Emeterio “Pete” Otero (far left), a dean of Monroe Community College, arrived at the MobileBooth in Rochester, New York on a cool Sunday morning with his son Christopher (far right) and grandsons Jeremiah (center right) and Noah (center left). Emeterio’s grandsons were intrigued by stories of their grandfather getting his teeth knocked out during a middle-school fight; parachuting through night skies in the Air Force; and going back to school via the G.I. Bill. They also inquired about rumors they had heard that Emeterio was once beat up by a girl during middle school, which their granddad gleefully confirmed is true.
Yet it was Emeterio’s transition from academic obscurity to established scholar that intrigued his grandsons the most. Emeterio lived in Buffalo, New York and was a member of “the only Puerto Rican family in [his] neighborhood.” His parents emigrated to the Northeast from Puerto Rico during the 1950′s when Emeterio was seven. His father had been a farmer in Cieles, Puerto Rico and Emeterio mentions that his “pops had a can-do attitude.” Emeterio’s dad came to the U.S. first, and his mother came over a year later with him and two of his siblings.
There were scuffles, taunts, and derogatory names throughout his school years. Upon entering high school, Emeterio predicted he’d “drop out in the tenth grade.” The level of uncertainty in his life was overwhelming. In the Summer of 1964, Emeterio joined the military at the age of 17. “The airborne stuff sounded really neat…and it was one of the better decisions I ever made because it taught me structure and discipline. If I had stayed on in the same lifestyle, there’s a good chance I could have been dead. Drugs were coming on strong at that point…but I grew up and got a good sense of myself.”
Rochester is home to the largest deaf population per capita in the United States. It is also home to the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, which is part of the Rochester Institute of Technology. Thanks to RIT-NITD and Gay Alliance of the Genesee Valley, the MobileBooth East team was able to meet and learn from members of this diverse and dynamic community.
Bob Panara was NTID’s first deaf faculty member when the school opened in 1968 and founded its English and Theater departments. He became deaf as a young child. Bob loved baseball, so his father once arranged to introduce him to Babe Ruth in hopes that the shock would restore his hearing. It didn’t, but Bob remains an avid baseball enthusiast and is attempting to get a former deaf baseball player, Dummy Hoy, into the Baseball Hall of Fame for his great playing record and for inventing the hand signals still used today in baseball.
StoryCorps’ arrival in Rochester, New York on July 2, 2009 coincides with a year long celebration of the city’s 175th Anniversary. What better way to reflect on Rochester’s rich history than by having Rochesterians share their stories! Despite the drizzle a crowd appeared at the Rundel Library to welcome the MobileBooth East team and hear the sounds of The Po’Boys Brass Band, the members of which all came together through Rochester’s own Eastman School of Music.
WXXI AM 1370 celebrated its 25th Anniversary on our opening day as well. WXXI President & CEO, Norm Silverstein was on hand to receive a proclamation from Jean Howard, Chief of Staff for Rochester’s Mayor Duffy, declaring July 2, 2009 StoryCorps Day!
If that still wasn’t enough birthday fun, July 2, 2009 was also the 25th birthday of outgoing StoryCorps Mobile Facilitator, Alex Kelly. Alex facilitated during our first week of recordings in Rochester and stayed on to help train Alejandro De La Cruz who makes his MobileBooth debut right here in the Ra-Cha-Cha! Happy trails Ms. Kelly and welcome aboard Mr. De La Cruz!
As summer kicks into full gear, it’s a bittersweet time to bid farewell to Carl Scott and to Alex Kelly, two MobileBooth Facilitators who have become genuinely expert listeners this past year. Alex and Carl have recorded hundreds of conversations in 10 cities from the arid orchards of Wenatchee, Washington, to the muggy Spanish moss of Savannah, Georgia. We hope they’ll continue to encounter amazing stories.
The sweet side allows us to excitedly introduce and welcome Sara Culver, Alejandro de la Cruz, and Lilly Sullivan to the road. Sara, a StoryCorps veteran, has most recently worked as a coordinator for the Alaska Initiative. Alejandro comes to us from Los Angeles by way of Mexico City, where he wrote for online publications (and he’s itching to flex his typing fingers on this blog). Another Californian, Lilly comes to StoryCorps after four years in publishing, most recently at the PEN American Center in New York.
Thanks to all of you who support our efforts to keep the Mobile Tour running. Stay tuned to hear more tales from us on the road!