From ages 3 to 23, my father, Antonio Vega Noboa, was absent from my life and from age 23 to 34, he was present. As someone who is half Puerto Rican, growing up not fully knowing who you were was sometimes confusing. I always felt half of me was missing. If someone asked me what I was, though I always said African-American and Puerto Rican, I never felt Puerto Rican because my dad disappeard when I was 3 years old. It was kind of awkward explaining why I didn’t speak Spanish with a name like Teresa Antonia Vega. As a child, I wondered about my dad and how different I would have grown up. I was three when he left and had no memory of him. However, my 2nd oldest sister, Elisa Vega-Burns (whom I have always called Lisa) remembered speaking Spanish. So, at least, I knew I would have grown up bilingual.
Reconnecting with my father was bittersweet. My mom passed away at 47 years old in December 1991. Growing up, she always told us he would be back— which said more about her faith in God than in him. I remember coming home from graduate school in February 1991 and getting a call from my sister Lisa who immediately told me to sit down. Of course, I was anticipating her telling me about another death in the family. I never expected her to tell me that Daddy Tony, which was what we used to call him as children, had sent her a letter. Apparently after the death of our mom, my brother Michael and Lisa had sent a letter to Social Security asking them to inform my dad that our mother had died and it listed all of our addresses and phone numbers. He responded to their letter immediately, but prior letters from my mom always resulted in static noise.
Within a couple of days, I received HIS call. After decades of wondering what my dad sounded like, I got my answer. BROOKLYN IN DA HOUSE! I never saw that one coming. LOL. On that day, we decided to move forward and leave the past behind. Given my mother’s death, I was happy to have another parent again. Sometimes, I think God made things happen this way.
My dad slowly unveiled his life to me. It was then he told me about being born in Carolina, PR and immigrating with his mom in the early 1940s first to East New York and then to Harlem. He told me that he left the States in 1976 and moved first to Sevilla, Spain and then to Cordoba. My father had 7 children by four different wives. With his first wife Kathleen, he had Elisa. My mom was his 2nd wife and he had four children with my mom— Lisa, Maria, me, and Michael. Rita was his 3rd wife and they had my brother Jason. He then married Maria Josefa and had my baby sister Joanna, the only child of his to be born in Spain. Thus began my 10 year journey of getting to know not only my dad, but also the additional 3 children he brought with him.
After his first visit to NY in late 1991, I took a little over 2 years off from graduate school and moved to Cordoba to get to know him. It was a choice that took some of my relatives by surprise, but it was one that I have never regretted. Not once. The way I saw it, my mom always said he would be back and he did come back. She never spoke bad about him to us, and she really could have, but never did. My mother had an incredible faith in God. It was only because of her that I chose to walk out on faith and got to know him. I know she would be happy that all four of us finally got to reconnect with him. I like to think that the best parts of me I got from her. She was a forgiving person. Though she passed away in 1990, she has been my Guardian Angel Ancestor ever since.
From 1991 to 2001, I got to know Daddy Tony and I found the missing pieces of me. I learned so much just by being with him, talking with him, and visiting him in Spain. I learned that he was an only child on his mom’s side and that his parents divorced when he was a kid. His father, Antonio Vega Bonilla, later remarried and had additional children, but he didn’t know them. He also told me that his mom was born in Anasco, PR and grew up in Aguada and Aguadilla that and his dad was born in Susua Alta, Yauco PR. He told me all about growing up Puerto Rican in New York in the 1950s and 1960s. He was proud to be Boricua. Even after spending so much time in Spain, he always had the Puerto Rican flag hanging somewhere in his home.
My father died in Cordoba in April 2001. I got a call from Julia, his last wife, telling me that he he had a stroke and was brain dead. I immediately flew to Cordoba and met my sister Joanna there. We were with him for a couple of days before he passed away. At his funeral, I made a point of making sure there were floral arrangements from all 7 of his children, his grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. I wanted him to know that he was loved by his family to the very end.
After 10 years with him, I would never again feel as if one side of my ancestry took precedence over the other. I am Teresa Antonia Vega, child of Joyce Green Vega and Antonio Vega Noboa. I am African-American and I am Boricua! Or, as I sometimes say, I am Rice & Beans & Collard Greens. LOL But, most of all, I am me.