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Pro-Voices: The Story of My Life

Bernardo Torres

I was recently asked to share my story with my colleagues at Prosek Partners as part of our company offsite. They thought it would make a good “Pro-Voices” blog post to kick off Women’s History Month. You’ll see why in a second.

I could start my story with one of the most defining moments of my life, when I was living in Vienna and working as the city’s one and only tortilla maker —or “tortillero,” as we say in Mexico. This city had a very profound influence in my life for reasons that I hope become clearer later on. Or, the story of one of my girlfriends whose dad was a physician secretly involved in the Guatemalan revolution during the 70s and who left an indelible mark and somewhat shaped how I see the world today. Or, my love for architecture, which as many of you know is perhaps my biggest passion (outside of my family).

But, really, the story of my life is shaped by the presence of strong women, two in particular. The first one is my mother. She was born and raised in Buffalo, NY. She despised the cold weather so much that in her late 20s she secured a job, first in Puerto Rico for one year, and later in Mexico on what was supposed to be a temporary gig. She ended up spending two thirds of her life there, the result of which was that, in Mexico, people called her “La Gringa” and whenever she visited relatives in the U.S., they called her “The Mexican.” In other words, she became a rare breed. I, too, have experienced some of that if you consider that I grew up in Mexico with an American mother and a Mexican father who, sadly, passed away when I was eight taking with him, in consequence, a piece of my identity, the Mexican one.

Before I introduce you to the second woman whose influence has been a defining factor in my life, my wife Iliana, let me rewind even a little more.

When I was four or five years old, I started noticing some of the things that made my household so unique, which I later both appreciated and struggled with. On the one hand, I had great admiration for my dad —a person whose friends and everyone who knew him always described as “full of life,” “elegant,” “savvy,” “charismatic,” etc. On the other, I channeled my identity conflict towards my mother given how, as I later understood, the traits I disliked about me —being so serious, for example— were passed on to me by her when what I really wanted is to be more like my dad. Her —and my— ancestry comes from what is now Hungary, Austria, Germany and Poland hence our reserved, rather introspective personality (as opposed to the warm and open culture oftentimes associated with Mexicans). This personality, ultimately and ironically, became a driving factor behind my affinity and consequent long-lasting love affair with Vienna.

Notwithstanding the internal struggle I just described, if I owe someone the strong work ethic I always strive to exhibit, it is definitely my mother. If I have someone to thank for being a good parent, due to the values and rectitude she instilled in me, it is most definitely her. If I need to explain why I am so grateful, it’s because she made sure I knew, by continuously reminding me that I was her God-given miracle, how much she loved me and how blessed I am to be alive. After my brother was born, she had two miscarriages and had been told by various doctors that it was impossible for her to ever conceive again. And yet here I am!

As you can see, whether I like to admit it or not, I have always known that it was my mother, more than anyone else, who helped build the foundation upon which I’ve lived my life.

Fast forward a few years, as I was beginning to discover the perks of being “ni de aquí ni de allá” (pardon the expression but I couldn’t find a better one), life threw me a curve ball: my dad was diagnosed with cancer and was gone within a couple of months.

The ramifications of such event didn’t really manifest themselves immediately as I continued to be a very happy kid —even someone people gravitated towards— until I hit my teenage years. What followed was somewhat of a roller coaster —a rebellious soul who was capable of both building strong relationships with practically everyone around me while managing to damage many of them; a dichotomy of opposing forces that has characterized me, in multiple different arenas and shapes (most of them healthy and positive, thankfully), throughout my life.

Amidst this life of “controlled chaos,” life put many angels in my path. Above them all is my wife. She’s the reason I’ve proved everyone who thought that I would never be able to settle down —because of all the shenanigans I had put my family through during my formative years— wrong. At the risk of sounding cliché, because of her I now have the life I never thought I could/would have. She has showed me that life is about love. Loving yourself (first and foremost), loving what you do, loving what life gives you, loving God. And, above everything else, loving your family.

After getting back from a recent ski trip with my family, my wife asked, “What is it that you like so much about skiing?” (Knowing that I’m someone who started skiing in my late forties and who had just gone down a few black diamonds after spending almost three years on the bunny hill trying to master the infamous zig-zag.) “It must be the speed and adrenaline. Or, the ability to focus only on your body’s motion and the sound of the skis sharply slicing the snow. Or, how you are now able to be in total control. Right?” After a long unintended pause, while trying to come up with an answer that would both make me look smart and also exude enthusiasm, I said, “You probably won’t believe it but the thing I love the most is, simply, being with you guys. You are my biggest and truest passion in life. Really!”

So, there you have it. This is the story of the angels whom I owe my life to and to whom I am and will always be eternally grateful.  

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