By: Hector Luis Lopez
“I have been doing this for a long time and I will not stop doing it until the end of my days or until I cannot physically continue to do so.” These were the words that Juana Segarra (Juana Tapanes originally) had to say about her working to provide for the family at the age of 79.
Juana Segarra’s story is one of much tragedy, yet she proved that she could face adversity regardless of how it was brought forward to her.
Born in Cuba to a family of three other sisters, her mother and her father; she was quickly orphaned at the age of three. Her father had died shortly after he had one of his teeth removed.
At first Juana was making her way to become a hospital nurse when one day, an attack that was part of the Cuban revolution came through the hospital where Juana was working at. After hearing of this, Juana’s mother told her in these exact words “better dumb than dead” for she feared that she would lose one of her daughters like she had previously lost her husband.
The Cuban Revolution actually started in 1959, but Fidel Castro was already organizing his men at Sierra Maestra a few years prior, according to Encyclopedia Britannica’s article on the Cuban Revolution.
As a result of the attack on the hospital, Juana chose to change careers and decided to become a tailor. Since Juana was little, she always enjoyed to sew up and make her own clothing. She became a tailor by studying in a fashion academy that provided her the ability to become a skilled tailor and designer to which at this very day, she still practices in order to provide for her family.
A few years passed and through a wedding of one of her friends, she came to meet Enrique Segarra, a Puerto Rican man living in New York that was visiting Cuba for the wedding (one of his close friends was the one that was going to be married).
For Enrique, it was love at first sight when he first met with Juana.
After the wedding, both Enrique and Juana kept in contact with each other via postal service. Enrique was trying to convince Juana to marry him, but Juana saw this as a hard thing to do mainly due to the fact of the distance and the lack of resources that Juana had.
After some 7 months of back and forth correspondence, Enrique made the move of sending Juana the documents to get married, even though they were living in two different countries. Their wedding was completely through legal means and they did not have a wedding.
A short time after, Enrique went back to Cuba to celebrate his honeymoon with his new wife, but his intention was to return to New York with Juana.
“Love sometimes blinds people and often makes them take a decision without thinking of what may come. At first I was glad to move in with my husband (Enrique) but after some time, I started to miss my family and regret a bit my decision.”
She moved from Cuba to New York in 1956, three years prior to when Fidel Castro toppled the Cuban government and took control of Cuba.
Her communication with her family was very common at first, but right after Fidel seized control of Cuba, it became harder and harder to come in contact with her family in Cuba. To this very day, she has an extended family from her sisters that she has not seen at all. Her current communication with her sisters is rare. Letters take around a year to reach Juana from the original day that they were sent, making communication with her family in Cuba something almost impossible to keep up to date.
“It all started a few years (around 5-6 years) since Fidel took control of Cuba that our communication began to fall apart.”
While in New York, Juana gave birth to two children. One was born in 1959 and the other was born in 1962.
Juana and her family’s stay in New York lasted 14 years since they were relocated by the government. Using the government’s relocation funds they moved to Puerto Rico (they were going to demolish the apartment where they took residence in).
Juana wanted to stay in New York since she grew accustomed to it, but Enrique had already made some arrangements to move to Puerto Rico with regards of finding work there.
Juana was reluctant to this move, but at the end she moved to Puerto Rico in 1970 and has lived in the same house to this very day.
With her skills as a tailor, she began to generate a great amount of income. Aside from being a tailor, she also took care of kids and became sort of a nanny.
Some 11 to 12 years after moving to Puerto Rico, Enrique Segarra slipped in a bathtub and hit the back of his head causing him to have a hypovolemic shock that lead him to bleed internally. He lived for around three hours after the accident and came to his death shortly after the ambulance reached the hospital.
“I mourned his death gravely for around 3 years, he was the sole reason as to why I even left Cuba and losing him was surely something that was not easy to face.” Juana’s lit face turned sad after she gave it a moment’s thought about the death of her husband.
After picking a bit of herself up, she continued “I knew I had to pick myself up since my children were 20 and 23 when this happened and I needed to help them out.”
“It took a really heavy toll on us (the death of Enrique). It was not easy to lose one’s parent at the age of 18 and then cope with college and have to work in order to pay for college.” Felicia, Juana’s daughter, had this to say about the death of her father.
To this day, Juana keeps tailoring and taking care of children in order to provide for her family. She has tailored to a wide range of people, one of which was the mayor of Trujillo Alto (the town where Juana resides) which to this very day is a close family friend. Her work has never dwindled although she has taken a “break” from her work to just continue shortly after just so that she can help her daughter and her grandchildren economically. Her iron will topples all of her physical ailments and she has convinced herself that she will not stop working until they day she dies.
In October 20 of this year, she will be having her 80th birthday.