In the year 2005, Puerto Rican newspapers told the story of a man living with three women as his wives, along with their twelve children, one of which had just died. The children, as the newspapers reported, were un-vaccinated, home-schooled, and had no birth certificates or social security numbers. The child that died, a boy of eight years, was reported to have suffered from a congenital heart condition; when he died, his parents, for reasons that were unfathomable to outsiders, refused to go to the morgue to identify his body.
The newspapers documented the frenzied coverage of the unorthodox family in the months that followed the boy’s death. Questions were raised as to the lawfulness of the family’s lifestyle. Investigations were carried forth; every top governmental official on the island was consulted; and the public, in one unceasing, relentless demand, cried for intervention. But much to their disbelief, the government seemed to insist upon doing nothing. No criminal charges were brought against the father; indeed, it was proclaimed that he hadn’t actually broken any laws. The children were, inconceivably, allowed to remain at home, or as the newspapers mercilessly entitled their abode: the harem.
When the family finally broke their silence and made their first appearance on television, they made what seemed to be a bizarre and unexpected claim: they alleged that their children had been kidnapped several months prior to their story going public, that they had been the victims of governmental persecution, and that the boy had died as a result of the intervention and subsequent medical maltreatment that was forced on him. They showed gruesome pictures of the boy’s deterioration and the condition in which their children had been returned to them.
The next day, a representative of the Family Department (social services) rebutted their claims to the newspapers and declared their story a falsehood; the pictures, she stated, must have been from another time.
She couldn’t have been more wrong.
My father is that man with the three wives. It was my family that appeared on that television show and sought to reveal the heinous, gruesome truth of what we were forced to undergo in the five months that led up to my brother’s death. It was my home that was so slanderously referred to as the ‘Harem of Fajardo.’
And for the first time since that year, I am telling our story.