man-Hunt”, “Knock-Knock-Ditch”, and “Cops and Robbers” with real fireworks. Looking back, I can’t believe my siblings and I survived those days without serious injuries.
Besides my mother wanting to start over in Florida, she also wanted some assistance from her sister while she got back on her feet. My aunt and her five children lived in the town of Homestead, located near the southern tip of Florida. Her husband was a successful entrepreneur and they lived in a newly built six-bedroom house. We used to love visiting them as their home was 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 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 in Homestead, since it was larger and potentially safer than our home in Sweetwater. We immediately packed our bags and drove down to Homestead. Little did we know, my aunt’s home was in Hurricane Andrew’s direct path.
I was only four years old when Hurricane Andrew hit. I still remember all the series of events that took place. The night when the hurricane arrived, we were all in my cousin’s room sharing scary stories and watching late night re-runs of “In Living Color” until we dozed off one-by-one. My brother, sister, and I were sleeping on the floor when my mother and aunt stormed into the room in the middle of the night. They rushed us all downstairs to the laundry room next to the garage. As we were running, you can hear the winds roaring, like airplane engines, and tree branches cracking.
The laundry room was small, tight, hot and muggy. It had thick walls with no windows. We felt safe as we crammed ourselves together, waiting silently for Andrew to pass.
We could hear the winds growing stronger. Just outside the laundry room’s door, we heard objects falling, glass breaking and walls cracking. We weren’t sure what was going to happen, as we all stared at the door, patiently waiting for it all to end while my aunt prayed and my mother held us close together.
The wind, rain, and destruction lasted for hours and without any warning, it abruptly stopped. There was complete silence. Everyone was still and calm. We continued to stare at the door, wondering if it was all over. All we heard was the house creaking as if it was crying from all the pain just endured.
My oldest cousin, Joseph, decided to check it out. He slightly opened the laundry room’s door to peak outside. As the door opened, a rush of light poured in. The roof of the house was gone, and the sun was peeking through the clouds. All the windows were shattered. Shards of glass and debris, such as family pictures from other homes, were scattered across the floor. Walls of the house were ravaged as if a band of monsters ransacked the place.
We all remained silent. Saddened by the destruction, but pleased to be alive. We began to scavenge through the debris for recoverable personal items. For a few minutes, it seemed as if Hurricane Andrew had passed, but as soon as Joseph was about to open the front door of the house to see how much damage the neighborhood suffered, a gush of wind rushed in and blew the front door off. The sun all of sudden hid behind the clouds that erupted. Waterfalls of rain poured down. We came to realize that the brief silence was our short break in the hurricane’s eye. Andrew was not done.
We dropped all the scavenged items and ran back to the laundry room. With all ten of us tightly huddled and crouched on the floor, my cousin placed the front door, that was blown off, over our heads. His quick decision to use the door as a shield saved our lives.
The already fast winds and heavy rain ramped up during Andrew’s second run at us. The bangs were louder. The larger wreckage was felt crashing on top of the laundry room. The ceiling started leaking and the drywall began collapsing on top of the door we had propped over our heads. The leak got bigger and the room started to fill up with water. Our clothes and shoes were getting soaked. The praying from my aunt and mother grew louder and faster. Gradually, my cousins and siblings joined my aunt and mother. After a while, Hurricane Andrew had stopped.
We tried to open the laundry door, but it was blocked. So, one at a time, we climbed out through an opening in the laundry’s room ceiling. When we were all out of the laundry room, we stood there in disbelief. Every house had plummeted to the ground and the entirety of Homestead was leveled.
We shed tears as we soaked in the chaos of it all. The laundry room was the only upright structure. The house we had once thought was a fortress, was gone.
After we searched in the rubble for our personal belongs, we were notified by one of the neighbors that shuttle buses will be transporting us to the nearest shelter in the morning. Since we had nowhere to go that night, we gathered what was left of mattresses and sofas from the rubble and camped outside under the open skies, surrounded by the wreckage left behind by Hurricane Andrew. It felt great to be alive.
The next morning, the shuttle buses arrived and transported us to the shelter. We stayed there until transportation to Sweetwater was available. I remember when we finally got to eat food. As we were opening our silver bags of military MREs, all ten of us simply sat in silence, devouring our meals one after another and enjoying the feeling of our bellies fattening.
If it wasn’t for the sense of family, things probably would have gone differently. At the end of the day, we were all together, happy, laughing, and peaceful. It did not matter that we lost all our possessions. All that mattered was that we were a family. And when I look back during the moments when we were getting battered by Hurricane Andrew, I realize that none of us were crying while Andrew was right above us, because in that laundry room we were felt safe.
If there is one thing that you should know about Dominicans, no matter how horrible the situation is, no matter how bad life seems to get, they always try to bring out the best of things. Being cultured Dominican, it helped me to remain positive during the roughest patches in life.