West Miami-Dade

Sweetwater is home to several centenarian voters

Juana Casanova de Morales, who is 102 years old, is among five centenarian voters in Sweetwater.
Juana Casanova de Morales, who is 102 years old, is among five centenarian voters in Sweetwater. El Nuevo Herald

Juana Casanova de Morales, who is 102 years old, is a poet who uses social issues as a source of inspiration.

“Actuality, what is happening, is material for me to compose sonnets,” she said. “I draw inspiration from what I see.”

Morales, who said she votes in every election and is up to date on local politics, belongs to an exclusive circle of Sweetwater voters who are 100 or older, according to electoral documents. The oldest voter is 112, and, together, they represent 515 years of life.

El Nuevo Herald visited the homes of the five centenarian voters to confirm their ages and that they each live at the address listed in public records. All use absentee ballots to cast their votes, a common practice among older residents in this city. Of the approximately 9,000 registered voters in Sweetwater, about 2,600 are over 66 years of age.

“I became a citizen when I moved to Florida, and, of course, I vote,” said Morales, who has lived in Sweetwater since 1991. “I've always voted through absentee ballots because it’s easier and I can avoid long lines.”

Morales, her husband, Ramon, and their son Roberto left Cuba in 1959, and established themselves in Queens, New York, where Morales worked as a seamstress in a textile factory. Her husband, a lieutenant in the Cuban Army before Fidel Castro’s rise to power, worked as a dishwasher at a New York hotel. Upon reaching the age of retirement, they decided to move to South Florida.

Ramon died when he was 98, and their son Roberto died when he was 48. Morales has four grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild.

LOVE OF POETRY

Morales draws inspiration from the experiences of her native Cuba, in New York during the ’60s, and life in South Florida today, to document what’s happening with poetic verses known in Cuba as décimas.

Her poetic repertoire includes digs against the former Cuban leader and lighter verses inspired by “the dangers of driving in Miami” or “Hispanics who come to this country and forget their Spanish.”

“Since I was a young child, I dedicated my mind to writing poetry and I keep doing it,” said Morales in her dining room Friday. She occasionally recited some of her compositions from memory.

She was born in the Arenas neighborhood in the Cuban city of Victoria de Las Tunas and she studied in Santiago de Cuba as a young girl. It was there that a teacher noticed her poetry prowess and taught her rhymes.

Among her compositions, her favorite, titled Sueño Imposible (Impossible Dream), is dedicated to her homeland, which she has not seen since she fled to the United States and joined the exile community. Part of the Spanish verses, loosely translated, read:

“I want to feel the breeze / of the ocean with its brackish water / go to the Sanctuary of the Cobre / to listen to mass / smell jasmines / eat spicy ginger / look at a star vibrate / next to its light / but what I want the most / is to see Cuba free...”

Around the corner from Morales’ home, lives Generosa Gomez, who was born on July 17, 1914, according to voter registration records.

However, Gomez insists that she was born in 1917 and that she hasn’t yet reached age 100.

“No, no. I'm 98,” said Gomez, even as she whispered a confession between giggles: “Well, that’s what I’ve always said and I’m not going to change it now.”

Gomez came to the United States from Cuba in 1979. Fifteen years ago, she moved from an apartment in Little Havana to a bigger house in Sweetwater. She lives with her daughter and son-in-law. She said she enjoys living in that city.

THE OLDEST VOTER

Other centenarian voters of Sweetwater include Maria Alonso, who is 101 and respectfully declined a request for an interview, and Eugenio Garay, 101, who also was not available for an interview.

At 112 years old, the oldest voter is Enrique Ruiz, who also is likely the oldest voter in Miami-Dade County and perhaps even in the state.

Ruiz is considered a “supercentenarian” — people who have lived more than 110 years. According to several reports, the oldest U.S. citizen is 115-year-old Jeralean Talley, of Montrose, Georgia, who was born on May 23, 1899.

Ruiz shies away from publicity even as he has been approached in recent years by city and county officials to try to persuade him to share his story. Family members said he is mentally sharp and still makes all his decisions. During elections, Ruiz stays informed on candidates, and one of his children helps him fill out an absentee ballot.

Voter Morales, the poet, is also a social butterfly.

Even though she suffered a fall and fractured her hip three months ago, she attends a private center for the elderly once or twice a week. Some Wednesdays, she participates in a poetry group and several of her poems have been published in the center's newsletter.

“I don't think about dying or that I only have a little time left,” said Morales, who turns 102 on June 6. “That will happen when God decides.”

Follow Brenda Medina and Enrique Flor on Twitter @BrendaMedinar and @kikeflor

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