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Leaf 13: Maricilis Milagro Peña

A leaf from:

This Broken Land of Promise:

A Chronicle of Conservation in the Hispaniolan Border Country

Maricilis Milagro Peña died of complications from cancer on the morning of September 7. Mari was the mother of Yinabel Pérez Peña, the Tree Bank’s Coordinator, and the wife of Gaspar Pérez Aquino, one of the Tree Bank’s founders and its first Dominican Director. Gaspar died of a stroke in 2014. (We published some remembrances of him in the November 2014 Acorn.) Mari was 58 years old.

Mari is survived by her two daughters, Yinabel and Marilesi, and her six grandchildren: Yinabel’s son and daughter, Marilesi’s son, and the three daughters of Ricardo, Mari’s late son and the late brother of Yinabel and Marilesi. Ricardo suffered from depression and committed suicide in 2013.

All of Mari’s descendants live in the town of Loma de Cabrera, not far from our Tree Bank project area. (See Leaf 11.) Ricardo’s widow, Anabel, divides her time between Loma and Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic’s capital city; sometimes her daughters are with her in Santo Domingo.

Apart from Anabel, all of these people live — not just in the same town, but in the same house: the one that Gaspar built in January 2000 when the family moved to Loma. Yinabel’s husband, Lagari, also lives in this house but he is in the army and spends most of his time away from home. Marilesi is not married.

Mari was diagnosed with cancer of the bowel in 2016. An operation earlier this year removed most of the diseased tissue and was followed by bouts of chemotherapy. (Nearly all of the costs were paid by the Dominican equivalent of Medicaid.) But the treatment didn’t work. Last month, the doctors found cancer in her liver and concluded that there was nothing more that they could do. Mari’s funeral was on Saturday, September 9.

Tall, thin, and very quiet, Mari was deeply devoted to her family and seemed always to be engaged in household chores. Her reserved demeanor had the paradoxical effect of making her more conspicuous rather than less so: a quiet, dignified presence amidst the boisterous Dominicans and bumbling Americanos trooping into and out of her house.

Mari was especially close to Yinabel, who spent much of the past year nursing her mother and traveling with her back and forth to Santo Domingo for treatment and doctors’ appointments.

Having lost her father, her only brother, and now, her mother, Yinabel is now the head of her household. Her work on her university degree has ended, at least for the time being, because she has no time to pursue it. And she worries constantly about debt. Her husband’s military pay and her small monthly stipend from us are the family’s sole sources of income. But those are matters for another time.

Mari was more than a mother to Yinabel. I think that Mari might also have been Yinabel’s best friend.

“This Broken Land of Promise” is my attempt to describe and interpret our Tree Bank Hispaniola program. I welcome your comments and questions. Please write me in the comment box below or email me at

About quotations: I try to quote people as accurately as I can, but conversations sometimes occur in distracting circumstances, and my memory is far from perfect. An additional complication when quoting our Dominican colleagues and friends: these people speak only Spanish, so our conversations with them are always in that language. For the most part, translating these exchanges is not difficult, but sometimes a literal rendering would make for poor English; in such cases, my aim is to capture the speaker’s tone and meaning, rather than his exact wording.

— Chris Bright

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Banner: Late October in a mixed stand of hickories, oaks, and American beech at Fountainhead Regional Park, on the northern shore of the Occoquan River, in Fairfax County, Virginia. Photo by Chris Bright. 

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