Alvaro Montaña's 4/27 Dinner Remarks
What a pleasure it is to be gathered here with the Montaña family- a reunion representing four generations of descendants of Juan B. Montaña and his wife, Carmen de Montaña.
A very special thank you to Vicky and the other family members for their dedicated efforts in making this reunion a reality. I want to also thank Jim for compiling all the information for the Montaña-Aranguren family tree. Claudia Montaña-Collins and Santiago Montaña for working on the family’s code of arms and Claudia Montaña for this English translation.
On this special occasion, I’d like for us all to pay tribute to the memory of don Juanito and Mamá Carmelita, which is how we addressed them growing up in our home. We are indebted to them for making our existence here a marvelous reality.
Our father was born in 1876 (approximately) and died in 1951 at the age of 75. Our mother was born in 1895 and died in 1982 at the age of 87.
Don Juanito and Mamá Carmelita married in 1910. They were people of integrity in every sense of the word. Their legacy conveyed upon us our morals and worthy principles, which were the cornerstone that shaped our character and who we are today. Let us acknowledge all that they gave to us so generously, and express to them our gratitude for dedicating their lives for our benefit.
Papá was a caring and pleasant individual, and did everything in his power so that we could obtain a formal education. He was a good, disciplined man. He ingrained good principles upon us and corrected our deviance strictly, whenever necessary.
In much the same way, Mamá was an exceptional person. During difficult times in our young lives, she was steadfast in her character and supported Papá in his resolve to ensure the family’s well being. Her jovial personality enabled her to enjoy a healthy and meaningful life right up until her last day.
Tonight, we also remember fondly and pay tribute to the memory of the sister and brothers who are no longer with us: Francisco (or Paco, as he preferred to be called), Pedro, Mercedes, and Jaime, as well as their spouses, whom we also remember today with fondness and respect for the people they were.
Paco married Aura Mejia and together they had seven children, making them the most prolific parents. Those children are Pacho, Victoria, Cristina, Mauricio, Edgar, Daniel, and Constanza.
Paco, the eldest son, along with Pedro, was a great source of financial support to Papá during a difficult economic period. Paco was a very intelligent person and through his own efforts, became a successful businessman, holding various important positions and excelling in the business world. He was an excellent son and brother.
Pedro married Margot Ramirez and had four children: Patricia, Margaret, Elsa, and Peter John.
Pedro, as well, was an intelligent individual who possessed a great deal of creativity and ingenuity. He was fond of sports, such as jogging and horseback riding, and he founded and managed a large plastics and leather industry.
Mercedes married Hernando Gonzalez. They had two children: Juan Hernando and Alvaro. She dedicated a good part of her life to the study of piano. She also held executive positions in various important firms in Bogota, Colombia. She was a faithful companion to our mother, Mamá Carmelita, during the last years of her life. Mercedes cared for her in a very special way. Mercedes’ son, Juan Hernando, returned to Colombia after having lived in California for some time. Alvaro currently lives in Los Angeles.
Mercedes’ husband, Hernando Gonzalez, stood out in his sales profession. Along with three other partners, he founded a water valve industry that to this day is well known in Colombia’s construction sector.
Our brother Jaime married Nydia Ortiz and together they had three children: Lucas, Camilo, and Carmelita. Jaime was an incredibly sincere and cordial individual. He worked with Pedro in his business and later launched his own business. Mamá Carmelita lived in his house for some time after being widowed. His generosity, sincerity, and cordial manner made him stand out and seeded many of his friendships.
I’d like to now turn my attention to those of us who are still here.
Hector’s first marriage was to Pierrette Pieri, a Swiss woman with whom he had his only daughter, Myrianne. He lived in Switzerland for approximately 20 years, residing in Vevey and Geneva. Hector worked as a soil engineer and later returned to Colombia, where he married Celina Reyes. He graduated from the National University in Colombia with a degree in civil engineering.
Leticia (Letty), married Eric Schwarzwald, an Austrian who today is a U.S. citizen. They did not have any children. Initially, she lived with Pedro in Los Angeles with his wife Margot and their children. Letty settled in the U.S. and later met Eric. Both here and in Colombia, she worked as an executive secretary and traveled to Colombia on several occasions to visit us.
As for myself, I married Beatriz Muhlbach and had three children: Alvaro Jr., Juan Pablo, and Claudia Rosario. Within two years of Beatriz’s passing, I married Yvonne Barrera Van Den Eynde and had two more children, Gabriel and Santiago, for a total of five children.
I’d like to take this opportunity to pay tribute, along with my children Alvaro, Juan Pablo, and Claudia, to the memory of Beatriz (who was known as Betty). She was an exceptional wife and mother, and I thank God for affording me the opportunity to have both Betty and Yvonne in my life.
I worked in Colombia and Venezuela as a bilingual secretary in various oil industries, as well as in Chicago with Texaco in their sales and marketing department. Upon returning to Colombia, I served the United States Embassy for fourteen years in three areas: administration, the Fulbright Commission, and the Peace Corps.
Last, but not least, I turn my attention to our brother, Armando. He married Elizabeth Robertson and had four children: Armando Andres, Adriana, Juan Carlos, and Monica. Armando attended the University of Florida with the support of Paco (primarily) and Pedro. Armando graduated with a degree in architecture and went on to build numerous buildings and multi-level parking facilities in Bogota.
As we remember those who have passed on (Paco, Pedro, Mercedes, and Jaime), I recall the years we shared together growing up in our native town. We were born in Sogamoso, Boyaca. Boyaca (one of Colombia’s states) is known for its people, who are good natured and down-to-earth.
In Boyaca, Papá worked in his various businesses and was also a teacher in local schools, as well as in the nearby town of Tunja. He was also a journalist and wrote for the newspapers of these two towns.
Mamá Carmelita tended to her general store, situated within Sogamoso’s main plaza square. The store was actually part of our house. Speaking of which, I’d like to tell you a humorous story.
The baby’s room (that is, Armando’s room) was situated on our home’s second floor, directly above the store. This particular room’s floor had a round pass-through (like an opening with a cover) that our maid used to call Mamá Carmelita when it was time to feed the baby or to communicate any other need.
One day, Mamá was helping some friends with their shopping when suddenly, they felt something wet dripping down on them from the 2nd floor’s pass-through. Initially, they did not understand what was going on but soon discovered the source of that wet sensation…. Paco and Pedro had resorted to a more creative way of relieving themselves. Needless to say, Mamá’s friends hurried out of the store very bothered by the incident…. And, more importantly, the children were appropriately disciplined by Papá.
In Sogamoso, like all the other towns in Boyaca, Sunday was the day in which the town plaza hosted a thriving market attended by all the townspeople, as well as peasants from the nearby countryside. Once again, Paco and Pedro discovered yet another amusing game. They ran around the plaza and dropped what appeared to be perfectly usable match boxes, and then hid nearby to observe the individual who decided to pick up the matchbox for his or her own use…..The poor soul who decided to pick up these empty match boxes soon discovered the actual contents….shall we say, a foul-smelling cattle byproduct. Paco and Pedro enjoyed their antics up until the day that a peasant fell victim to this prank and informed Papá. Let’s just say that they never again engaged in this diversion.
There are plenty of funny episodes I remember from the times we lived at home. To avoid lengthening this speech too much, Armando and Letty will read some additional anecdotes later.
After spending our early years in Sogamoso and when Paco and Pedro had reached high school age, the family moved to the city of Bogota, Colombia’s capital. We all attended school in Bogota and when the oldest two brothers graduated, they started to work in the city.
Paco initially worked in the city’s newly founded telephone company, selling four-digit phone lines… how times have changed! Paco’s first job was short-lived. He resorted to pretending to go to work, so as not to worry Papá and Mamá. In reality, he was headed out to play tennis.
Paco also worked for a foreign manufacturer of a powder nutrient that one dissolved into water. He wanted all of us to be strong and healthy, and forced us to drink this concoction every day…..let’s just say that it tasted like fish oil and we weren’t very fond of it!
He also worked for the Bogota-based newspaper, El Espectador (the Spectator), where he became a good friend of Gabriel Cano, one of the newspaper’s founding fathers. Luis Cano, also a founder of this paper, took Paco to Rio de Janeiro as his private secretary during Colombia’s well-known border dispute with Peru.
When Paco’s children were a little older, and he could rely on financial backing from his successful construction and gum export businness ventures, among others, Paco immigrated to the U.S. with his family to the town of Racine, Illinois. They then returned to Colombia for a brief period, and again immigrated back to the U.S., making Coral Gables their permanent home.
Sadly, once Paco and his family moved to the states, we did not keep in touch, and practically lost contact with him. I have the honor of being Cristina’s godfather, and am glad that I have this opportunity to re-establish contact with her and the rest of the family.
When we all lived in Bogota, we were a close-knit family who frequently got together at any one of our homes. We liked to play toruro (a card game), along with other favorites. At times, we held parties with friends and with Mercedes at the piano, we would all dance “el pasillo” or a “bolero”, which were popular dances at the time. I remember these gatherings with much nostalgia.
Sometimes we would go to the movies with Mamá Carmelita. I vividly recall that if a scene contained a couple engaged in some romantic interlude, that is- kissing, Mamá would cover our eyes with her hands so as to prevent us from watching such indecent activities. It remains a mystery to some of us how Mamá and Papá were able to conceive so many children….
It is worth mentioning that Mama taught all her kids to read by means of the daily newspaper. She had time for everythinig.
Returning to the topic at hand, how wonderful that we are all gathered here today, after more than 30 years of not having been in contact…..some of us have a few more grey hairs (or a few less hairs!)….and others have a few more wrinkles……the youngest of Papá’s descendants speak an entirely different language than our native tongue, Spanish.
We should all be very proud of being a part of this dynamic family and feel proud of our Colombian heritage, as well as our family name, Montaña. Together, we all make up an honorable, accomplished family whose path has been guided by the wisdom of don Juanito and Mamá Carmelita.
We can be sure that our parents, along with the other Montaña family members who have passed, are joining us tonight. I hope that this special reunion will serve to strengthen our family ties and encourage lifelong frienships.
Héctor and Celina, as well as my nephew Juanher, have asked that we deliver a special message to you. They truly regret not being able to attend this memorable event.
On behalf of my wife, Yvonne, and my children, thank you for the opportunity to be here. May God allow us to meet again in the very near future, perhaps in our homeland, Colombia.
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