This is my grandmother Mercedes Alcantara who immigrated here from the Dominican Republic. My grandmother was a hardworking woman who was also very involved in serving her community through her church. She made me feel special because she always picked me up on Saturdays and took me to church. It was my time alone with her and my time to cook, sing and participate in community service with her. At church, she helped to cook and feed the homeless in our community. She taught me how to be compassionate and to never judge those who were less fortunate because they too were once part of warm families just like us. She said, “Something unfortunate brought them to these streets. However, we don’t have to show them the same disdain and sadness that they have been made to feel from other people in this world. We can make their lives a little brighter… a little warmer. Who knows our act kindness can spark the change or love they need to move forward in their lives.” That was the impact that she left on my life. I have never forgotten her love for all people from all walks of life. I try to live by the same principals in my life and help as many people as I can.
Noemi and Rafael Alcantara are my loving parents. Each of them nurtured me in different ways. My mom, Noemi, was my mom and a friend. I could confide in her and tell her what was making me sad, angry or worried. She was very intuitive and like clockwork, she could always tell when something was bothering me. She always had great advice for me and was always upbeat, happy and encouraging. She always attended my all of my choral concerts and was by my side for every triumph and tribulation in my life. My mother was the key to ensuring that I finished school and never strayed into the dark corners of my childhood neighborhood. She kept me engaged with afterschool programs and summer programs that enriched my life and education. She taught me that education was the key to making my life better and she often used her life lessons to keep me on the right path.
My dad, Rafael, was a huge influence in my life because he loved music and was a great musician. He instilled in me the love of music and the discipline of making yourself better through practice. As I immersed myself in his musical world, I found my own voice and love for the piano, and he was quick to ensure that I began piano lessons right away. He was very supportive and proud and attended all of my recitals as a child. I always looked for him in the audience whenever I needed reassurance. For years afterward, he showed me that the only way to be better at music or life was to have discipline and keep your mind focused on what it is you wanted to accomplish.
My younger brother Reynaldo Alcantara and I always seem to have numerous debates and spats as children. However, whenever someone picked on one of us at school, all those debate and arguments seem to fade away. We were loyal to each other and to us, loyalty meant protecting each other. We made sure that in our neighborhood everyone understood that our bond was unbreakable and that no one could bully us. Rey always made me feel special because I was never alone and whenever I needed him, he was there. He taught that when something is wrong or there is an injustice, we must stand up. It is because of my brother, I that I am able to stand strong for issues that are unfair to others.
My grandmother, Herminia Davila, moved here from Puerto Rico and brought my mother and 4 brothers and sisters with her. She was the patriarch of the family. Soon after she settled in New York City, my grandmother opened a restaurant on the lower east side of Manhattan. She was the only breadwinner in the family back in the 1960’s and supported them alone. I remember how she worked tirelessly to keep her business running and keep her family together. Although she worked hard, she always had time to stop and sit with her family. She always made me feel special by taking time out of her day to sit and talk to me about my day at school. She taught me that if you have a dream, then you should go and make it a reality. She taught me that only through hard work will you ever taste the fruits of your labor.