By: Jaime G. Rodríguez Canabal
It is the morning of Monday, March 31, 2014 and Gallego is singing like a rooster to wake up everyone in his neighborhood. While the people in his neighborhood wake up and come out of their houses he goes to greet them and chat about last night’s news. Everyone in the neighborhood knows him as Gallego but his real name is Benjamin E. Canabal Duran, 81, a retired farmer. He is strong, white, and not too tall, with character and looks younger than he is.
Benjamin was born on October 27, 1932 in Isabela, Puerto Rico, in the area of Cotto. He was born in his parents’ house, assisted by a midwife. Since the age of 5 he had he had to wake up at 5:00 a.m. to work with his dad’s cattle. As the youngest of the three boys he had to work harder and more than his brothers to prove to his dad that he was stronger than them.
He would ride a horse with his dad around town. His dad, Luis Canabal Alfaro was a wealthy and hardworking man who raised his children with poor peoplso they would learn how to struggle in life.
He recalls that he was a naughty child who was always getting in trouble and being punished. He thanks his parents for that punishment because it made him the man he is today. “I deserved even more spankings and punishments,” he said jokingly
When Gallego was 16 his father died, and he felt that he needed to take the father’s role in his house. He remembers his father as “an honest and humble man.”
He also recalls that community relations were tighter back then; people treated each other as family, helped each other, and offered coffee to their neighbors. He feels that class differences are more marked today than back then.
His father raised them to know and see the value of hardworking and life, but his dad’s brother were not like that and used to think he was superior to others. After his dad passed away his uncle stole around $120,000 from his dad’s safe.
Remembering his past Gallego said that one of the few opportunities that young people had back then was working the land. People started working before 7:00 a.m. or when the train passed through Quebradillas and honked.
However, he is convinced that the education people received back then was superior to todays. His dad only completed up to the third grade and he was “a lot better prepared than people with a high school diploma today,” Gallego said.
He struggled in school because he started it a bit late. He flunked the first grade because he tried to memorize things instead of reasoning them. Gallego completed high school at 22.
After high school he started studying business in the Royal in Arecibo, an institute where people obtained associated degree. He recalls that on the first day of classes in the classroom “there were 30 women and three men and in those times women began to use miniskirts!”
Fifteen days before graduation, after refusing to learn English because he was very patriotic and did not want to know anything related to the United States, he realized that he was not going to graduate. He told his professor, “I am not afraid of hard work and I will face life head on!”
When he started working the farm it was planted with sugar cane. He paid his workers even when they did not work the hours required because he believed in helping people and in socialism. “Every one needed money to eat and support their families.”
After becoming a father he had a problem with a worker, because that worker died in an accident driving one of his sugar cane trucks and from that day on he stopped cultivating sugar and faced economic hardships. He had to raise six kids without a profession and sometimes had to ask for food on credit at the neighborhood store.
It was around that time that people began calling him Gallego because he was a Spanish descendant and had a strong character, was very stubborn with his kids and was always cursing, so friends started calling him Gallego..
One of his daughters, Yadirha Canabal, 42, said that when she was growing “he was very strict and a male chauvinist and it was hard growing up under his rules.”
Gallego claims that the most easygoing time of his life is the present, because he is retired and lives next to all of his children and grandchildren..
Interviewee: Benjamin E. Canabal Duran 81 years old.
Second Source: Yadirha C. Canabal Perez 46 years old, daughter of Benjamin.
Luis E. Canabal Perez 42 years old, son of Benjamin