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South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Family Bios

By Milton D. Carrero Galarza

May 8, 2003
Copyright © 2003
South Florida Sun-Sentinel. All rights reserved. 

The line between English and Spanish has blurred at the Diaz home.

"I don't even think about what language I'm going to speak," says Ed Diaz, 52. "The brain shifts automatically. Whatever comes out, that's what goes."

Diaz, who arrived from Cuba at age 10, exports construction materials to Latin America, so he speaks Spanish most of the time. His wife, Lexy, grew up in Puerto Rico and prefers to speak Spanish. But she, too, can easily switch to English.

Her children, Pamela Jiménez, 9, and José Gabriel Piñeiro, 5, prefer English, but understand Spanish.

At dinnertime, the languages switch according to the subject being discussed. Lexy says she makes her most spontaneous comments in Spanish, while Ed uses English to express feelings and more complex ideas.

"If the subjects are more technical," he says, "we speak in English. I don't mind speaking Spanish because all of my clients speak Spanish. But if you want me the speak southern English, I can do that, too, because I lived in Jacksonville for thirty years."

The family, which used to live in Hollywood, has been in Vizcaya for a little more than a year. Lexy's mother, who lives about two blocks away, was there first. They knew about the neighborhood's diversity, but what sold them were the quality of the schools, the location and the price of the homes.

Ed Diaz says he has bought six homes, and this is by far the best.

"This one is bigger, more beautiful and has a lake, " Lexy Diaz says. "Plus everything is less than 20 minutes away, and for me twenty minutes is nothing."

Medina and Romero family:

There's a family party at the Medina and Romero home.

The dominoes are set, the lechón is almost cooked and Nancy Medina's siblings have gotten hold of a guitar. Beatles tunes combine with the traditional Spanish boleros to set the mood. The five-bedroom house is full.

This is exactly what Nancy Medina envisioned when she was looking for a new home. She needed a spacious house for her daughter, Holly Rodríguez, 16, her husband, Wilfredo Medina, 37, and her parents, Roberto and Ofelia Romero.

She wanted to move to Broward because the houses were more affordable, yet she couldn't take her Cuban-born parents too far from Hialeah. She works in Miami, Holly still goes to school in Hialeah and her parents still see doctors in Miami-Dade County.

Moving to Vizcaya was an affordable way to leave her crowded neighborhood while keeping her ties to Miami-Dade County.

"It's very central," she said. "We have a lot of family in Dade and we didn't want to go too far."

Vizcaya, for her, is the point at which the county line dissolves. And while her mother has found a group of Latin women to walk with each day, when the family feels like a good flan, cortadito or medianoche sandwich, they head to Hialeah.

Berríos and Vallecillo family:

Family means unity for sisters Liliana Berríos and Pamela Vallecillo, their husbands, Miguel Berríos and José Vallecillo, and their five children.

It has been that way since they left their Nicaraguan homeland 18 years ago to move to a one-bedroom apartment in Hialeah, with four children at the time. Now the kitchen and dining area of their new five-bedroom home is about the same size as the apartment they huddled in 18 years ago.

"We have had to stumble," Miguel Berrios says. "We had to learn to live here."

Fitting in was important. There wasn't a large Nicaraguan community when they first arrived, so they had to adapt not only to American culture, but also to the Cuban majority within the Latin community. They learned to use Cuban ingredients to prepare Nicaraguan dishes and to substitute Cuban words for Nicaraguan phrases. The bus became guagua; the mop became mapo instead of lamposo.

After the apartment, the two families rented a four-bedroom house together in Hialeah; about a year ago, they bought their first home, in Vizcaya.

The house feels too big at times for the Berrios now that their children -- Amy, 21, Christian, 22, and Miguel, 24 have left the house for college and to pursue their separate careers. But the Vallecillo children, Geraldine, 19, and David, 12, remain. They prefer to speak English and listen to American bands.

While they have assimilated in many ways, their Nicaraguan roots are still present in their food, their religious practices and the memories their parents have passed on to them from Nicaragua.

"We know how to live together," Liliana Berrios says. "There are two families here, but we love and respect each other a lot."

Laiahasang family:

It takes meticulous planning for the six members of the Laiahasang household to spend a full day together.

Warren and Jennifer Laiahasang work in separate electronic stores, making their schedules unpredictable. It's generally up to grandparents Vincent and Isadore Laiahasang to care for 2-year-old Warren Jr.

But those Sundays when they are together feel like celebrations.

Warren Sr. takes control of his sophisticated DJ stereo system and blasts a mix of Jamaican reggae that goes from traditional Dennis Brown tunes to the latest from DJ Elephant Man, his mother's favorite.

Conversations in patois, a dialect of English, compete with the music.

Isadore Laiahasang prepares ox tail in the kitchen. They'd go out to Jamaican restaurants in the area, but "they can't cook like me," she says.

The Laiahasangs bought their house about a year ago and feel comfortable with the neighborhood.

They are planning to start a Jamaican restaurant in Miramar, which might make these Sundays even more scarce.

"If you want the money, you have to work crazy hours," Jennifer Laiahasang said. "But it's not forever."

Taliaferro family:

A New York City native, Lynn Taliaferro is used to hearing people speaking myriad languages in a small area.

She speaks English to her Bahamian-American husband, Charles, and Spanglish to her older children from a previous marriage, Kenneth Dominguez, 14, and Aramis, 8, who grew up in New York.

Sherley Taliaferro, her mother-in-law, lives with them as well. Their Caribbean culture is familiar to Lynn, whose family is Puerto Rican.

She and her husband dance to everything from Tito Puente's salsa to Jennifer Lopez's pop and R&B, while her sons listen to rap.

The Taliaferros bought their house about eight months ago. Her 3-year-old son, Tray, has developed a close friendship with the neighbors' children, and she has become close to the Cuban family on the other side of the street.

"The house was new," she said in Spanish, adding in English: "I knew that the neighborhood was diverse and I liked that because that's the way I grew up."

Samuels family:

Jennifer and Troy Samuels did not expect to be surrounded by such a variety of cultures when they moved to Vizcaya, but they were pleasantly surprised.

"We have no trouble communicating," said Jennifer Samuels, who grew up in South Florida, "even though we have different cultures. We see each other as neighbors. We are all concerned about keeping our neighborhood looking nice and our property values high."

The neighborhood provides the kind of diversity she longed for during her days as a student at Brigham Young University in Utah. The city was too homogeneous for them, she said. Her husband grew up in Indiana, but had spent some time as a Mormon missionary in Haiti when he was 19.

They transferred to Florida International University and settled in Miami after graduation. Troy Samuels began working as a contractor with Deerwood Estates, which developed Vizcaya. The Samuels were among the first families. They moved in with their children, Coby, 3, and Ryan, 7.

"This is a neighborhood of everybody from everywhere," Jennifer Samuels said. "You either embrace it or you don't like it and move out. I don't think it's just our neighborhood; I think it's all Broward County that is diverse."

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