On any given day, you can expect to see hundreds (if not, thousands) of visitors making their way in and out of the historic Pearl.
But if at any point you’ve driven on Newell Avenue to find parking on property, odds are you’ve seen a familiar face.
On the corner of Newell Avenue and Avenue A, you can often find SATX’s most recognized unknown person sporting a baseball cap and a water bottle in each hand.
His name is Damaso Stuart. We had the privilege of sitting down with him for a few minutes to get to know his story.
Here’s that interview, translated to English from Spanish.
How many years have you lived here in the United States?
Since 1980. I came from Mariel, Cuba. Fidel opened the doors, and I came in the group.
And how long have you been in San Antonio?
The entire time. I liked it here. I have always been with my Mexican brothers and sisters. Since I was a kid, Cuba has always had a kinship with Mexico. I really liked Mexican movies and music. I grew up with Pedro Infante, María Félix, Jorge Negrete, Tin Tan, Resorte, and Cantinflas, especially since I don’t speak English. My dad is American, but my mom is Cuban.
Did they come with you?
No, no. I came alone. When the door opened, I took it and didn’t get a chance to look for anyone.
What happened when you got here?
I worked in the fields. When I arrived from Cuba, I didn’t know anything. I went to the Westside, and I got baptized by a pastor. You know that they help those who are new, right? Well, the poor people. The pastor gave me an apartment to live in and everything. I went out to work, and my Mexican brothers took me to the ranches to move stones.
Whatever I made went to food. I didn’t have anyone to look out for me. The trucks there don’t go looking for you. My Mexican brothers took me to work, and they would make beans there. The Lady of the property would make food for everyone. I would eat tacos, and I was happy.
How did you come to sell water bottles?
Oh! A friend told me that he sold water. I was selling paletas back then. I decided to give it a try and got a permit. This is where I decided to set up — just look at the traffic. I started making money to eat. I kept selling water, and it’s been going so-and-so.
What happened to your family in Cuba?
Oh, well, my dad is already dead. My mom isn’t with me anymore, either. I came alone because of the political problem. The last time I saw them was in 1980 before I came. I landed in Key West, Florida. Once I arrived, I sent them a cable: “I’ve finally arrived here. I’m safe.”
Apart from selling water, what else do you do during the day?
I cut grass. I have my grass-cutting machines at home. Many people help me out. They call me “Cuba.” Mexicans are a very affectionate bunch. They bring me food. They bring me tacos. The whole town knows me. I’ve been here for 42 years.
By the way, how old are you?
77 years. Look, I take care of myself. You have to get moving when you’re my age. I constantly thank God that I am here. This is the richest country in the world, and I am happy. In Cuba, I was poor. But now, I have something to eat. I have somewhere to live.
Is there anything else you’d like to do before you die?
No, no. I’m happy where I’m at. Look how peaceful it is here. I get up early because you have to find a way to survive. You have to live. I don’t want a penny from the government. From everything they gave, I didn’t get a penny. But hey, I am thankful to the Lord. I am free, and I am getting old. Maybe it’ll be my turn tomorrow to kick the bucket or whatever. But for now, I am happy.