It is very odd to start the foreword to a book by saying I was not intending to write it, but this is exactly what I have to say since I never considered writing about myself.
As life would have it, one day in 1998 while I was living in Puerto Rico, a young man who had been a member of ASPIRA (an “aspirante”) was visiting with me. We talked about our lives as people who consider themselves New Yorkers. He asked many questions about my arrival in New York City, why I emigrated, what my school life in Puerto Rico was like, why I never married, what I liked and disliked about our culture, my philosophy of life, and many other topics. At the same time, he told me about himself. In this conversation on the beach, we, the young and the aged, exchanged confidences and experiences. I had never revealed myself this way before. Suddenly, he said, “One day you will die and no one will know how important your life has been for other Puerto Ricans in the city and for the city’s development.” I responded that I had thought about writing a book about ASPIRA, the work that I consider my most significant. He replied that the story of ASPIRA would not be enough. I had to write my entire life story, starting from my very humble origins up to receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Bill Clinton in 1996. My life, he said, was important because it provided an example for many young Puerto Rican New Yorkers who had very few mentors, heroes, and important figures to emulate.
After this conversation, I requested and received a grant from the Ford Foundation to launch me on my adventure: writing a book. As I write today, I have received a second grant from the Rockefeller Foun-