Cecilia Martinez - Sunrise: March 22, 1928 Sunset: May 17, 2016
To her family, her friends and all who experienced her sharing and kind heart, Cecilia was, is and will always be a reflection of our Lord’s existence and the power of Love. She was born on the tropical island of Puerto Rico 88 years ago and from the very young age of 6 already was faced with the harsh realities of poverty, a terminally ill mother, an alcoholic abusive father and the responsibility of caring for a younger sister who Cecilia raised so well that to this very day that sister still calls Cecilia, “Ma”!
Cecilia was one of seven siblings- 4 brothers and 3 sisters—all born in the same storied town of Guayama, a town famous on the island of Puerto Rico for its pristine town squares, beautiful churches and also legends of mysticism and sorcery! Cecilia was the next-to-last to be born. Her sister, Maximina, was the youngest--the baby of the family. Being the last two to be born, meant that Cecilia and Maximina were challenged with a struggle for survival that none of the older siblings had to experience. They were literally trapped in a situation that many people in this world never survive. And yet Cecilia not only survived, she made sure that Maximina also made it through the storm. They paid the heavy price of not having experienced a normal childhood, but they both persevered and prevailed! No one has been able to explain how they did it—and how, in the midst of all the turmoilthat surrounded their young lives, Cecilia and Maximina somehow managed to attend grammar school long enough to learn to read and—in two languages! Some island people might say that perhaps the mystery/legends of Guayama were not all just myths—and that the magic of that town infused Cecilia and Maximina with a willpower that most human beings simply do not have or even understand. Others will surely proclaim that this story is one of spiritual triumph and proof positive that miracles do happen! Whatever the case, it was a very special power that made it all possible—and from that precarious beginning to now, Cecilia and Maximinahave never been apart; their lives always connected, their stories always intertwined, one always there for the other.That is why it merits special mention now.
As the years went by, Cecilia and Maximina grew into beautiful young women and got married just as they were entering their 20’s. With dreams of starting their own families and a better life, they set out on this new part of their journey, which in the late 1940’s brought them both to New York City. By that time, Cecilia already had a son—she named him Jose--and that son was barely 2 years old when she arrived in New York with nothing but her dreams and a hope that Jose would have a better chance than she ever did. Both sisters, Cecilia and Maximina, were determined to build a new life of hope and promise in this great center of the world we call New York City, but only one began that task with a faithful life partner by her side. Maximina had married a man who proved to be a wonderful tower of strength and reliability. His name was Florencio Fajardo, but everyone just called him Yeyi (pronounced Gegee). Yeyi was the father that Jose always wished for but never had, a gentle man of unassuming quiet strength and total dedication to his wife and family. Cecilia was not so lucky. Her new husband chose adventure over family and left her and their baby Jose within less than two years of marriage.Shortly thereafter, Cecilia set out on her own, boarding a plane in San Juan headed for the big City up North.
One can only imagine what it must have been like for Cecilia when she looked out the windows of the Pan American airliner as it entered the skies over New York City and she saw for the first time the landscape of towering steel and glass and concrete that was to be her new home,the place where she would build a new life. With her baby boy in her arms and faith in her heart Cecilia arrived in New York for a new start. She was only 21 years old and now Cecilia was facing the spectre of the unknown in the greatest City on earth!
From that point forward, Cecilia battled to build a better life no matter what challenges and hardships came her way. With an unshakable Christian faith in God’s Love and a fierce determination, she fearlessly faced the uncertain future. She tried again to have a life partner and had a daughter with a man who said he cared, but he too was not ready to stand by her. When her son Jose and her daughter Alice were stricken with life-threatening illness, Cecilia fought back like a guardian angel and literally saved them both! Nothing ever distracted her from the priority of protecting the lives of her children.
In more recent years, as age and illness took a toll on Cecilia—Jose, Betty and Alice offered that Cecilia could live with them. And after several years Cecilia agreed to join Jose and Betty in New York. For two years, Jose and Betty took care of Cecilia, until she required the professional care of a nursing home.
Even as Cecilia struggled for a better life in New York, she also was never shy about celebrating life in general. She loved to sing and dance and was always ready to join a party. In fact, her joyous spirit and energy often made her the center of the party! Cecilia, her sister Maximina and brother-in-law Yeyi danced their way through the 1950’s in the many popular New York night clubs of those times.They partied to the music of big Latin/Jazz bands that filled Manhattan nights with the sensational rhythms of Rhumba, Boleros, and Cha-Cha-Cha! She and they enjoyed every minute of it!
Throughout the ups and downs of her life, Cecilia also always took the time to help other relatives and friends. Her love had no bounds and she reached out to everyone with a helping hand whenever she could and as much as she could. She made friends easily and always had many who would be drawn to her welcoming demeanor and comforting smile. She was not afraid to approach people and said Hello to everyone who got near enough to see her smile. The touching of people spiritually and physically, conveyed her greatest strength and she demonstrated this power up until her last days when Cecilia was residing in the Hebrew Home for the Aged atRiverale. There she would converse with co-residents and caregivers in Spanish—even when the people spoke no Spanish! Cecilia would touch people, hug them, listen to them and try to console them—even as she was fighting the advancing symptoms of dementia within herself! This is the incredible scale of her power and also how all her family and friends will always remember her. Cecilia’s magic and power was simply her constant sharing of Love—and everyone who knew her will remember that nothing is more powerful!
Left to cherish and celebrate Cecilia’s life are her son Jose (wife Betty); daughter Alice Brown, granddaughter Nicole Sprung (husband Louis), great grandchildren Terra and John-Michael Sprung; sister Maximina Fajardo (husband Florencio) special nieces: Rosemary Alemany, Lorraine Fajardo, Ivette Rosa, Alicia Rosa, NildaAlvira, Nilda (“Frenchie”) Rivera, Norma (“Baby”) Velasquez (husband “Papo”); special nephews: Florencio (“Henry”) Fajardo, Jr.(wife Rachel), Robert Fajardo (partner Donna Margulies),Jose (“Junior”) Martinez; special grand nieces:Alisha (“Nana”)DeJesusRosa, Sheila, Shanita, Monica, Malisha, Jennifer, Marlene, Mariel, Lourdes; special grand nephews Omar De Jesus, Ronnie Alvira, Robert Fajardo, Jr.; special great grand nephew Noel Garcia DeJesus , and many other beloved relatives and friends in Puerto Rico and the U.S. mainland.
We will all be forever grateful for the loving care that the Hebrew Home at Riverdale providedCecilia during her final months in our community.
Cecilia’s body is lying in repose at Riverdale-on-Hudson Funeral Home at 6110 Riverdale Avenue, (at West 261stStreet). Visitation will take place at the funeral home Wednesday, May 25, 2016 from 2:00 – 5:00 pm. On Thursday May 26, 2016 at 9:00am friends and family will be gathered at the funeral home and Cecilia will be transported to the Long Island National Cemetery where she will be interred after a gravesite funeral service.