Maria Luisa (Viva) Hernandez Borragero
Born: January 1, 1909
Died in 1998
Tía Viva, Mimí, a neighbor and Titín
I understand the name Viva came about when her sister named Ana Luisa born in the year in 1910 died in infancy. After her passing they started referring to Maria Luisa as La Viva (Alive) and from then forward her siblings called her Viva and Viví.
Although she was known for her beauty as a young woman, she never had a serious suitor and never married. Something that did not seem to bother her at all. She used to say that she would rather dress saints than clean up after an old drunk. The expression “she was left to dress saints” is used in Cuba to refer to a woman who never married. Why Tía Viva would think that a husband would turn into an old drunk we will never know.
In addition to her bridal business Tía Viva worked as a seamtress at El Encanto – an exclusive department store that burnt down in the early 1960’s. On her walk from her apartment to El Encanto she would pass The Capitol building, a structure in Havana patterned after the Washington DC Capitol. One day during a time of political unrest in Cuba on her way to work she was walking by the Capitol gardens and a bomb went off and she was injured. Here is a copy of a newspaper clipping about the incident:
Not too long before I left Cuba she had eye surgery for cataracts. In those days this was a major operation. Mimí stayed with her at the hospital and while trying to get up on her bed she fell and had an injury around her eyes caused by her glasses. Tía Viva couldn’t see what was going on and to calm her down she said in true Mimí fashion: “Nothing happened. Everything is all right, I’m all right” as she was being tended to by the nurses. In the meantime in their apartment Titín was reaching up to get something in a kitchen cabinet and a falling bar of laundry soap hit her in the eye. She ended up with a black eye and everyone saying that she just didn’t want to be left out.
Tía Viva did come to the United States and she lived with Tony (Hernandez Fernandez) and his wonderful wife Charito. Charito helped Tía Viva get her American citizenship. During the interview she was asked if she had ever been married and she said no. The next question was if she had any children, she was outraged at the question – she turned to Charito and said: “Didn’t I just tell him I was never married?!”
The house where Mima lived at the time of Hurricane Andrew was badly damaged and she stayed with me for a few months. Tía Viva was 83 at this time. One day she called and she wanted to talk to Mima, but Mima was out. She told me that she wanted her godmother’s telephone number and she knew Mima had it. This made me very upset. When Mima came home I told her I thought Tía Viva’s mind was going because she was asking for her godmother’s phone number. It so happened that her godmother was Luisita Santaballa who lived passed her 100th birthday (another Santaballa puzzle solved).
Here is a picture of Luisita Santaballa at 96 with my mother
I admire Tía Viva immensely. At a time when unmarried women were pitied and often would end up depending on a brother or a married sister, with her God given talent, hard work and determination she was able to create a successful business for herself and her two sisters.