How An Unexpected Deportation Cut A Young Musician’s Career Short
Decio Rubano still remembers the day he learned to play the drums. He was 12- years-old and playing stickball outside his home in Bridgeport, Connecticut, when his uncle Jimmy pulled up in his car. It was the start of WWll and Jimmy, a working musician, had just lost his drummer to the Army. Rubano remembers his uncle saying, “Hey kid, I need a drummer tonight, so you’re going to play.” Jimmy took out two spoons and showed Rubano how different beats were played.
From that first performance, Rubano says he got “the bug” and couldn’t stop making music. After high school, his career as a drummer was taking off until one night, when he was visiting his grandparents, a pair of immigration officers knocked on the door—Rubano was quickly deported to Montreal, Canada.
Middle Photo: At 17 years-old, Decio Rubano began his professional drumming career when he was scouted to play on the Arthur Godfrey radio show in Miami. Courtesy of Gina Livingston.
Rubano had been born in Montreal because his opera singer mother had taken a job for the season at the Montreal Civic Opera while pregnant with Rubano. As a young man, Rubano was shocked to learn he was not a U.S. citizen.
Rubano signed up for the U.S. Air Force and served in the Korean War. While he continued playing the drums for many years, he never returned to the music business. At StoryCorps, Rubano tells his daughter, Gina Livingston, “I did one thing right in my life. I raised you. You’ve been a joy as a daughter. Everybody should be as lucky as I am.”
Bottom Photo: While stationed on Johnston Island with the US Air Force, Decio Rubano hosted a jazz radio station in his spare time. Courtesy of Gina Livingston.
Top Photo: Decio Rubano and Gina Livingston at their StoryCorps interview in Decatur, Georgia on October 31, 2022. By John St. Denis for StoryCorps.
This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Originally aired November 11, 2022, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
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They Called Him Papu: The Life of a Beloved Grandfather
During World War II, Ricardo Ovilla came from Chiapas, Mexico as part of the Bracero Program, the largest guest worker program in U.S. history. He went where the work took him, travelling across the country to pick fruits and lay railways. It was hard labor, but Ricardo hoped to build his family a home in a new country. Eventually he did just that, bringing his wife and kids to the United States.
In those early days, things were tough. Ricardo’s whole family worked alongside him in the fields picking fruits amidst thorny branches. But no matter how hard things got, Ricardo refused to be demoralized. He’s remembered by his granddaughters Martha Escutia and Marina Jimenez as an eternal optimist — a man “whose mission was just to bring joy to his family and his kids.”
At StoryCorps in July of 2020, Martha and Marina took time to reflect on Ricardo’s incredible journey. He was born of the Zoque People in Southern Mexico, and joined the Mexican Navy at 18. He crossed the border in El Paso, Texas and picked fruit in fields where Disneyland stands today.
A young Ricardo Ovilla, who served in the Mexican Navy when he was just 18. Courtesy of Martha Escutia.
Ricardo passed away in 1999, shortly after naturalizing as a U.S. citizen. But he lives on in his granddaughters’ stories. To them, he will always be the tender hearted, marimba-loving, menudo aficionado who stopped at nothing to see his children laugh. They knew him simply as “Papu.”
Ricardo “Papu” Ovilla with his wife Marina “Mamina,” surrounded by their grandchildren. Courtesy of Marina Jimenez.
This story was recorded as part of American Pathways, StoryCorps’ new initiative to record, preserve, and share the stories and experiences of immigrants, refugees, asylees, and Muslims living in the United States. Learn more here.
Top Photo: (L) Ricardo “Papu” Ovilla with daughter (R) Martha Sandoval and their family’s first car. Seated inside are Ricardo’s children Aurelia and Rodolfo Sandoval. Photo taken in 1949 at a labor camp in Escondido, CA. Courtesy of Marina Jimenez.
Originally aired August 21, 2020, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
DACA Recipient on the Pressure of Living Life Undocumented
Irakere Picon was just two years old when his parents brought him to the United States from Mexico on a tourist visa. They never left.
He was aware something was different about his childhood, but it wasn’t until he applied to get a driver’s license that he realized his immigration status might get in the way of his dreams.
In 2012, Irakere received protections from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and was able to attend law school.
It was around that time that he met Arianna Hermosillo on a bus and later asked her on a date to Millennium Park in Chicago. When they were together, Irakere told Arianna he was undocumented.
Irakere and Arianna were married earlier this year, but it remains unclear whether Irakere will be approved for a green card for permanent residency.
Top photo: Arianna Hermosillo and Irakere Picon pose at their StoryCorps interview in Chicago on February 3, 2018. Photo by Laura Saenz for StoryCorps.
Bottom photo: Irakere Picon and Arianna Hermosillo on their wedding day in Oak Park Conservatory in Chicago. Courtesy Arianna Hermosillo and Irakere Picon.
Originally aired October 19, 2018, on NPR’s Morning Edition.