Our Community - Emilio Rivero
"Jack of all trades - Master of many"

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 14, No. 31            September 2, 2004

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Emilio Rivero

San Pedro Town has been molded, in part, by the diversity of its hardworking people. Many island residents attend schools to learn the various trades that are required to keep Ambergris Caye as the number one tourist destination that it is. However, many individuals are self-taught and, because of their love for what they do, strive to improve their skills. This week, The San Pedro Sun is proud to introduce a local resident who is considered a man of many talents – Mr. Emilio Rivero. 

    On April 5th, 1933, Margarita and Carlos Rivero welcomed their second child, Emilio, into the world. Always a happy child, he enjoyed playing baseball with his two sisters and other children from the neighborhood. At the age of five, Emilio’s mother passed away and since his father spent long hours at work, the young boy was sent to live with his grandmother.

    Like most island children, Emilio attended primary school at a small two-story house where the current San Pedro Police Station is located. A bright student, his teacher encouraged him to pursue higher studies, but due to financial limitations, Emilio was unable to attend high school in Belize City. Instead, he accompanied his grandmother, who was a midwife and an herbal healer, on visits to her many patients and assisted her in her duties. Emilio enjoyed this very much, and focused on learning his grandmother’s healing arts.

    Emilio later learned net fishing from his father. He recalled separating the lobsters from the other fish that were caught in the nets, and throwing them overboard. "Back then, lobster was not the popular delicacy that it is now. Lobster was more of a nuisance and fishermen would only earn three cents a pound for them," he said. 

    When Emilio turned 12 years old, he asked to begin working on the plantation where his uncle was employed. Although his uncle discouraged him because of his age, Emilio persisted and the boy was finally hired. At the "cocal," Emilio earned $1.25 for chopping a 25-square-foot area known as a "mecate." After clearing this area, Emilio would pick coconuts from the trees and remove their stringy husk. The owner of the plantation would then sell the fruit to merchants in the city, and Emilio would receive another $1.25 for every 1,000 coconuts he provided.

    When Emilio was 14, he offered to fix a canoe for his uncle’s friend. Equipped with only a machete and a few supplies, he cut wood from trees and four days later had the canoe up and running again. His uncle’s friend told him that with this intelligence and skill, he should not be clearing bush, so Emilio used his weekly wages to buy the tools he needed to fix canoes.

    Emilio soon quit working at the plantation and became his own boss, working out of his home. For years, fishermen would bring him their canoes to be repaired. Eventually, Emilio began fixing furniture and soon, he was working with contractors, building houses until he learned all he could about carpentry. Emilio then began building houses for family members and later gained other clients from the island. 

    In his free time, Emilio would visit with the older men in Central Park, who would gather to play musical instruments. After spending the afternoon with them, he would go home, and practice on his own guitar. When the first electric guitar was introduced to the island, no one wanted to "give it a try." Emilio jumped at the chance, and played the guitar to his heart’s content. Soon, the young musician was playing for town functions, where he recalled needing to light the dance floor with oil lamps. "You had to make sure the dance floor was properly lit. If the lights began to flicker and dim, mothers would take their daughters home. It was very important to have sufficient oil for the entire night. These days, if the dance floor is well-lit, no one will go dance, so it must be darkened a bit," he laughed. It was at one of these dances that he fell in love with his wife, Norbella Marin (deceased). 

    A few years later, Emilio became ill and he began spending more time at home. Fascinated with electrical appliances, he tore apart a number of broken items in order to figure out what had gone wrong with them. Soon enough, he was repairing fans, washing machines, and other household appliances. "I just like seeing what makes something work. I will work with it until I figure out what is wrong," he said. 

    In his free time, Emilio enjoys reading and spending time with his nine children: Emilio Jr., Virgilio, Wilber, Armando, Margarita, Noli, Nidia, Imelda, and Ceni.

    Today, at the age of 71, Emilio is still very active and continues working out of his home, fixing appliances, furniture, and repairing shoes. A self-taught barber, Emilo is skillful at cutting hair and is often called out to visit the sick, as well. "When you start something, you get great satisfaction once you finish it. It is never good to simply leave things half-way. Everything has a solution; you just have to look at the problem from different angles until you find it," he commented.

    Emilio’s perseverance has certainly paid off and his determination is a quality that inspires everyone. "You can accomplish whatever you set your mind to," he ended. Hardworking and self sufficient, Emilio Rivero is an example for all to follow, a self-taught "Jack of all trades" in "Our Community."

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