Choosing Luisa

                I have been asked why I chose Luisa Torres Torres from my family tree as the protagonist for my novel.  After all, I never met her and do not even have a picture of her. My mother barely knew her own grandmother. Mom moved from Adjuntas to Ponce with her parents and brother when she was just a child. I don’t know how often she returned to Adjuntas for a visit, but considering the economy, the roads and the available transportation in the 1920s, it was probably rarely. She told me that she remembered “meeting” her grandmother once and that Luisa was brown-haired and pretty. She died in 1927, when Mom was sixteen years old. 

                 Over the years, I have written a lot about my father’s side of the family (visit for my family history blog), but not much about my mother’s side. Yet, I have spent decades researching both sides of my family tree, and on a trip to Puerto Rico in the fall of 2020, my husband and I spent two nights in Adjuntas, trying to track down the exact location of where Luisa was living as reported in the 1910 census. Randy and I booked two nights at an Airbnb lodging in Juan González so that I could at least get somewhat close to where my great-grandmother lived. I wanted to gaze upon the same mountains and valley views that Luisa did. Adjuntas did not disappoint!

                The names and dates revealed through genealogical research were initially all that I had to go by in developing my book. I had some experiences of my own in rural Puerto Rico, up in mountainous regions that could only be accessed on foot: the hooting from one mountainside to another, the bathing in a separate bathhouse, the sink that hangs from outside the kitchen window, and the hiking up a trail to fetch fresh water from a spring, among other experiences. Granted, this was 100 years after the time in Luisa’s life that I wrote about, but still, those things hadn’t changed much in a century. Other parts of the book required delving into the history of Puerto Rico and researching landmarks and pastimes. For example, I had to look up dominoes…where they around in the late 1860s?  Yes, I learned that dominoes were introduced on the island by the Spanish conquistadores.

                As I wrapped my imagination around what could have happened and what might have been said during those 3-1/2 years in which the story takes place, I was slowly adding flesh and personality to Luisa and the people in her life. Without realizing how and when it all came about, I eventually started believing that Luisa was exactly like I depicted her and that every little everyday thing that I wrote about really happened.

                I feel so much more connected to my ancestors now. If nothing else, I understand that they were more than names and dates on a family tree; they were real people with feelings and experiences that can parallel our own despite the time period, the location, the ethnicity, or the education.

                Why did I choose Luisa?  I chose her because she was someone from my mother’s side of the family, because she was from the mountains of beautiful Adjuntas, because she lived in an era that should not be forgotten, and because she really lived and deserves to be remembered.