When Cecilia Aldarondo’s mother was clearing her garage out in 2008 she called her daughter and asked if she would be interested in a box of decaying 8mm home movies and several hundred slides that she had just uncovered. Little did she know then when she agreed to take the box did she ever imagine the journey she would undertake once she had examined its contents.
It started Aldarondo out on a quest to discover more about the life of her Uncle Miquel who had died of AIDS some twenty five years previously, and about which her conservative religious family had always been very tight-lipped about. Miquel had left his hometown in Puerto Rico to find fame and fortune as a Broadway actor and writer. He achieved some success at his chosen career, but much more importantly he found his sexuality and also the love of his life.
The information in the box was sparse to say the least Aldarando had very little to go on, but finally after two years on searching she had some extraordinary luck when she came across Miquels’ lover Robert, whom she had only known by his Christian name. He had now re-invented himself as Father Aquin a Franciscan monk living in California and was still carrying an enormous bitter grudge about the way that the Aldarando family had so badly treated their son.
Miquel had anglicized his name to Michael, and he and Robert had been partnered for some 12 years which was no mean feat in the fast pace of NY’s gay world where fleeting relationships were the norm. He was estranged from his parents because his mother refused to forsake her deeply-held religious beliefs even though Aldarando discovered letters that her Uncle had written home pleading for their understanding and acceptance. His father on the other hand was ashamed that he was cowed into submissiveness by his domineering wife, but what was even more shocking was that he had his own secret that Aldarando discovered almost by accident.
As a filmmaker Aldarando tried her level best to avoid deciding who was right or wrong in the situation, but it soon became very obvious that the accusations Father Acquin leveled at her grandmother, and her own mother (Miquel’s sister) deeply unsettled her. When she first presented them to her mother ….. now Miquel’s only immediate relation alive ….she encountered denial, which eventually turned into a partial acknowledgement that she had unwittingly been part of the reason that her brother had been ostracized from the family.
Micquel/Michael had been one of the very early victims to succumb to the AIDS pandemic when there was so much fear and panic which may excuse some families very negative and often hysterical reactions at losing their sons and loved ones. Hi mother went way too far and so desperate that he ‘repent’ before he died placed a heavy 6ft crucifix on top on him in his hospital bed.
Aldarondo’s heart-breaking and compelling documentary is a passionate memoir to the Uncle that she should barely remember from her childhood. It was a tough job being so close to all the players involved, and getting to know ‘Robert’ after all these years, but she did it in a manner that should at least bring some sort of peace finally to all those involved who are still living.
We lost so many wonderful men and women in our community through this very dark passage of our history, and it is so essential that their stories are told too. Let’s hope they all have a remarkable niece like Aldarando who will honor their memories with such honesty and compassion.