This abuelita is raising two grandchildren. She could use help this holiday season

·6 min read

Amparo Gonzalez starts every day at 7 a.m. by preparing a café cubano in her faded blush-colored house that sits on a corner in Homestead. Then she tends to her 18-year-old granddaughter Annalis, a recent Robert Morgan Educational Center graduate, and 3- year-old grandson Royce.

Gonzalez, 61, helped raise her grandchildren since they were born and became their primary caretaker after their mother died in late 2018. Disabled since the early 2000s due to chronic anxiety, Gonzalez devoted herself to her family. She traded looming retirement visiting her father and siblings nearby for a new goal — to raise her grandchildren as best she could.

Gonzalez tends to her granddaughter’s needs, which are those of a young adult. She added Annalis to her car insurance — although the price went up nearly $200 a month, she said — and provided support for college applications and financial forms. Her granddaughter will soon start business administration classes at Miami Dade College’s Homestead campus.

Royce, on the other hand, requires nearly all of her attention. A year ago, Gonzalez took her grandson to his pediatrician. It worried her that her grandson remained mute, tugged on her skirt if he needed something and tiptoed around the house. The pediatrician told Gonzalez that Royce might be autistic. A specialist later confirmed the diagnosis.

The family turned to the Association for Retarded Citizens South Florida for help. Gonzalez enrolled Royce in speech, physical and occupational therapy. He visits the agency’s daycare program for five hours every weekday.

Holding a stuffed toy, Amparo Gonzalez knows her grandson, Royce Aguerro, 3, has outgrown the crib she leans on but does not have the funds to purchase a bed for his bedroom. Gonzalez, shown here on November 23, 2021 in her home in Homestead, cares for her two grandchildren, Royce and his 18-year-old sister Annalis. Her youngest daughter and the mother of her grandchildren died two years ago.
Holding a stuffed toy, Amparo Gonzalez knows her grandson, Royce Aguerro, 3, has outgrown the crib she leans on but does not have the funds to purchase a bed for his bedroom. Gonzalez, shown here on November 23, 2021 in her home in Homestead, cares for her two grandchildren, Royce and his 18-year-old sister Annalis. Her youngest daughter and the mother of her grandchildren died two years ago.

In that time, the association’s executive director Maria Barros and her staff learned of Gonzalez’s life. Admiring her dedication and resilience, Barros and her staff nominated Gonzalez for Wish Book to fulfill some of her wishes for this holiday.

“Grandma has a lot of medical issues. She herself is suffering from depression, diabetes and hypertension. Here she is with all of these issues, the depression of having lost her daughter and starting all over again,” Barros said. “She is putting herself aside and is wanting to help her grandchild.”

With $2,500, Gonzalez could check off some necessities: a new refrigerator, twin bed with bedding for Royce — “he’s growing out of his crib,” Gonzalez said — and Florida Power & Light and car insurance bills.

Grant a wish. Make a difference.

How to help: Wish Book is trying to help this family and hundreds of others in need this year. To donate, pay securely at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook.

Gonzalez receives financial support from the Social Security Administration since she is unable to work due to chronic anxiety and depression. While she can provide the basics, it can be a challenge to afford demands for her young family and increasing costs, like the light bill.

Gonzalez has lived a life of peaks and valleys, starting with her upbringing in the Havana suburb of Lawton. A 20-minute drive from the national Capitol and the Malecón, the sloping streets of Lawton are mostly lined with single-family homes and trees. During her youth, Gonzalez, the eldest of seven siblings, said the neighborhood had about 5,000 residents. Residents of the mid-sized town often gathered during quinceañeras, the celebration of a girl’s 15th birthday. At one of them, Gonzalez, a teenager at the time, met the man who would later become the father of her two daughters.

Gonzalez had a passion for math and science that she nurtured by excelling in her high school courses. She aspired to become a doctor. But when she neared graduation, life took a turn. When her father moved to Passaic County, New Jersey, Fidel Castro’s administration barred her from attending university. Gonzalez said the administration excluded prospective students with close ties to family living in the United States. There would be no medical school.

Years later, separated from her partner, Gonzalez’s life would change again. She accepted an invitation from her father to visit him in New Jersey in 1991, leaving her two daughters with their maternal abuelita. Lingering around her father’s barbershop one day, Gonzalez locked eyes with one visitor, a tall Cuban man who had gray eyes with streaks of gold.

“It was love at first sight,” she said.

They married within six months of their meeting. Although Gonzalez returned to Cuba, her husband was able to bring her and her daughters, ages 7 and 16, to the United States through the family reunification program. In 1993, the three joined him in New Jersey.

While her husband worked in a toothpaste factory, Gonzalez contributed to her household by waking up at 4 a.m. to distribute newspapers and then working as a seamstress at a bridal shop from 8 a.m. for the remainder of the day.

Life changed again after her husband died two years after their wedding.

In 1995, Gonzalez moved to Miami, seeking yearlong warm weather and proximity to family that had recently moved from Cuba. Gonzalez juggled two jobs — one at Pollo Tropical, another as a cleaning lady. Her older daughter left home to raise a family of her own.

Amparo Gonzalez holds a portrait of her grandson Royce Aguerro, 3, at their home in Homestead on Tuesday, November 23, 2021. Gonzalez cares for her two grandchildren, a recent high school grad and a three-year-old boy. Her youngest daughter and the mother of her grandchildren died two years ago.
Amparo Gonzalez holds a portrait of her grandson Royce Aguerro, 3, at their home in Homestead on Tuesday, November 23, 2021. Gonzalez cares for her two grandchildren, a recent high school grad and a three-year-old boy. Her youngest daughter and the mother of her grandchildren died two years ago.

Her younger daughter stayed behind, eventually raising a daughter and two sons alongside Gonzalez. But after that daughter died in 2018, the father of the middle child took him away. A court granted Gonzalez visitation rights, but she’s only seen him twice in two years.

Gonzalez feared losing her other two grandchildren. “They have been with me since they were born,” she said.

“I spent the first year crying,” after her younger daughter’s death, Gonzalez said. She turned to her faith for consolation.

Love for her grandchildren kept Gonzalez moving. “I am motivated by their happiness, seeing them feel secure,” she said.

Alongside their grandmother, the kids continue to grow. A year later, Gonzalez and Barros see signs of progress: Royce abandoning his safety blanket, playing with others and eating the school’s lunch. At home, Royce can sing the ABC song and utter some phrases in English, including “sleepy time,” when he’s tired.

The best reward is when her grandkids shower her with compliments, especially after she cooks them their favorite meal — a steak with black beans and rice.

“I will be here as long as I am alive,” Gonzalez said.

HOW TO HELP

Wish Book is trying to help hundreds of families in need this year. To donate, pay securely at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook. For information, call 305-376-2906 or email wishbook@miamiherald.com. (The most requested items are often laptops and tablets for school, furniture, and accessible vans.) Read more at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook.

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