Allen Pulliza

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Emiliano Del Toro with is son, Asdrubal


My mother and grandmother, Guely, talk about my grandfather’s father. Sometimes it’s like sharing laughs. Other times it’s a stormy day, sad and down with rain. Sometimes they whisper and speak lightly of him, especially when his son, my grandfather, Carlos, is around. Now that I am older, I think it’s time for me to step into the mystery of my great-grandfather.

Because no one will talk about him, I have not been able to trace my great-grandfather’s exact origin. A dark piece of the puzzle still remains to be unearthed. All I have are derelict pieces of his story, along with some photographs.

It was a sunny day when I visited Guely the first time to begin my search, a perfect setting, no clouds, just sun. The gravel and lush colored house did not have an inch of shadow in it, as if no secret could be hidden.

“Who’s that right there?” I asked my grandmother as I looked at the cracked, sepia picture on the table.

“That right there is your great-grandfather, with his first son, Asdrubal,” said Guely.

This is how I met him, through the first picture I had ever seen of him. “Well, does he have a name?” I queried.

“Of course dear, Emiliano, Emiliano Del Toro,” Guely answered softly.

“And?” I said.

“And what?

“Well… Who was he? I mean, I don’t know who he was.” I said, gliding my hand over the broken borders of the picture.

“That I cannot tell you, dear,” she said.

“Why ever not?”

“It’s a family secret,” she said.

“Come on, I can keep a secret, right?” I said, hoping to get a better answer than ‘no.

My grandmother stops in her tracks, looks around the house for my grandfather, searching every room, bathroom, hallway, the yard, and then exaggerating as if to make a point, inside the refrigerator and the washing machine.

“Ok, I will tell you, but you must not speak of it outside these walls, and even less when your grandfather is around,” she said with a fearful look.

“Why even less when my grandfather is around?” I queried.

“That I’ll tell you later,” she said.

“OK, I won’t let you down, Guely,” I answered excitedly.

My grandfather is a very strict man, who loves my Guely and has taken good care of her and their daughters. He even built the house they live in now with his own hands. But, he is a serious man, still carrying all the traditions and codes of the society of his time. Men are the authority and the ones who work, who bring the money to the table. They don’t need to learn how to cook, or iron, or wash clothes, or clean the house, or feed, bathe and put the kids to sleep because it is women’s work and women must adhere to the code.

If you are a woman and you date, you must have a chaperone. You must also date the man your father chooses for you. My mother told me that he used to say, if a girl had too many male friends, she was a whore. If she had too many female friends, she was a lesbian. Things like this made him difficult to deal with, so it was better not to mention or discuss certain things, some subjects notably forbidden to even mutter. It makes me wonder how much Emiliano influenced his son.

Emiliano was born August 14, 1900. He was a well-respected English teacher at Sabana Alta Elementary School, in Cabo Rojo. In this picture he stands beside a young Asdrubal Del Toro, his first son, who later became a successful doctor. He gave everything he could to help his son study, including mortgaging some of his lands. This is my favorite picture of him, dressed in the finest clothes of his era, standing proudly beside his son. The dark background not only makes them stand out, but adds to the mystery of his past and of who he was.

The Mystery Unfolds

Emiliano was many things but mostly, he was a man in love. His first wife, Cornelia Silva Del Toro, was a kindergarten

teacher, and an only daughter from a distinguished family of teachers. They had two children, Asdrubal Del Toro, and Arnaldo Del Toro, who sadly died at eight-years-old.

Every new piece, every crumb sheds as much light as it does shadow on my search. Sometimes the search brings shivers down my spine, like a woman’s cold touch caressing my back, trying to slow me down, or pull me away. Each fact I discover that reminds me of myself in some way sends those shivers rolling back across my skin, not because of fear but because I feel closer to him. It creates an intimacy between us.

Emiliano’s love for Cornelia burned out like a candle’s fire blown away by the wind. His second love and wife, Ana

Emiliano's second wife

América Asencio Lugo, (born November 11, 1914, died March 13, 1971), was an elementary school English teacher. Ana had ironically been Cornelia’s young charge when she had worked as a nanny before she became a teacher. To what shock all this came to Cornelia, I have not discovered. Still, I can imagine Cornelia’s reaction to such betrayal. From here on, Cornelia’s story disappears with the exception of her connection with Emiliano through their sons.

Emiliano appeared to be very happy with América and had 3 children with her; Fofín Del Toro, Elba Iris Del Toro and my grandfather, Carlos Del Toro.  Along with the two children from his previous marriage, he now had five. He spread one more seed outside of marriage with a lover, fathering my aunt, Carmencita Del Toro. She was quickly shuttled off to New York with her mother with plenty of money, a payoff to help preserve appearances and perhaps to wash away his shame, if not his guilt.

Emiliano’s Legacy

As I continued to search through photographs and documents, and listen to Guely’s tale of Emiliano, the day darkened a bit, the sun shone less as clouds fogged the clean blue slate. The shadows crept back into the corners of the house. This is the last picture I have of him before something happened that Guely continues to hint at, but will not say.

Emiliano - second from the left with Lions CLub members - 1936

Emiliano was a very wealthy man. He owned vast amounts of land and money. In this picture, he stands along with his friends, all of them including him when they founded the Lions Club of Cabo Rojo in 1936. Behind them stands an obelisk, which still stands ‘til this day, behind the town’s cathedral. On the obelisk is a plaque engraved with their names, recognizing them as the founders of the club dating the exact day, month and year this picture was taken.

I finally ask, “Guely…why doesn’t grandpa like to talk about his father?”

“Oh, right, I had almost forgotten I was going to tell you that,” she said as she sat beside me.

My grandma looks around the room again, just in case my grandfather had arrived without her noticing.

“Your grandfather is ashamed of his father, he feels dishonored of what his father did to himself,” she said.

“What did he do?” I asked immediately.

“Emiliano shot himself,” she said almost whispering.

As her words flew into my ears, I could not help but be surprised if not broken by the shock. Such a bond had grown

between me and this man. I shared his love of classic clothing and his great passion for teaching. His many business successes would surely influence and mentor me through the successes of my own life. The bond between Emiliano and me had been cast, our lives intertwined. I could not believe that my great-grandfather’s story would end here, like this. I had only wanted to live up to his legacy but now faced the most overwhelming disappointment I have ever felt in my young life.

“He put a gun to his mouth and pulled the trigger. The shot came out through the top of his head. It was a miracle that he survived,” she continued whispering, each sentence dragging my heart further down.

“He didn’t die?” Hope flickered.

“Later, he would be known as ‘The Man Who Refused Death.’ We took care of him and helped in his recovery, which was a surprisingly full recovery. Even Asdrubal came regularly to help him. Yet, he would never really be the same after that,” she finished before my grandfather walked into the room.  I discreetly covered the picture I held of Emiliano. My grandmother gave me a quiet sign, before she left the room. Our secret was safe.

The Man Who Refused Death

Emiliano at his grandaughter/s Birthday

Emiliano remembered what he had done; all of it, yet no one ever spoke about it, not even him. It became a forbidden subject for many years. But it changed him. He became more peaceful. He was not the guy in love anymore. He became fully, the man who loved América, his children and his home.

Searching and finding pieces of his lost tale was as enlightening as it was darkening. One piece would help me complete a corner of the puzzle, but it would darken a whole another part of his puzzle, keeping it shrouded in mystery. No one knew, knows, or has ever known why Emiliano shot himself. He never told anyone, yet I believe that none ever bothered to ask him either. I still have not been able to synthesize a theory; more information is needed. Only a question comes to mind: why would a wealthy, successful man, with a big, joyous family and legacy, decide to end his life with a messy bang?

A guess? Maybe he lost his sense of living, or grew tired of scaling the hard walls of life, or maybe, maybe he gave up on something. Of course all these reasons are just some of the many things that come to mind, some of which or all could have taken part in this unknown scenario.

In this picture, Emiliano attends a party in my grandmother’s house. His family takes great care of him after his recovery

Emiliano w Fio

and often throw parties and spend time with him. They kept him busy, taking him to the beach or just hanging out with his sons, like the picture of him with one of his sons, Fofín.

In one of the last pictures taken before he died, he attends his granddaughter’s birthday party. He sits beside my mother, Elvira.

Emiliano w granddaughters







Emiliano died June 6, 1978. His life would become my continuing desire to fully know the man behind the face. And while the mystery of Emiliano continues to elude me, maybe someday, I’ll finally get to know him face to face…




  1. This is a really nice and puzzling story. I like the way the narrative was written and the whole mysterious aspect of it. One may never know what goes through the mind of someone who tries to kill himself, but it must be a very dark place indeed.

  2. I really enjoyed your story. You narrated it as a cool true mystery. As well as you and the rest of your family, I question his decision of shooting himself. Never would I have imagined that the story was going to take this 360 degree turn. Maybe you can ask him one day.

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