[Sounds from a NYC street.]
CHRISTOPHER RIVAS: As a kid growing up in Queens, I knew I was Dominican, but like I’ve talked about before, never really felt connected to the actual place, the Dominican Republic. My parents never took me there. Plus, there was that whole undercurrent of the paper bag test…mejorando la raza, straightening the hair, pinching the nose. All of that kinda suggested it was better to keep a little distance from this place, from this part of my identity.
But then in college, Rubi started haunting me…And everything changed.
[Bachata music enters.]
CHRIS: For the last 10 years of my life, and, for the past 9 episodes of this podcast–I’ve been exploring what it means to be Dominican. What it means to be Brown. That’s led me to take a closer look at my family, at Hollywood and the James Bond franchise, at Rubi…and a closer look at myself.
FLIGHT ATTENDANT: Pasajeros, bienvenidos a Santo Domingo…
CHRIS: And now I’m finally here. In Santo Domingo— the capital of the Dominican Republic.
[Flight attendant continues speaking in Spanish.]
CHRIS: My producer Abigail, my manager, Carlos and I just landed and I gotta say, as we’re getting off the plane, it all feels a little like a dream, like a sueño…
CHRIS: It’s hot, it's humid, it’s happening…
ABIGAIL: Just think, Rubi probably walked through this very airport.
CHIRS: He probably private planed, y’know?
CHRIS: Abigail, Carlos and I leave the airport and start driving.
CHRIS: Ok, look at this. Look at that ocean, looks pretty, huh? Looks Inviting… says “swim in me.”
CHRIS: It’s gorgeous. It really is. There’s a big flat highway called the Autopista Las Americas that’s right outside the airport. And all along one side is just the Caribbean Sea. It’s bright blue. The sun glints off the water.
[Sound of a busy dining area.]
CHRIS: Carlos, Abigail and I meet this gas station with some killer barbeque out back. To be honest y’all, this is the best food we had in the DR. Parador BellaMar, is what it’s called. If you’re heading to the DR, it’s right outside the airport. Definitely make sure to check it out. My parents and my partner were on a different flight. So they haven’t arrived yet. It’s bumpin on a Saturday afternoon.
[Sound of a busy dining area continues.]
And then finally my parents show up.
MARTHA RIVAS, CHRIS’S MOM: Hi!
WILLIAM RIVAS, CHRIS’S POPS: Sup dude how are you, nice to see you.
MOM: You made it!
POPS: Very good, how are you. Nice to see you.
CHRIS: How was your Uber?
POPS: It was very good.
MOM: Hi, GREAT to meet you. Carlos? Hi, Martha.
CHRIS: I’ve worked Carlos for years…my parents have heard a lot about him — they’ve each heard a lot about each other – but they’ve never met. It’s cute.
MOM: Very exciting, nice to meet you.
CARLOS HERNANDEZ: Likewise. Mr. Rivas!
CHRIS: We only have 3 days–a weekend wedged in between my shooting schedule and my parents jobs–but we did it! And It feels good to finally be here. It feels especially good to be here with my Pops. This is where he’s from, where he spent summers as a kid. He hasn’t been back to Santo Domingo in almost 20 years.
POPS: Did you guys eat?
CARLOS: Not yet, we were waiting for you guys.
MOM: Oh my gosh, poor guys.
POPS: Oh I am starving….
CHRIS: Let’s go.
DAD: Let’s do this.
CHRIS: We sit down at a big picnic table and order a bunch of food and a couple cold Presidente cervezas. There’s a chainsaw roaring behind us, but it doesn’t stop the conversation. My pops immediately starts in on his memories.
POPS: When you used to come to Dominican Republic as a child when I used to come here, it was a big deal. Not everybody flew. So we would come over and travel, and when we landed, every time we landed, the plane landed on the tarmac, everybody would go “yeah!” It was like a big celebration clapping. So I was expecting that. Nope. All I heard was “beeboopbop.” That’s all you heard. “Beep boop beep, beep boop bop, beep beep.” The phone took over, no more claps!
Chris: How’d you feel last night when you arrived?
POPS: Uh, I actually felt, there’s a word for it. Is the word melancholical?
ABIGAIL: just melancholy
POPS: Yeah melancholy. That’s what I felt. I was anxious to arrive in a place that you haven’t known. I’m here with my son, I’ve never really shared this town with you…
CHRIS: I’m anxious, too. I wanna see this place. See what I’ve been missing out on. And see what I can learn about Rubi.
CHRIS: Carne carne y más carne!
CHRIS: But first…we gotta eat.
CARLOS: we went a little aggressive…
CHRIS: The Dominican classics… longanisa, rice & beans, platanos, these yummy pickled onions.
MOM: Um can we do a toast?
CHRIS: Cheers everyone!
MOM: This is a beautiful experience, thank you. [clink clink]
POPS: Thank you very much, a very good experience.
CHRIS: Thanks for coming everyone.
POPS: Here’s to James Bond!
CHRIS: Here’s to Rubirosa!
CHRIS: To Porfirio Rubirosa. The gentleman who inspired all of this. I wouldn’t be here without you. And what better place to travel to for the last episode of this series, your homeland, Rubi, our homeland.
I’ve asked a lot of big questions in this series. But there’s one question that’s still on my mind. What does it mean to be remembered? Look, I’m an actor. A human, and I wanna leave my mark, and I want people to remember me and my life. But I keep wondering: Rubi, if you and your amazing life can’t be remembered, how can I? I’ve been thinking a lot about what Taki told me in the last episode–
TAKI: People forget everybody. Most people don't give a damn. They say some cheap playboy from Santo Domingo. That's all….
CHRIS: Does the DR remember you, Rubi? And what memories are here for me to discover?
I’m Christopher Rivas and this is Rubirosa Episode 10: NOS VEMOS.
POPS: It’s been a while
MOM: ...La caleta…
POPS: Not yet.
CHRIS: I think we are.
POPS: No, not yet.
CHRIS: Right after lunch, we all pack into the car. Me, my pops, my mom, Abigail, Carlos, and my partner Miriam, who is squeezed into the way back seat, basically the trunk. Sorry boo!
[Chatter in the car.]
CHRIS: We’re going on a family adventure — driving towards an area of Santo Domingo called La Caleta. It’s the neighborhood my pops grew up visiting.
MOM: Are you gonna try to find Peto?
POPS: Yeah that’s what I’m trying to do
CHRIS: Peto is my dad’s Uncle. He’s the only family member still left in this neighborhood. Now, we don’t have his phone number and he has no idea we’re in town.
POPS: So if i see the surroundings and the house that we had was taken over by uh, what do you call those guys in the white that go everywhere?
POPS: Mormons. Yeah it was purchased by Mormons.
CHRIS: Around the time I was born, my Dad's family sold a part of their land to a Mormon church, but we think Peto lives on some of what’s left. I'm watching my pops. He’s looking around really intently...searching for things that feel familiar.
POPS: Wow has this place changed. Keep going straight…
CHRIS: We bump around in our big car on the narrow, broken roads. From the looks of it, La Caleta is a pretty poor part of town. A place that feels forgotten. Left behind. I notice a lot of the houses are made of cinder block, and some are falling apart. But La Caleta is also poppin — everything is painted with bright colors. We watch a whole family zoom by, squished onto a single motorbike.
[Motorbike whizzes by.]
CHRIS: We pass some old dudes sitting in lawn chairs on the street, listening to loud music and playing dominoes.
[Salsa music plays loudly.]
CHRIS: Even though I’ve never been to the DR… I’ve seen this at family barbecues I went to growing up in Queens.
My Pops says when he used to visit La Caleta, it was just a few houses surrounded by el campo–the country. Like the suburbs. Now it feels like a dense city center. We keep driving but nothing looks familiar to my dad. But then…
ALL: There’s a mormon! That’s a Mormon! MORMONS!
MOM: Holy crap this is awesome.
CHRIS: That’s two Mormons.
CHRIS: You have never seen a car full of people more excited to see some Mormons, y’all. We flag down the two young guys in white short sleeved button downs.
POPS: Con permiso. Excuse me, where is the house, there’s a house, there’s a Mormon house?
UNIDENTIFIED MORMON: Our church?
POPS: Is it your church here?
UNIDENTIFIED MORMON: Uh we have a church just over here.
MOM: Oh, maybe that’s it.
POPS: That’s it. Is it in the corner?
UNIDENTIFIED MORMON: Yeah.
POPS: Yeah… that’s what we’re looking for
CHRIS: The guys head off, probably very freaked out – I understand, sorry about coming in so hot – and we turn the car around and head in the same direction they’re walking. A few minutes later, my parents start to recognize the block. The look on my pops’ face has changed. Now he’s excited.
MOM: Baby I think this is Peto’s house.
POPS: This is Peto’s house. Yeah.
MOM: Yeah. I think that is Peto’s house.
CHRIS: Let’s go knock.
POPS: Yeah. And my mothers stuff is in the front.
MOM: Now it’s familiar…
POPS: Let me go first and see if he’s there…
CHRIS: No we should all go, he’s there…
CHRIS: We pull over and get out of the car. My pops is buzzing! And, all of a sudden, I’m feeling really excited, too. Like – is this really happening? Are we really about to find a man my father hasn’t seen in 30 years, someone I never even knew about?
We’re in front of a tall metal gate. Further back is a little stucco house. There are some kids playing in the yard, a few dogs wandering around. Everyone is staring at us.
On the porch of the house is an older man looking like a G, wearing a blue polo shirt and aviator sunglasses.
POPS: Alo? Peto!
POPS: That’s my uncle. That’s my uncle. That’s your…I guess what is it? Second uncle? Great uncle?
MOM: Oh my gosh that’s Peto, I recognize him.
CHRIS: Guillermito. That's what Uncle Peto would have called my pops as a kid. They’re hugging.
CHRIS: *whispering* My father’s crying, they’re both crying.
[Sound of tearful reunion, dogs barking.]
MOM: Hola, ¿y se recuerda de mí? Martha, la esposa de William, Guillermito. Como estás? Como estás? [Fade down]
[Sentimental electric piano enters.]
CHRIS: My Pops is not a very emotional guy…at least not outwardly. So I was not expecting to see him cry on this trip. And I was not expecting to find myself inside the home of my great uncle…my grandma’s little brother. To be real, I didn’t even know she had a younger brother.
[Sound of people getting settled in house.]
CHRIS: Peto brings out some folding chairs. Everyone sits…except for him and my pops.
Uncle Peto’s house is small, but it’s a refuge from the heat of the afternoon. The walls are lined with photographs. It's wild to travel all this way and see photos of my grandma as a young woman. There’s also a lot of people I don’t recognize. It’s like glimpses of this whole other life, this history of family memories that I am connected to. I spot one photo of a young man. It looks like ME. But it’s actually Peto.
POPS: That’s him when he was young. That’s a very historical picture. So I got stories to tell you about him. He was a pilot when the airport opened up. And he transferred cargo planes. And he’d been living in this area… usted era un piloto. Estoy explicando. Hace mucho. [laughs] And he used to work in the international airport and do cargo planes. Era de carguero, verdad?
POPS: De carga, sí.
POPS: De carga.
PETO: Seis cuarenta y siete.
POPS: 647 airplanes. And I can’t believe – ¿qué edad tu tienes ahora tío?
PETO: Yo, ochenta y tres.
POPS: 83! Unbelievable. Estás durísimo.
CHRIS: When was the last time he saw you?
POPS: Hace un tiempo, verdad, que no nos hemos visto. Años.
MOM: Wow! Oh my gosh, look at his face honey!
CHRIS: Peto takes off the blue hospital mask he’s been wearing up until now. It’s COVID times, y’all.
CHRIS: He looks like abuelita, right?
MOM: Oh my gosh, so much.
POPS: Yeah, he looks like her.
CHRIS: Peto looks exactly like my grandma. He and I have that in common.
[Piano music returns.]
CHRIS: I’ve never had a family reunion quite like this. Hell, I’ve never had any type of family reunion. And I can’t help thinking about how long it’s taken for us all to get here. And how it’s really all because of an article I read about Rubi a decade ago.
Eventually we start asking Peto about growing up in La Caleta. And about his dad, my great-grandfather Juan Alba. He’s the one my pops talked a lot about in episode 4, the patriarch of the family.
POPS: No, tú sabes que tienen el papá suyo como parte de fundador de cuando se hizo La Caleta y todo esto…
PETO: Sí, pero yo era uno de los fundadores también.
POPS: Yeah he says he was one of the founders too.
PETO: Yo tenía trece años, mí.
POPS: Since he he was 13. He says he was a founder since he was 13.
PETO: Todas las calles están abiertas gracias a nosotros, mi papá y yo.
POPS: What you see is, and this is what I saw, every street you see and all the cuts of land were done from my grandfather, through a bank that he was affiliated with…
PETO: La primera luz, la primera televisión, la primera planta…
CHRIS: The first light, the first TV…
CHRIS: All this , this development of the neighborhood, it all happened in the 1950s and 1960s. The era when Trujillo was running the country. My great grandfather Juan Alba was actually associated with Trujillo. He did business with him right up until Trujillo died.
CARLOS: ¿Cuántos años tenía cuando cayó Trujillo?
My manager Carlos asks Peto how old he was when Trujillo was assassinated.
PETO: Yo tenía como unos 16 o 17 años…
CARLOS: Y se acuerda….[fades down]
CHRIS: Peto was just a young man when it happened. He says he still remembers the day…
PETO: “Peto! Vamos de aqui! [Claps.] Rapido!” Y yo, “Que pasa papá?” “Es que mataron a Trujillo. Vámonos pa’ la casa, rápido.” [fades down]
CHRIS: Peto says his father came out to where he was working and said “Trujillo’s been assassinated, we need to go back to the house now.”
Juan Alba was worried that the people who killed Trujillo might start coming after his supporters.. Peto says his dad hired guards to protect the house and they all laid low for a while.
I mean, Dominicans don’t like to talk about Trujillo, let alone admit they were on his side politically. But here’s my great uncle telling us what he remembers. Admitting how close my family was to the bloodiest dictator in Dominican history. [beat] It’s kinda wild. Everything I’ve learned about the DR up until now has been through research, talking to experts, reading online articles, asking my dad. But Peto is a piece of living history. His stories aren’t like the ones I’ve read and heard before, filtered through time and editors and a modern sensibility. No, these stories are memories. Memories of Trujillo, the guy Rubi worked for. It hits me just how close Rubi and I really are.
We sit for a while longer and my pops asks Peto more questions. Some of it I’m listening to, some of it I’m not. I’m looking around this old man’s house. This old man who is a stranger to me, but also my family. His home is humble. Clean and functional, but he lives here all by himself. His wife died, his daughter, too. He’s alone, y’all. He’s alone. My pops must be thinking about the same thing…
[Music fades down, sound from Peto’s house fades up.]
POPS: Como tu combate, how do you battle, siendo sólo y no se pone triste? Hay tristeza?
CHRIS: He’s asking Peto how he handles living by himself. How he avoids feeling sad, what he does to pass the time…
PETO: …por la mayoría, la televisión…
POPS: The television.
PETO: ….limpiando, y en la tardecita me baño, y luego un cafecito, me siento ahí a ver la televisión
CHRIS: Peto says he cleans up the house. Gets a cafecito. Likes to watch TV.
Here’s something my dad has told me all throughout my life. He says the saddest thing in the world is seeing someone alone in the hospital. He’s seen this a lot, ‘cause my mom’s spent a lot of time in hospitals — she has some health issues. He’d come home from visiting her and tell me and my sister how depressing it was to see other people there without visitors. He’s scared of that happening to him, or to my mom. I think he’s invested so much love and time and energy into me and my sister just to make sure we’ll be by his side at the end of his life.
I know he’s thinking about that now, with Peto.
POPS: Vamos a caminar. Let’s walk over there to show you the property….
CHRIS: We all walk outside. It’s a beautiful day. Golden hour — right before sunset.
POPS: This is the dynasty right here, what you’re gonna see right now…. [Motorbike passes.] This was all, and if you saw pictures from before, this…
CHRIS: Ahhh yes. The quote “dynasty”. You’ve heard my pops say that before about the land and businesses that Juan Alba owned. And it’s not like I thought my pops was making that stuff up… but it’s a totally different thing to see it for myself.
POPE: The block, all the way across, y termina donde?
PETO: Termina ahí.
CHRIS: There’s a few small houses. One of them is bright pink, but totally dilapidated. The roof’s caved in. Plants are growing out of all the windows. That’s the house that’s still owned by my grandmother—Peto’s sister. There’s another small house with a family renting it. And then on the corner is where the big house used to be. Where Juan Alba lived and my pops would come visit.
POPS: The house had like, five, seven, seven bedrooms, two baths, there was a beautiful tree in the back, there was kind of like a lake. The entrance to the house was over there. This was all closed up. Honey, it’s huge…
MOM: I know, it was a very big property. And if you walked that way to the right…
POPS: This was beautiful, It was a big property. Gorgeous… Look, they even got the basketball court. Increíble tío.
CHRIS: Now, it’s a basketball court, a garden, and a mormon temple. All fenced in with chain link. My pops refers to the family’s choice to sell the land as the “destruction of the dynasty”. And he’s kinda right. Something has definitely been lost here. You can see it in the houses falling apart all around. But still, the businesses and the land, none of that really feels as important to me as the people. The relationships that were left behind and lost.
MOM: It’s pretty astonishing honestly. I was telling them that I’m so glad that he found him, because I think it would have been heartbreaking for him to leave without – cause it would have been hard to like figure this out. Like this? [laughs] Would have been really hard.
CHRIS: I’m proud of William Rivas for doing this.
MOM: I’m proud of him too. You did this. You helped him to do this…
CHRIS: I hope he comes back again before he passes…
MOM: I hope so too
CHRIS: Next, we all pose for some photos in front of the Church and Peto’s house. A few with everybody, and a few with just my pops and Peto. And then we get ready to go.
POPS: Thank you Tio. See you. Be safe.
[Pops and Guillermito hug.]
PETO: Ay Guillermito. [Tears.]
POPS: No te preocupes. Yo vine. Fue algo, algo bueno. Gracias. Mi hijo fue el que hizo esto. I love you man. Thank you. Thanks very much.
PETO: El señor les bendiga a todos.
MARTHA: God Bless you all he said.
CHRIS: We all pack back into the SUV
MOM: You know what he said? Now he can die in peace.
CHRIS: I started this day hyped to see the ocean. Hyped to be in the DR and to learn about Rubirosa’s life here. And I ended the day tearing up as we drove away from my great-uncle’s house.
POPS: Tío. Nos vemos.
CARLOS: Hace cuida. Salud.
MARTHA: Nos vemos. Bye.
CHRIS: Nos vemos. We’ll see you tio.
CHRIS: Finally meeting Peto, and seeing his simple quiet life makes me think about that question again: if someone with a life as BIG as Rubi’s can’t be remembered, how can I be remembered? Like Taki said, everyone is eventually forgotten. Damn, I’m afraid of this y’all. No one wants to be forgotten.
And then I think about how happy Peto was to see my Pops. How happy he was to be remembered, to not be forgotten.
Maybe being remembered is less about your legacy after you’re gone and more about loving and remembering what you have while you’re still here.
Nos vemos. I’m glad I got to meet you Tio. I hope you get to hear this, and hopefully I get to see you soon.
[Drums stop playing, bass enters.]
But, I’m not just in the DR to visit with family. I’m here for Rubi — the man who’s been haunting me for the last decade of my life. We’ve got plans to visit Rubi’s hometown in the morning, and as I try to fall asleep, my mind is full of questions:
What more do you have to teach me, Rubi? Can I finally let you go?
[Piano and conga enter, then fade.]
POPS: [Pretends to be a car DJ!]
CHRIS: That’s not the radio — that’s my pops, pretending to be on the radio. The day after our reunion with Peto, we drive two hours north to San Francisco de Macorís, the town where Rubi was born. I’m so excited to finally be making this trip!! It’s gets me in a silly mood.
CHRIS: William, Carlos, Christopher y Abigail…
CHRIS: Me, my dad, Carlos and Abigail pull into San Francisco de Macorís just before lunch time. It looks like a lot of towns in Central or South America. Colorful houses. Narrow streets. You know, colonial vibes.
I’m really curious to see how much this town remembers Rubi. I mean, he was born here. But that was over a century ago. What do people here know about him today?
CHRIS: Sabe quien es Porfirio Rubirosa?
ATTENDANT: Ah ah…
CHRIS: We park our car in a little lot. And first thing I do is ask the parking attendant if he’s ever heard of Rubi.
ATTENDANT: Es un – murió – era un diplomático. Se casó con varias mujeres. Le gustaba mucho las mujeres.
CHRIS: Era de aquí.
ATTENDANT: De aquí, de San Francisco, sí. Vivía en la Calle Veracruz.
CHRIS: Vive ahí?
ATTENDANT: Vivía, vivía, él murió.
CHRIS: This gentleman is an older guy. But as you can hear, he does know Rubi! And not just the playboy stuff, nah. The first thing he says is that Rubi was a diplomat! I’ve never had someone say that to me off the cuff about Rubi before.
CHRIS: Next, we head to the town square. It’s raining, so there aren’t too many folks hanging out. But there’s a couple people standing underneath a little pavilion in the center. We walk up.
POPS: So the gentleman behind us seems like he’s explaining a lot about the neighborhood and the whole thing, so…
CHRIS: This guy’s got a suit on and is answering people’s questions. My pops makes a beeline.
POPS: Estamos con un estudio averiguando más de la historia de Porfirio Rubirosa. Sabe usted quién era Porfirio Rubirosa?
GUIDE: Bueno. Ahí más o menos, sí. Algo.
POPS: Y que puede decir de él?
CHRIS: Again - Mujeres - lots of women.
CHRIS: Pero — he says, BUT —
GUIDE: …hizo aportes importantes a nuestro municipio y nuestro país.
[Fades down, bachata music enters.]
CHRIS: Importantes a nuestro municipio y nuestro país … He’s saying Rubi was “important for this town AND important for this country.” Damn. Y’all remember in episode one when I asked folks about Rubi? They couldn’t even say his name right!
CHRIS: Porfirio Rubirosa.
MAN: Por-feelio. OK.
CHRIS: This is like the exact opposite of that. People here know Rubi. Maybe not everything about him. But they remember him.
[Music fades down, street ambience fades up.]
CHRIS: We leave the town square and head to the local library up the block. Seems like a good spot to ask about Rubi.
CHRIS: ¿Tienen libros de Porfirio Rubirosa?
CHRIS: While we’re there, a guy wanders in. He says, hang on, you guys are trying to learn about Rubirosa? Well then you should go see the author, Martínez. He wrote a book about Rubi. He lives down the block.
MAN: Tiene un libro completo de…
CHRIS: Está aquí?
MAN: …de Porfirio Rubirosa. Si. Es Radhamés Martínez.
CHRIS: We get as much info about where to find this author as we can… and then we head out.
[Spy music enters.]
CHRIS: Operation: Find Martínez. It’s not quite on the 007-level, but it does kinda feel like we’re suddenly on some sort of spy mission.
CHRIS: We got told by two different people that there’s one man who lives here across the street from Mofongo Premium Restaurant who has been collecting information on Dominican history, but especially Rubirosa, and that he wrote a book on him.
CHRIS: We’ve all got our phones out — we’re running down that international data on Google Maps. And once we spot the Mofongo place, we start knocking on doors, looking for Radhames Martinez.
POPS: ALÓ?! AQUI VIVE UN SEÑOR QUE SE LLAMA RADHAMÉS?
CHRIS: We don’t get many answers… which makes sense. Because my pops is coming in kinda hot. He sounds like a police officer banging down these poor folks' doors.
POPS: ALÓ?! RADHAMÉS?
CHRIS: We keep going. We ask people at stoplights. We stop a guy on a motorbike. I mean, we’re really taking this mission seriously.
Someone tells us to keep going up the block till we see the municipal building. Across the street is a lawyer's office where the author’s brother is supposed to work. We head immediately in that direction.
CARLOS: Icido Martínez?
ICIDO: Yo soy Icido.
CHRIS: It’s the author’s brother, Icido!
[Quick soundbite of Pops explaining what’s going on.]
CHRIS: My pops jumps in to tell this guy what we’re doing. Even though we look a little crazy, Icidio decides to take us inside. We walk down a narrow hallway and there’s Radhames
CHRIS: Mira esto! Wow.
[Spy music ends.]
CHRIS: And check this out y’all - He’s got his book with him. Of course he does! It's called Porfirio Rubirosa: La Vida De Leyenda Del Gran Playboy. The Legendary Life of the Great Playboy. Radhamés says he learned about Rubi as a kid and was fascinated by him. He tells us his book details all the highlights of Rubi’s life…
RADHAMÉS: …conoció a Trujillo de manera circunstancial, o sea…
CHRIS: Like his work for Trujillo…
RADHAMÉS: …jugar polo, enamorar mujeres, correr un auto…
CHRIS: His love of polo and various adventures.
RADHAMÉS: …la menos famosa de todas las mujeres de Rubirosa era la hija de Trujillo.
CHRIS: And of course, his many wives and girlfriends.
None of this is new information to me. But I gotta say, the best part of meeting Radhamés was flipping through his book and seeing all these photos of Rubi — many I haven’t ever seen before. And y’all, I’ve seen a LOT of pictures of Rubi. I thought maybe I’d seen everything there was to see.
[Sentimental music enters.]
CHRIS: But then I turn the page to a photo of Rubi’s house here in San Francisco de Macoris, where he lived until he was 6 or so. It reminds me of going back to my apartment building in Queens, where my story began. And then there’s a photo of Rubi as a little boy. Big curls, big lips, big nose… like me. And then I find a photo I’d heard about, but never seen: Rubi in a headstand, practicing yoga. He is upside-down, he’s wearing these little short shorts. I do yoga y’all — I love this so, so much. It’s like a little treasure.
As we’re walking back towards our car, Abigail asks me what it was like meeting another Rubi enthusiast…
ABIGAIL: You feel any kinship with that author Chris…?
CHRIS: You know I think… I think all of us authors and Rubi fanatics have something in common, but I do feel a separation from them because… I don’t think they’re looking for the warnings I’m looking for. I don’t think they’re looking for the direct messages about how to move through the world, both for better and for worse. I think they’re just fascinated as historians which is incredible and I need them. But I think my haunting is different. It’s one of I’m sending you on a mission in order for you to not lose yourself in the long run.
[Music continues, then ends.]
CHRIS: I kinda hoped coming here to the DR would maybe be the end of the haunting, like, the final chapter. Maybe I’d touch this place where my story and Rubi’s overlap, and then I’d be able to put this story down. Let it fade into my memory.
[Sound of waves.]
CHRIS: But, for a trip that was all about Rubi… I was surprised to find there were whole stretches of time where Rubi was not even on my mind.
Instead, I was just watching my pops, and thinking about his life, and his journey.
And while we were in Rubi’s hometown, my mind kept wandering back to Tio Peto. And that moment where my Pops and Peto first reunited, when they were both wiping tears away from their eyes. The joy and sadness of being reunited. That is a scene that lives with me now.
[Soft piano enters.]
CHRIS: And I think it will forever.
It’s pretty wild huh? That a decade ago, I read a Vanity Fair article that set this all in motion. It’s wild that this awkward Dominican kid grew up to be an actor in Hollywood. It’s wild that a childhood obsession with James Bond somehow turned into a deep reflection about my own Browness in this white world. And it’s wild that it all brought me here, to the Dominican Republic, to be with family, to deepen my roots, and to connect to this place at the center of it all. This was a great trip. It wasn’t nearly long enough, but…I will be back. Nos vemos, DR. Thank you for everything. I’ll see you again.
[Ocean sounds fade under. Music continues, then fades down as the sound of birds chirping fades up.]
CHRIS: OK. We found it. First, the Uber wanted to drop us off in the woods, but luckily we found this very beautiful cemetery that is technically kind of far from the city center.
CHRIS: About a month after the trip to the DR, I went to Paris with my partner Miriam. On a beautiful April morning we made a visit to Cimetière de Marnes la Coquette. The cemetery that Rubi is buried in.
CHRIS: We out here in the woods, but I'm going to tell you…
MIRIAM: This is beautiful
CHRIS: It's like not a bad place to be buried because it is very beautiful and idyllic and… the sounds of birds. Here’s what his grave looks like, Miriam, so we’re looking for this…
CHRIS: Sort of gravel, and…
CHRIS: It’s a small, lush cemetery— all the flowers are just starting to bloom.
MIRIAM: I wonder if its that one at the end?
CHRIS: Stop. Is that it? Hold on. That's it. He is in the corner.
MIRIAM: Oh my gosh.
CHRIS: Wow. There's a photo of him with with…
MIRIAM: Doris Duke?
CHRIS: Doris Duke!
MIRIAM: Is that who that is?
CHRIS: That's Doris Duke.
CHRIS: He’s got the corner lot, and I’m looking at a rectangle of light brown marble.
CHRIS: And I think someone is taking care of this…
MIRIAM: Yeah, this looks well-maintained.
CHRIS: …because it's cleaned. It's well-maintained. It has a cross on it. It says Porfirio Rubirosa 1909 to 1965. And this photo is of him and Doris Duke and it's an old photo. You can sort of see it fading because it's been in the sun so long. Wow, it’s beautiful.
CHRIS: The trip to Paris wasn’t strictly for the podcast. It was just…a vacation, a chance to spend time with Miriam in this beautiful city. But I knew Rubi was buried here. I knew I had to pay my respects. And so…Here I am. Standing next to the man who has meant so much to me for so long.
Quietly, inside my head, I tell him things I’ve told him before.
Rubi, your life wasn’t perfect. Whose is? But you’ve been a wonderful teacher for me. You’ve helped me learn how to look within. How to listen. How to love myself. How to own my story, my Brownness, my experience, and to live my own life — not yours, not someone else's… Mine.
…And then I say a few things out loud.
CHRIS: You were remembered. “If this man can't be remembered, how can I?” He was remembered. I'm here. Someone comes here and takes care of you. You’re remembered. People know who you are. We found a man in the D.R. who wrote a book about you, like, you're remembered and you're honored. I love you. Thank you. I don't think I ever said I love you, but I do. Thank you, thank you, thank you. [deep breath] Oh and a chapter is closed.
[More bird sounds, then a jazzy, midtempo instrumental version of “Just a Gigolo” kicks in.]