A Dominican family in Manchester celebrates their 102-year-old matriarch
Immigration has split the family between the Dominican Republic and the United States, but they say their “gold star” is the one who keeps them connected.
When Julia Santos's children were preparing for her 102nd birthday party, she told them she was happy to have the privilege to see them live fulfilling lives.
“They come first,” Santos said.
Santos was born in Santo Domingo and was raised on a cacao farm. She remembers eating chocolate and picking the many fruits around her house. Her mother taught her to do the house chores; she said, in those times, that was what women had to learn.
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Santos married young when she was only 16. “That is how we did in the countryside,” she said.
She married two more times, but each time her partner broke her heart.
“They cheated on me,” Santos said. When NHPR asked if she still believed in love, she said only in the love of her family.
Santos arrived in the United States nine months ago after she learned her daughter Clara Román was sick.
Clara has to do dialysis three times a week and needs someone to make her company, so Santos came to do what Román says she does best: take care of her children.
“She is my gold star,” Román says.
Ana Román, who also owns a supermarket in Manchester’s eastside, organized a humble but emotive celebration for her grandmother in the parking lot of her business. About fifty members of Santos’ family gathered to greet her and share a favorite meal of roasted pork and plantains meal.
People were excited to see she was healthy.
Her youngest son, Juan Santos, says his mother is an example of a hard-working woman.
“As a single mom, she raised nine children by herself,” Santos said, moved. “She is our rock.”
One by one, grandchildren and great-grandchildren made a line to take a selfie with her and tell her how happy they were to see her doing well. They said they were giving back the love she had poured into them.
As her family sang “Las mañanitas,” a popular Latin American birthday song, Santos held her youngest great-grandson, a baby just a few months old. She also hugged another great-grandchild, who doesn’t speak Spanish but wanted to wish her well.
Santos says her grandchildren and great-grandchildren love to dance as she does.
When she was young, she used to do it for days. “We played the drums, and the party started,” said Santos.
That sense of adventure is why her son-in-law, Ramón Román, still likes to tease her.
“I like to tell her I will find her a boyfriend soon,” he said.
He may be joking, but he is serious when he says he hopes she will see 110.