Elizabeth Rodríguez Canario
Feisido Rodríguez, my dad, was a pioneer.
Papi and his brothers helped their father, el gran Ángel Rodríguez, with labor-intensive farm work. They called my dad “el doctor” because he scrubbed his hands vigorously after a day’s work on the farm, so much so that he wouldn’t leave a spec of dirt visible on his long hands. He dreamt of receiving an education and excelling in his studies but was aware of the impossibility of achieving such a goal in el campo. His father ridiculed him for his ambitions of pursuing a profession that did not entail dirtying his hands; still, he carefully planned his departure to La Capital.
Leaving his farming existence behind, he trekked to Santo Domingo from el campito de La Llanada en la Vega with big dreams at 16—making him easy prey for military recruitment in 1963. Although unprepared for the perils of war during the Third Dominican Civil War of 1965, he and his brothers survived. Claro que everyone en el campo knew it was a direct result of all the rosaries prayed by his doting mother, María Enedina Rosado Rodríguez, “sin falta a diario.”
In 1963, he joined the Dominican Navy, making it possible to continue his studies during his time off with the La Salle program in the town of Haina. He received his diploma from the Naval las Calderas in Baní, where the infamous Fidel Castro was trained. He was later recruited by The American organization, the Military Assistance Advisory Group–AKA the MAAG because he received the highest honors in military training.
My dad started his first American journey at the Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. This experience began his love for America and what it represented: opportunity. Opportunity to be free—the possibility of building a new life without corruption, a chance to start fresh without expecting to be just another farmer, another generation of unstable income, and potential poverty.
Papi became Freddy Rodriguez, as the US military nicknamed him, because no one could pronounce his name, or perhaps they didn’t think to try. When my dad became a naturalized citizen of the United States, he changed his name to Feisido as a joke because his name was always mispronounced anyway. He might as well pay homage to his Cibao roots and include more “i’s”!
In June of 1970, Freddy finally paid his way to the US. He arrived at the tenement building on Broome Street in Manhattan, where his three brothers rented a two-bedroom on the sixth floor of the walk-up building. They had bunk beds set up in each bedroom and eventually housed 10 of their compatriots who arrived in Nueva York from el campo. They ventured out at night during garbage days and collected chairs, mattresses, and pillows to furnish their apartment anytime they expected otro primo to arrive from el Cibao. Don’t let this fool you; these were clean, disciplined military men raised by the Great Ángel Rodríguez. Their apartment was spotless, regardless of how they furnished it!
These young men were looking for a piece of the American Dream they believed would be accessible with hard work and sacrifice; this arrangement was a small price.
Papi is one of the many Dominican men who worked hard in this country, built communities, established generational wealth and believed wholeheartedly in the importance of education. Papi’s boisterous younger brother, Raul, convinced him to buy a bodega. They learned from their father that their property and livelihood could quickly be taken away if they didn’t own it—that he needed to set roots and own his land and property, which he did in New York and the Dominican Republic. He learned from his mother that to grow, you had to keep learning, which he continues to do, even at 78 years on this earth.
Why couldn’t they? They were smart, strong, hard workers and they were Los Hijos de Ángel María Rodríguez de La Llanada!
Eventually, venturing out to Bushwick, the family OG’s who were the first ones from Papi’s village to arrive in NY, would establish real estate and bodega roots. The Rodriguez brothers followed their example and purchased homes in East New York, Brooklyn—the steppingstones for many from our village in the Dominican Republic.
While he didn’t become a doctor, nor did he attend university, he was able to retire at 52 after working for 17 years as an employee and a small business owner. He has lived off the fruits of his labor and is still active in the community in Brooklyn and his hometown, alongside his childhood sweetheart, my mother Luz del Carmen Rodriguez de Rodriguez.
Papi succeeded in pursuing the American dream and inspired us to keep learning, growing, and empowering those who come after us. He’s also the proud father of two college-educated women and has 5 grandchildren, one of which has already graduated from college—in a pandemic nonetheless!
In addition, he motivated my sister and I to own our homes in the same neighborhood our family planted their roots in East New York, Brooklyn. We hope that our children and future grandchildren will be able to recognize and honor this legacy due to their Grandpa Feisido’s ambition and dreams of a better life in this country. Little does Papi know that his girls and grandchildren also love the roots he maintained in La Llanada.
Elizabeth Rodríguez Canario is an East New York, Brooklyn native with roots in the Dominican Republic. She’s a proud daughter of hard-working immigrants who instilled motivation and gratitude for the opportunities presented in this journey called life. Liz, as she is known by many, is an avid reader, lover of culture, people and food.