By: Milton E. Pérez Osorio
If you have passed by the fields on the mountainside of Corozal, you have seen the Bou family mansion. Named in honor of the daughter of the family, the Bou’s house is now preserved as Museum Aurora. Genaro Bou built this two story wooden house in 1936, states zeepuertorico.com. There is where Aurora Pérez Bou was raised.
“We were raised in barrio Cibuco. We lived there all our lives, we got married in that house and then we left immediately after we got married,” recalled Aurora, wiping away her tears as she chuckled.
Aurora is the second oldest of three daughters in the Bou family. She was born on January 8, 1925. Her older sister is named Carmen and her younger sister is named Rosita.
“My father, Genaro Bou, was a strict and disciplined man, he was a farmer and a loving husband and father. My mother was a quiet housewife, she taught us everything about keeping a house,” she recalls. The Bou family owned 50 acres of fertile land where crops and trees will bloom and cows, pigs and chickens will be found walking near a barn. Some yards away, the roaring sounds Cibuco river could be heard over the crowding vegetation.
“As a farmer, my father mostly raised plantains, yams, minor fruits like oranges and lemons and a lot of sugar cane,” said Rosita. “He became quite famous in town for his melao, a syrup my father processed with the sugar cane from the fields. It was named Melao Cibuco, and he kept producing it until he died.”
Out of the three girls in the Bou family, Aurora was the only one who managed to obtain a college degree; she obtained a bachelor’s degree in education. In the mid 1930s schools in Corozal only offered through the eight grade and students who wished to continue had to do so in far away towns.
“When I graduated from eight grade from Lincoln school, I went to an high school in Bayamón for around a year and a half. My granddad took my sisters and me to school in the morning in his old scrappy pickup truck, and he would always have his massive dog in the trunk,” Aurora recalled. In the afternoon they returned to Corozal by bus. “I remember that it took me around four to six hours to get back home.”
The only paved roads found in Corozal at that time were around the square plaza and church. The rest of the roads mostly consisted of dirt and rubbles of rocks.
“But that certainly didn’t stop me from enjoying the days at school. Reading and books were fascinating for me, and I had many friends,” she adds. “It also gave me an excellent opportunity to go to parties in the plaza at night. At the end, I managed to graduate from high school in Santurce in 1943,” she said proudly.
Aurora was intrigued about teaching. She wanted to become a role model for young children. Thus, she applied to study a bachelor’s in education in the University of Puerto Rico-Río Piedras. Her family was delighted when news arrived of her university admission. But not her father, Genaro wasn’t happy that her daughter was leaving the house.
“My father at first didn’t give me an option, but after my mom talked to him at night, he gave me a nonnegotiable condition,” Aurora sourly stated.
Genaro determined that if they didn’t find a dorm exclusively for women the next day, Aurora would not be attending the university. The next day, the family went on a dorm hunting expedition to the in the city of Río Piedras, where small fashion shops, cafes, bookshops, bars, restaurants and more covered the streets.
“We looked around six or seven buildings in the metropolis and none of them were exclusively for females. It was a very frustrating day for all of us,” Aurora sullenly recalled. “Before my father decided to return home, my mom had an idea and went ahead secretly to another apartment. There she talked to the owner and convinced him to hide the fact that men also lived in the building.”
At the end Aurora managed to acquire a place to stay during her university career. After four years of hardship and study, she graduated and returned to her hometown to teach first graders.
“I loved teaching little kids. They used to call me “chami” as a nickname,” said Aurora smiling. “I remember one day one of my students brought a small yellow flower for me to wear on my hair. It was a sweet gesture, but the problem was that it was covered in ants! So I forced myself to wear it for a few seconds before I felt all the ants crawling all over my head.” She taught at that school until she married in 1956 and moved to San Agustín in Río Piedras.
“I have been blessed to live such fantastic life with my family and kids. One thing I miss the most in my younger days when the family was more connected.”