Today Papi was laid to rest at the Cementerio Municipal Nuevo de Ciales. Gracias a todos los amigos y amigas y familiares que pudieron acompañarnos. (Thank you to all those friends and family who were able to attend.)
My father, Juan “Nito” Figueroa Nazario, was born on July 29th 1928 in la Calle Morovis in Ciales. His parents, Don Claudio and Doña Fella, were poor tenant farmers who worked the land and raised five children, loosing two others at a very young age. He was known to everyone as Nito, the diminutive of the diminutive Juanito. He was Papi to me.
As a young child he was responsible for fetching water and firewood and milking the one cow owned by my grandparents. He learned to cultivate the land from his father, Don Claudio, who tilled the land his entire life right up to his death at the age of 92 as well.
My father went to school until the eighth grade, the same year he wore his first pair of shoes. He became an avid baseball player. He would play sandlot baseball down by the neighborhood river, Rio Grande de Manati. He pitched and hit cleanup for most games! Papi truly loved the game of baseball.
At twenty years of age he traveled to the northeast as a migrant farm worker. He picked tomatoes in New Jersey and asparagus in New York. Soon thereafter he was drafted to serve in the Korean war. He was part of the 65th Infantry in the US Army, the last segregated military unit in the US armed forces. The same regiment that was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for the bravery and contributions of these fighting men, the Borinqueneers.
After returning from service, Papi received his high school diploma (high honors) courtesy of the GI Bill and started a family. He married a beautiful young woman from Barrio Pozas in Ciales, Josefa Agosto Rosario. I was born in ’53 my brother Luis in ’55 and Andrew in ’64. To support his family he ran the local off track betting parlor associated with horse racing on the Island. He would go on to own the parlor, Agencia Hipica 524, and work for over 50 years in the business.
In between we lived in Haverstraw, NY, in 1961 and 62 and 1966 and 67. There he started working washing pots at Mardoff’s Bakery and ended up head baker. After returning from NY for good in ’67 he worked the Agencia until he retired in 2005.
Papi was an avid fisherman, farmer, baker, humanitarian, declamador (orator), cantor, animal lover, un hombre de la tierra (a man of the land) and Cialeño. More than anything he was a decent and kind human being. The poverty he experienced growing up in la Calle Morovis made him generous to a fault. He lived very proud of his military service.
Un gran esposo, padre, hijo, hermano y abuelo. Por eso celebramos la vida de Nito!
(A great husband, father, son, brother and grandfather. That is why we celebrate the life of Nito!)
Submitted by his son Juan Figueroa. Juan Figueroa-Nazario died on August 20, 2020 at the age of 91.
An interview in Spanish of Juan Figueroa Nazario who served in the Medical Co., taped on February 17, 2016 in Arecibo, Puerto Rico. Video provided with permission by the Korean War Legacy Foundation (http://kwvdm.org/).