Peace is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process, gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures.
John F. Kennedy
My quest to find out more about my aunt from those who knew her at a younger age brought me to the actor, author, and one time professional football player, Victor Rivas Rivers.
I remembered hearing the story of how my aunt mentored a troubled young boy when she was a teacher at Coral Park Senior High School in Miami back in the early 70s, but I wasn’t exactly sure who this boy was, or what made him so special. About a year ago, I found a blog entry written by one of my aunt’s former colleagues with the Close-Up program in Washington, DC; a program she strongly endorsed years and years after she left. In this entry, the man mentioned the book, A Private Family Matter, written by Victor Rivas Rivers, as a story that explained the type of compassion my aunt showed toward someone who was written off by many as “unable to be saved.” I wrote the author of the blog an email for more information on the story, but he never responded to my inquiry.
I Googled the memoir and came across the website for Victor Rivas Rivers; actor in The Mask of Zorro, one-time Miami Dolphin, and now spokesperson for the National Network to End Domestic Violence. I sent Victor an email and told him who I was—the niece of Susi Baldwin—and I explained that I would like to read his book to learn more about my aunt. When I ordered my copy of the book from his website, www.victorrivers.com, he sent me a signed copy with a short note, “To the memory of Susi Baldwin.” What a nice touch.
Rivers’ memoir chronicles his life as a young Cuban boy brought to the strange land of the United States, first to Chicago, then LA, and eventually Miami, by his father who terrorized the whole family with extreme bouts of domestic violence. He tells the gut-wrenching tales of watching his father beat his mother, younger siblings and older brother, but worst of all, the heart-breaking stories of how his father took out most of his deeply ingrained anger on Victor himself.
Rivers starts the story on a lonely desert highway somewhere in Texas as his father falls asleep at the wheel while driving his children from LA to Miami; leaving his pregnant wife back in LA without any indication as to where he was taking her children. Victor wakes up to see the car veering off the road, and the only thing he can think to do to save his siblings and his own life is to physically hit the man who so often used violence as a form of punishment and power over his helpless wife and kids.
Through the unwavering help and unconditional love of strangers and mentors, such as my aunt, Victor finds a way to come to terms with his self-loathing brought on by his up bringing, and eventually, he is able to break the cycle of violence that was always such a terrifying part of his life.
A Private Family Matter is a harrowing memoir of one family’s struggle against evil and violence; a single man’s determination to break out of a life he did not choose; and how the kindness of strangers can save even the most lost of souls.
If you or someone you know is, or may be, a victim of abuse, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).