There used to be an old man who tucked in his aqua button-up shirt into his khaki pants every day. He looped a leather belt, shined his shoes and slicked back the little white hair he had left.
When there was a knock on the door from his granddaughter, he walked quickly and waved at her from the window. The wrinkles in his eyes met the corner of his glasses as he smiled and smacked a kiss on her cheek.
Her Ayaya handed her a bowl of creamy garbanzo bean soup, and she sat down with her Abuelo to eat in a tiny kitchen nook. He taught her to drink her soup along the outer edge of the plate and blow the steam away to not burn her tongue. Her Ayaya then taught her how to whip cafecito before she grew over the countertop.
That girl is me, the Spring 2020 editor-in-chief of The Alligator.
Before I was a journalist, I made memories in a one-bedroom apartment that smelled like Tide laundry detergent and fried plantains. I ate mini pastelitos and croquetas at birthday parties. I spoke Spanish at my abuelos’ apartment but English at home. I learned the little things that shaped me as a person.
And at 20 years old, I wept in the Reitz Union when my mom called to tell me my Abuelo died before an interview for an internship.
Journalists are people, with real emotions, character and humanity. They’re made by their hometowns, their culture, their education and their circumstances. But most importantly, they’re made by people.
My family’s roots didn’t start in the United States, but we’ve certainly grown into a large family tree. My abuelos and parents left Cuba, the only place they called home, for dreams of a better life in the United States. My mom and abuelos worked as custodians cleaning at a phone company.
They started at the bottom, but they told me that dreams weren’t just dreams if I worked hard enough and if I helped others. That’s what I do every day in journalism.
My mom was once a little girl like me. But she moved to a new country with nothing. When she drove from Los Angeles to Miami with my abuelos, she ate canned food in her car. And because of this, she showed me that it was important to help others.
She led efforts to buy my classmates their school uniforms or fund their field trips to Universal by dragging out a cart of Blue Bunny ice cream sandwiches to sell after school. She sweated in the Florida heat until they sold out.
She was bullied in school for not knowing English. She couldn’t even ask her teacher if she could use the restroom. So, my mom taught me to be kind and stand up for the voiceless.
And in journalism, I have to do that.
I heard my dad leave for work before it was even time for me to get up for school. He came back in with circles under his eyes. The hair he had left was mangled. But when my siblings and I ran to him every night, he smiled and hugged us tightly. He’s supported me through anything, including internships at home and across the country.
All my life, my dad has worked two jobs: in a corporate building in downtown Miami and doing taxes at our dining room table on the weekends.
My dad’s dream was a family. He was a single child for most of his life, and he took care of his dying parents in New Jersey when he was young. He showed me the value of hard work.
And in journalism, I have to do that.
After Friday night dinners, Abuelo sat on the couch cushion next to Ayaya’s recliner. We all watched Telemundo to catch up on Latin American affairs. At 90 years old, Abuelo was passionate about staying informed.
But any second we had together was time Abuelo spent telling me stories about Cuba, a place I’d never been to. My mom said he could talk to a rock.
In high school, I wrote my first story for my journalism class on Ayaya and Abuelo’s love story. He laughed when he told me that Ayaya ate her lunch and his every day.
Sometimes, he retreated to the closet to pull out the worn leather suitcases he brought from Cuba to show me browning photos of family, friends and life in a different country. His eyes turned watery when he showed me.
Ayaya loved to cook. But Abuelo loved to tell stories, and I always wanted to listen.
And in journalism, I want to do that.
Christina Morales was The Alligator’s editor-in-chief.
Christina Morales with Abuelo and Ayaya at her 2016 high school graduation from Barbara Goleman Senior High at Florida International University.