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From the Outside, Looking In

Memoirs of an Observer

As long as can remember, I have been an observer. There are two kinds of kids, the ones doing and the ones watching. I was the watcher: extremely shy, awkward and skinny, too afraid to talk. I could watch for hours and never utter a word recording everything around me, taking it all in – every detail –  watching lizards, spiders, birds, and exploring the rich paradise that was Santo Domingo. And reveled in the stories around me carried forward by the women in my life: my mother, aunts, maids, etc.

I have started this site in order to share stories of my family and my life. I have led the most exciting, complex, chaotic life full of ups and downs, adventures, lots of fun, lots of pain, but at the end, full of peace and happiness. I wish I could go back and tell that scared little girl that it is going to be alright. To relax and enjoy the ride.

I would like to dedicate these stories to my daughter, Avaryl, and my nieces and nephews — a generation free of political repression, anxieties, and fear, full of hope and open to every possibility.  I am aware that your generation has no reference to relate to the world I grew up in. Even I, at this age, and in this reality, feel like this was just a movie I saw a long time ago, but, sadly, I know it was all very real.

I am adding entries in the Blog when I can. Short stories of memories, events, or just observations throughout my life. Browse through and comment if you like. I welcome any information you might be able to add to the stories. 

coat-of-arms arvelo-dalmau

Family Crest designed by my father in the late 1940s.


Rafael Alberto Arvelo Gonzalez and Ysabel María Irene Dalmau Pichardo

Rafael Alberto Arvelo Gonzalez and Ysabel María Irene Dalmau Pichardo

My mother was the daughter of Alfredo Dalmau Rijo and Diana Pichardo Martinez. My mother’s father was a tycoon, who, among other things, represented and distributed Sinclair Oil Company in the Dominican Republic through his company, The Dalmau CxA. My grandmother was a seamstress among other things, later on becoming a healer in the countryside of the DR.

My father was the son of Wenceslao Arvelo Garcia, an exceptional sea captain and his wife Manuela Gonzalez Rey. Both were from Canarian families. Wenceslao was a very well known Sea dog for 50 years,  who, after retiring, wrote the daily tide and weather report in the local newspaper.

The Dalmau family was established in San Pedro de Macorís, which at that time, was the richest city and center of commerce, shipping, and trade in the island. The Arvelo-Gonzalez lived in Santo Domingo (Ciudad Trujillo at the time), the capital city of the island, and San Cristóbal, where my grandmother would go when she fought with my grandfather, which, apparently, happened very often. He was a womanizer and gambler, and had several sons out of wedlock. My grandmother raised two as her own. The Pichardos were from the area of Bani. My grandmother's father, Firo Pichardo was a well known figure in politics and did very well for himself. Also had many children in and out of wedlock.

My father tried to study architecture, engineering and then medicine, encouraged by his mother who was terrified of loosing my father to the sea like his father. But, he could not find himself in any of those disciplines– the sea was calling.  So after a few years in school, and several major changes later, he joined the coast guard, then the navy. In ten years my father rose through the ranks and was appointed naval attache to the DR embassy in London, England, where he studied naval tactics with the Royal Navy. The weather did not agree with him and he only stayed long enough to complete strategy training. On his return from England, the Dominican Republic had bought a retired, WWII, US navy frigate. My father was sent to the US to receive training specific to the frigate and was its captain for several years, sailing all over the word as a good-will ambassador. He would travel to presidential inaugurals, coronations, and international celebrations. The ship would then be used to entertain, hold government meetings, etc.

My grandmother was out of my mother's life since she was 4, after a nasty separation from my grandfather, at which time, he took my mother and her brother, by force, and left them at his sisters’ house. My grandfather was a bachelor and couldn't really raise kids on his own. Believing that my mother would have a better education in a boarding school, she spent most of her childhood there. At 18 he sent her to the Gardner School in New York, a finishing school for society girls, a must for a society girl that needed polishing to find a good society husband and be the “perfect” wife.  My mother got a dose of independence never experienced before in a tight, Dominican society of the 1940s. When she returned from the US she was wearing pants and was very independent. — very unusual for the times. She did come from a long line of independent and very strong women on her mother's side. Her mother, Diana Pichardo, was one of the strongest willed people I have ever met or even read about. Her strength oozed out of her. She said that she never got married because the woman who got married deserved everything she got! she also paid a very high price for her independence.

My parents met in 1947.  My father had just returned from a trip abroad and my mother was home from NY for summer vacation. There was a party at the Jaragua Hotel, a landmark of Santo Domingo at the time. My father and mother had a mutual friend, Papito Padilla, who introduced them. They fell for each other that night. They courted for a year before getting married in 1948. The wedding took place in the Catedral Primada de América, the oldest cathedral in the new world, in Santo Domingo, followed by a reception at the Santo Domingo Country Club. It was quite the affair. The couple enjoyed about three years or “normalcy” in their lives never imagining what catastrophic changes were awaiting them in a very short time.

My brother Pico was born in August of 1949. By then my father had been promoted to sub-secretary of state. This meant he was not only traveling more, but also having to be involved in a lot more affairs of state. I came along in 1951. By 1953 he had been promoted to Rear Admiral. That year he headed a delegation to represent the DR at Queen Elizabeth’s crowning. On his return to the island he was arrested and sent to jail.

This is how my mother found herself at age 27 with two babies and a husband that was now a political prisoner. I will try to tell the story in parts because it is very long and detailed. It is difficult to tell this dark story in my present reality of safety and predictability.