Until a few days ago, Aracelia Castro washed her clothing by hand, remembered the Mamá Dolores character of the classic Cuban radio novela El derecho de nacer (The Right to Be Born), she never missed a Sábado Gigante show, and savored pork rinds and tostones without guilt.
“Life in Cuba was very healthy,” she used to say about the life in the Camagüey province’s rural area where she was born in 1904. “There were no tractors back then, what you breathed was pure oxygen and we grew our own food.”
That was often her response when people asked her the secret to her longevity. Castro was part of a privileged group who entered their second centennial full of health and happiness.
“It was part of her DNA,” said her grandson Daniel Castro, remembering that his great-grandfather Domingo had died at the age of 109.
Aracelia Castro almost went as far as her father. She died of natural causes Monday at the age of 108.
Her family buried her Thursday in Woodlawn Park South Cemetery.
“We are celebrating my grandmother’s longevity,” said Daniel Castro, 53. “She gave us pure joy; she was a very simple woman coming from very humble roots who taught us marvelous things.”
Aracelia Montero Vila was born in the Los Angeles farm near the town of Florida, where the family grew sugar cane and bred cattle. According to her birth certificate, she was born on July 9, 1904, at a time when they traveled by horse and, because there was no electricity, used kerosene lamps. One or two times a year they traveled to the city of Camagüey to buy essential goods. For them the trip was an expedition of sorts that they planned for months.
She never attended school nor went to work. At home, her mother taught her to write, read, add and subtract. She met her future husband, Serafín Castro, shortly after he came to Cuba from Galicia, Spain. Around 1917 a new law of the young republic authorized the sharing of land with Spaniards to stimulate the harvest of sugar cane. Serafín and other partners bought a lot close to the Monteros’ farm that they called the “San Carlos Colony,” said her grandson José Luis Castro, 46, who studied the family’s genealogy.
Aracelia and Serafín were married in 1922 and formed a family in San Carlos, about four miles from the Céspedes sugar mill. They had five children —the first one died at birth — and they adopted a girl. They lived off sugar cane plantations until 1961.
They immigrated to New Jersey in 1971. Aracelia was widowed in 1986 and in 1993 she moved to Miami to be with her family. She lived in Kendall with a daughter and a grandson.
“Despite coming from a rural area, she had good taste for clothes, decoration and her own personal care,” José Luis Castro said. “At her 108th birthday party she shared anecdotes with acute mental clarity. She could talk about something that happened in 1917 with eloquence and such vivid details that it seemed that you were there.”
She is survived by her children Ramona Leiva, Daniel and Manuel; seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.