Historias – StoryCorps

A New Heart And A New Path: Transplant Recipient Shares Lifelong Dream With Her Mom

When Gianna Paniagua was just a baby, she was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy — a heart defect that led her to severe heart failure. Gianna was 14 months old when she received her first heart transplant.

Gianna with her mother, Lourdes, at the hospital after her first transplant in October 1992.
Courtesy of Gianna Paniagua.

Even with a new heart, Gianna spent most of her life in and out of hospitals. Those experiences shaped her childhood, and she remembers being surrounded by doctors for most of her life.

Gianna as a child playing doctor with her dolls. Courtesy of Gianna Paniagua.

During these countless appointments and medical procedures, Gianna was able to lean on her mom, Lourdes Matamoros. Lourdes has been by Gianna’s side for decades — including when she received her second heart transplant in 2021.

Gianna (right) in the hospital with her mom after receiving her pacemaker in 2018. Courtesy of Lourdes Matamoros.

A year after receiving a new heart, Gianna came to StoryCorps to speak with her mom about her plans for the future.

Top Photo: Lourdes Matamoros and Gianna Paniagua at their StoryCorps interview in Nashville, Tennessee on March 17, 2022. Taken for StoryCorps.

Originally aired April 8, 2022, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Siblings Remember Their Father, A Combat Pilot Who Served In Three Wars

Growing up in the 1930s, Lt. Col. Miguel Encinias wasn’t sure if his dream of becoming a military pilot was in reach. In those days, combat pilots of Hispanic heritage were almost unheard of. 

But Encinias was accepted into the Air Force cadet school, and would go and serve as a combat pilot in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. He flew around 240 combat missions in all.

Miguel Encinias in Saigon, Vietnam, in 1961. (Courtesy of the Encinias family)

He died in 2016, at the age of 92.

Two of his children, Isabel and Juan Pablo Encinias, came to StoryCorps to remember him and his love for flying.

Juan Pablo Encinias and Isabel Encinias in 2016. (Courtesy of the Encinias family)
Top Photo: Miguel Encinias crouched beneath a F105 aircraft in 1967.  (Courtesy of the Encinias family)

Originally aired November 5, 2021, on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

“Optimism Never Failed Me:” Former Child Actor and Cuban Refugee Tells Grandson to Keep Dreaming

Growing up in Havana, Cuba, Mario García was a child actor who was featured in commercials, telenovelas, and the 1961 film El Joven Rebelde.

Mario García on the set of the Cuban telenovela, Esta Es Tu Vida. Courtesy of Mario García.

That all changed when he had to flee as a refugee during the Castro regime, along with 14,000 Cuban children under Operation Peter Pan. In February 1962, he boarded a plane to live with his aunt and uncle in Miami, where he went from learning his lines to learning English.

Mario went on to start a family and become a successful journalist and though he had to put his acting career aside, he never gave up on returning to the screen. Now in his early 70s, Mario continues to audition and was an extra in the film In the Heights. Mario’s grandson, Maximilian García, has inherited his grandfather’s passion for acting.

At StoryCorps, Max asked his grandfather about how he got his start on screen.

Top Photo: Dr. Mario García and his grandson, Maximilian García. Courtesy of Mario García.

This interview is part of the Tapestry of Voices Collection through StoryCorps’ American Pathways initiative. This initiative is made possible by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art and an Anonymous Foundation. Additional support is provided by the Stuart Family Foundation. It will be archived at the Library of Congress.

Originally aired July 30th, 2021 on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Honoring the Penniless and Forgotten: A Man’s Reflection On Hart Island

It is estimated that more than one million people are buried in New York City’s Hart Island, the city’s public cemetery, and the final resting place for unclaimed, penniless or unidentified individuals.

For the better part of its 150-year history, the island was closed off to the public. The only visitors allowed to witness the burials were the gravediggers themselves. Because the Department of Correction managed the island, the burials have long been the job of incarcerated people.

Casimiro “Cas” Torres was one of them. In the late 1980s, he was arrested for robbery, and sent to Hart Island to bury and disinter bodies.

Almost three decades later, he came to StoryCorps to keep their memory alive.

Cas Torres in his late teens, around the same time he was imprisoned and transferred to Hart Island.

This story aired July of 2021, when jurisdiction of Hart Island transferred from New York City Department of Correction to the City’s Human Resources Administration and Parks and Recreation, formally ending the practice of using inmates to carry out the burials.

Top Photo: Cas Torres at their StoryCorps interview in New York City on January 30, 2015. By John White for StoryCorps.

Originally aired July 16, 2021, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

We Can Do It: How One Woman Found Independence During WWII

Growing up in San Antonio, Texas, Connie Rocha was the second of six siblings. She left school in the 8th grade to help provide for her family. Connie was 16 years old when the United States entered World War II, and like many women, she felt drawn to contribute to the war effort.

Connie Doria Rocha during her employment at Hickam Field in Hawai’i. Courtesy of Connie Rocha. 

Connie began working at Kelly Field repairing airplanes as a sheet metal mechanic. After a year she applied for a transfer to another repair depot in Hawai’i, where she continued to work as an aircraft mechanic till the end of the war.

Women Mechanics known as “Kelly Katies” assemble for a photo. January 1944, at Kelly Field, San Antonio, Texas.

In 2008 Connie came to StoryCorps to record her memories for the Military Voices Initiative, to talk about the independence she gained through her work during World War II.

Top Photo: Connie Rocha during her StoryCorps interview in San Antonio, Texas on February 18, 2008. By Rose Gorman for StoryCorps.

Originally aired July 3, 2021, on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday.

Her Son Wasn’t Expected To Survive. Now He’s Showing Her “How To Live”

Isaiah Acosta was born with several health issues, including a rare condition called agnathia in which he doesn’t have a lower jaw. Because of that, he can’t eat, speak or breathe on his own.

When he was born, doctors warned his parents that Isaiah had gone several minutes without oxygen and that he probably wouldn’t last through the night.

Tarah and Isaiah Acosta, approximately a month after Isaiah’s birth

Eighteen years later, on the verge of his high school graduation, Isaiah sat down to have this StoryCorps conversation with his mom, Tarah Acosta.

A note to listeners: Isaiah communicates by typing into an app on his phone and tablet, which then translates his words into audio. 

Top Photo (left to right): Tarah and Isaiah Acosta at their StoryCorps interview in Phoenix, AZ on May 14, 2018. By Mia Warren for StoryCorps

Originally aired May 21, 2021, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

“There Was Always Music In The House”: Memories Of Luis M. Moreno, A Father And Prolific Songwriter

When Luis M. Moreno was around six years old, he encountered a fayuquero or traveling vendor who had a little guitar up for sale. The family story goes that Luis wanted the guitar and the vendor, seeing that Luis was just a small child, told him the guitar was his if he proved he could play it. After fiddling with the strings for a while, Luis played a little tune, and the vendor gave it to him.

This moment marked the beginning of a lifetime of music for Luis. 

He drew inspiration from all the things he lived. Born in 1899, he became an orphan at the age of 8 and grew up seeing other musicians perform in the cantinas or taverns of his native Mexico. Then, the family tales say he was conscripted to fight in the Mexican Revolution, and after being shot in battle, he immigrated to the United States, settling down in California in the first half of the 20th Century. 

Photo: A young Luis M. Moreno

That is where he met his wife and creative partner, Carmen Moreno. Together they were known as Los Moreno or El Dueto de los Moreno, famous for the Mexican folk music they performed on the radio and in venues throughout the Los Angeles area.

More than a century after their parents’ birth, his daughters, Rosemary Selzer and Carmencristina Moreno, now 67 and 81, came to StoryCorps to share their memories of growing up surrounded by music, and the bittersweet legacy that their father left behind.

Photo: Carmencristina Moreno and Rosemary Selzer in March 2021
Top Photo: Carmen Moreno and Luis M. Moreno performed under the name of Los Moreno or El Dueto de los Moreno

Originally aired March 26, 2021, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

“We Mesh Together Like One”: A Miami Love Story

In 1971 George Ju was running a Chinese restaurant in Miami, Florida. George was born in China and immigrated to the United States at the age of 10. After serving in the U.S. Navy, he settled in Miami, and this is where he met Angela Rivas.

One night, while attending her friend’s engagement party, Angela met George, who was cooking for the event. George was immediately smitten, and there began their journey of love and laughter.

Angela Ju and George Ju in Los Angeles, California Chinatown, in 1988. Courtesy of MJ Moneymaker.

George and Angela Ju came to StoryCorps, nearly 50 years later, to talk about falling in love and staying in love.

Top Photo: Angela Ju and George Ju at their StoryCorps interview in Spring Hill, Florida on October 21, 2018. By Morgan Feigal-Stickles for StoryCorps.

Originally aired March 19, 2021, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Chicago Siblings Remember Brother Lost To COVID and the Love He Left Behind

Growing up in the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago, Jorge and Jessica Valdivia looked up to their older brother, Mauricio. To many, he was a larger-than-life personality known to light up the room with his jokes and pranks. To his siblings, he was the rock of the family who always took the time to let them know they were loved.

Jorge remembers one Christmas when his parents couldn’t afford presents and Mauricio surprised him with his first Transformer, which he still has.

In April 2020, Mauricio, 52, died from COVID-19. He left behind his wife, their two sons, and a huge void in the lives of those who loved him most. Jorge and Jessica came to StoryCorps to share their favorite memories of Mauricio and what he meant to them.

Top Photo: The Valdivia siblings, from left to right: Eliseo Jr., Mauricio, Jessica and Jorge. Courtesy of Jorge Valdivia.

Bottom Photo: Jorge Valdivia holds the Optimus Prime Transformer that his late brother Mauricio got him one Christmas when they were young. Courtesy of Jorge Valdivia.

Originally aired February 5, 2021 on NPR’s Morning Edition.

2 Sisters on Enjoying Life: “Instead of a Drama or a Novela, Make It a Sitcom”

Brenda Ulloa Martinez and her sister, Corina Ulloa, grew up in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles in the 1980s.

Both of their parents worked. Prior to opening a bridal shop together, Irma worked as a seamstress in a factory and Arnulfo as a delivery truck driver. So the young sisters would often rely on public transportation to get to school. This also meant they’d return home to an empty house.

Left to right: Brenda Ulloa Martinez, at age 4,  and Corina Ulloa, at age 2, in their family apartment in Los Angeles in the 1970s.

In 2010, they came to StoryCorps to share some of their hard-earned wisdom with the next generation: Brenda’s daughters, Camila Martinez and Isabela Martinez.

Top Photo (left to right): Corina Ulloa, Brenda Ulloa Martinez, Camila Martinez, and Isabela Martinez at their StoryCorps interview in Los Angeles, California on March 6, 2010. By Alejandro De La Cruz for StoryCorps.

Originally aired January 29, 2021, on NPR’s Morning Edition.