Young Rita with her siblings in front of La Romana Home.

Young Rita with her siblings in front of La Romana Home.

I was born in the Southeastern part of the Dominican Republic in 1950, in La Romana, which was a very progressive town with refineries and resorts. I never really had a very stable family household. My mother and my father separated when I was very young. I never grew up with my father; I saw my father in my childhood, but my mother was a single mother very early on. After she had me, she developed another relationship and had my two brothers; in the 1960s, they also separated. She was the primary caregiver, and in many ways, the primary earner. She was a seamstress, and as a seamstress, you can actually do fairly well in my country. So she supported me through her seamstress salary and the child support that my father and step-father sent her.

La Romana_MariaMendez DR circa 1940

Rita’s Mother, Maria Mendez, circa 1940.

We also had maids, so in many ways, I was also raised by the maids; they took a lot of responsibility for us—taking care of us, preparing our meals, getting our clothes ready, and taking us to places. My mother was involved in our care, but it was sort of on the periphery. She was around all the time since she did most of the sewing at home. She was never a fuzzy, warm, loving, caring kind of mom. She’s 90 now and still isn’t—she was never that kind of mother. She wasn’t protective; she wasn’t attentive. She was more a “learn to take care of yourself, learn to do things” kind of mom, encouraging a lot of initiative on our part. I think initially it was kind of like “forced initiative” because we were too young.


8-year-old Rita with her brothers in La Romana, Dominican Republic.

8-year-old Rita with brothers in La Romana

My stepfather was a photographer and I just remember a lot of posing because he would take a lot of pictures of us, which is good because otherwise, as a Dominican family, we would not have photographs. So, we have those photos, thanks to him. But there was not a close relationship there. I did not call him dad. There wasn’t a paternal relationship there with me. I lived with my stepfather for about 7 or 8 years. By 1959 or 1960, he was no longer there.

My brothers lived with me, but we didn’t go to school together.  I was in religious school and they were in public school. I was more academic; I studied more than they did, so I would come home and I would study with my little friends who were neighbors (my girlfriends). I didn’t spend a lot of time with my brothers, except maybe on vacation weekends; sometimes we bickered in the house as siblings. But we weren’t too close; our closeness developed much later on in the adult years. Right now, one of them is a return marine in San Diego and the other is in Maryland.