01 Jun Senior in Action – Carolina Rivera Gamboa
Marilee Marrero Stefenhagen
Former County of LA Public Library Administrator is having the time of her life as a retiree; meeting fascinating people who are active seniors, and volunteering for Soroptimist International of Norwalk and other women’s groups.
Senior in Action – Carolina Rivera Gamboa
I use Rivera in my name to honor my father. He was half Persian/half Filipino, and my mother was half Filipino/half Spanish. I was born in the Philippines during the Japanese occupation of World War II, and am 77 years old. When I was a baby, my parents protected us from bombings by moving into underground air raid dugouts during the day. We returned to our homes after dark to sleep while the Japanese slept. I developed severe asthma from the dust and damp of hiding below ground. There were no inhalers then, only cough syrups. My parents fed me frog and gecko meat to boost my strength. My father’s nickname for me was LONG, because I have always been short! I am the middle child. My sister Virginia lives nearby in Norwalk, and my brother Carlos resides in the Philippines.
Growing up, I used my asthma as an excuse for skipping school when I could get away with it. I even convinced my parents that a walking doll would comfort me during my asthma attacks. Yes, they spoiled me! My siblings and I attended Daughters of Charity Catholic School in Manila where we were taught in Spanish.
My family will tell you I’m a party-goer who loves to dance and sing. My sister teases me that I don’t have asthma when I’m dancing. We loved swirling our skirts with many petticoats as we danced. Our mother, an expert dressmaker, sewed new dresses for our Saturday night parties. I learned to play piano and ukulele.
I attended the University of Santo Tomas where I earned my Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts, Interior Design. I worked for a facilities management office, and designed mostly retail window displays. However, I designed stage sets for famous Americans who had business interests or performances in Manila, including Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson, and Whitney Houston.
In 1967, I married a businessman, Rene Gamboa and we raised three children. They all have saints’ names in addition to their first names. They are my precious gems. Son Renel Joseph (my ruby) lives in Dubai, daughter Ria Anne (my sapphire) lives in San Jose, California, and youngest daughter Rae Angelie (my pearl) lives in the Philippines. I ran a cake shop from our home. My specialty was Black Forest cake.
I taught my children that cleanliness is next to godliness while they cleaned house and washed clothes. My nine grandchildren call me Mamacita: the super clean freak. In 2001, my daughter Ria petitioned to bring me to the United States. My husband stayed with his relatives, but I am at peace with life here. My asthma improved once I arrived in California.
My niece lives in New Jersey. Together we traveled the East coast from Maine to Florida. In Maine, I savored lobster for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Another favorite vacation with my niece was in Maui. The tropics felt like my native land, and pineapple was so SWEET.
How do I stay active? Seven is my lucky number. I was #7 on the waiting list for a subsidized rent apartment, and Apartment 7 was assigned to me. Sometimes I ride the turnaround bus to Pechanga to gamble on the slot machines. I play Bingo once a week, and still cook for myself. I attend mass at St. Linus each morning, and then buy 50 cent coffee and $1 breakfast at local fast food restaurants with breakfast club friends. On Tuesdays, we take advantage of senior discounts at Cerritos Towne Centre movie cinema. At 6 pm, I say the Angelus prayer, thank God for today’s blessings and ask protection for tomorrow.