Ethnic pride is among the select common denominators shared by the millions of culturally diverse people who populate America. At the same time that we celebrate our shared culture here in America, we also celebrate the very different heritages and traditions of the native lands from which we, or our forebearers, came.
Sadly, we are also all too familiar with the kind of intolerance and sometimes outright discrimination that such diversity can engender. Moments of scorn and how we handle them, particularly at a young, impressionable age, can define us for the rest of our lives – for better or worse.
Growing up young and Puerto Rican in 1950s and 1960s New Britain, Marilyn Alverio of the Alverio Family, 2016 inductees of the Immigrant Heritage Hall of Fame, recalls one such moment.
“I remember seeing the other girls, the non-Latina girls, and I knew that they lived in nice houses out in the suburbs while we lived in the city,” Marilyn recalls. “One time I got invited to go on the bus to one of the girl’s homes. There were three white girls and me.
“We got to the front door of this little salt box house, it was the grandest thing I’d ever seen, and when the door opens, the mother lets the other three girls in and asks me to wait outside. Because of my brown skin she did not want me to come inside,” she continues. “I stood outside with tears streaming down my face.
“It was at that very moment that I first realized that society uses labels, and I was different. And I remember never wanting to feel that way again, or for anyone to feel that way. It was a moment that influenced and shaped who I am, a moment that inspired me to make change happen in the world.”
Marilyn, Yvonne, Diane and brother Geraldo Alverio all experienced discrimination growing up, and they credit their parents, Gerardo and Vicenta, natives of San Lorenzo and Comerio, Puerto Rico, respectively, with instilling in them the kind of ethnic pride that allowed them to not only rise above such adversity, but go on to lead rich, rewarding lives.
“I think it came from my parents, their strength was amazing. My father was very proud to live in the United States, he thought living here was fabulous,” Diane says. “They taught us to work hard to get ahead. We knew others perceived us differently, but we never thought, ‘I can’t do this because I’m Puerto Rican.’ And that pride and confidence came from them.”
The Alverios were among the first Puerto Rican families to settle in New Britain in the mid-1950s, and have played an instrumental role in building and inspiring the Puerto Rican and Latino communities in central Connecticut ever since. As proud Americans born in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico (the Alverio siblings’ grandfather was born in Spain before migrating to Puerto Rico), the Alverio family may not fit the technical definition of “immigrant,” but their journey here in mainland America more than qualifies as a true “immigrant experience.”
Gerardo proudly served in the U.S. Army during World War II in one of the segregated units that later became part of the 65th Regiment, also known as the legendary “Borinqueneers.” He served in the Philippines, Hawaii and Panama and earned numerous medals for his service.
He and Vicenta and their budding family moved to Connecticut in the 1950s, first living in Meriden then settling in New Britain in 1956. Gerardo worked in the state’s thriving manufacturing industry and in later years for the State of Connecticut Department of Children and Families as a youth service officer.
Over the years, the Alverios engrossed themselves in Connecticut’s small, tight-knit Puerto Rican community, while at the same time learning about many cultures in the melting pot of New Britain, particularly the Polish culture growing up on Orange Street. Diane recalls a humorous story from growing up within a heavily Polish community, one that illustrates our commonality.
We lived in one of those multi-family homes, and it didn’t matter who our neighbors were. They were Polish, of course, and we all got along,” Diane says. “One day I remember we, the Puerto Ricans, were having galumpkis, and I wondered ‘what is the Polish lady upstairs cooking for her family?’
“Lo and behold, she was cooking rice and beans.”
The elder Alverios became members of many local cultural organizations, and were instrumental in the founding – and Gerardo went on to be president – of the New Britain Puerto Rican Society, which thrives to this day. Vicenta was the Society’s “Mother of the Year” in 1975 and served as vice president of the Ladies Committee. In 1997, she was recognized for outstanding contributions to the advancement of women by the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund.
Both of the elder Alverio have passed, most recently Gerardo last year at age 95.
Yvonne followed in her father’s footsteps, serving in the United States Army from 1975-2002. She was the first Latina in the Connecticut National Guard to be promoted to the rank of Master Sergeant. She has had a long career in management and is a nationally recognized professional in the field of diversity and inclusion. She is the former head of workforce diversity for Aetna Life & Casualty and today is the Founder and President of Florida-based Yvonne Alverio & Associates, a management consulting firm specializing in strategic diversity management and organizational development.
Diane is perhaps best known in central Connecticut as a former reporter with WFSB Channel 3 News. She has also held numerous additional reporting and production positions, and has been a national producer for PBS, a visiting member of The Hartford Courant editorial board and is the former vice president and general manager of Spanish language radio station WLAT. She founded her own communications firm, D. Alverio & Co, and was named for two consecutive years as one of the “100 Most Influential Hispanics” in the U.S. by Hispanic Business Magazine. Today Diane is the founder and publisher of the award-winning news website CTLatinoNews.com.
Marilyn is a nationally recognized expert and speaker in multicultural marketing. She is the founder and producer of the highly successful Hartford-based Latinas and Power Symposium, and founded her own firm, Ethnic Marketing Solutions, LLC, in 2003. Today, she is part of the MassMutual Financial Services team building a new digital life insurance business, ValoraLife.com. Marilyn currently serves as a board or committee member of the Connecticut Health Foundation, the World Affairs Council, Spanish American Merchants Association, Urban League of Greater Hartford and United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut.G
Geraldo is an actor and has performed in several national and international touring companies. He has performed all over the world including Japan, the Middle East, Paris, Colombia and more, and has also acted in several movies and appeared in the television series Miami Vice and Law & Order. He has also worked as one of the talent coordinators for the popular Phil Donahue television program.
None of it would have been possible without the strength of parents who knew their place in the world.
“We were all fortunate to be raised by wonderful parents who found teachable moments for us almost every day and showed us the beauty of our culture,” says Marilyn. “Their message to us was always be proud of who you are.”