PROFILE: Roxana De Los Angeles Alvarez Marti

Roxana Alvarez sits at a table at the Ginger Café with her son, Cash, who is fingering morsels of appetizers while spouting hilariously clever snippets worthy of a precocious ten-year old.
Between bites and banter, Roxana’s story unravels like a frayed but colorful skein of yarn, beginning in post-missile crisis Havana, Cuba, where she was born.
Most school kids in the United States at the time were learning how to “duck and cover” under their desks. In Cuba, Roxana’s parents were studying at university. Her mother was going to be an architect, her father an accountant, but both were forced by law to quit when they refused to pledge themselves to Castro’s Communist Party.
Like many women at that time, Roxana’s mom dropped out of university and was living with her mother. “And that’s where I was born,” in the house built by her grandfather, says the woman with the almond eyes.
Her father was given a choice. He could be either a mason or an electrician, because the government needed people for construction and maintenance. “You couldn’t willingly open your own business. Every job was a state-appointed circumstance. They didn’t kick you out of the country, they just limited what you could participate in,” Roxana explains.
In 1961 Castro passed his Urban Reform and basically confiscated everything for the government, including Roxana’s grandmother’s house and all her seaside rental properties, which were the family’s income. Roxana’ parents began the difficult process of trying to get out of the country through a visa but it took them 15 years of enduring denials and personal insults from the Cuban government.
“The government wouldn’t let us out,” Roxana says, adding that they were finally able to leave through Spain, which had set up a trade. “Goods for people,” she remembers from when she was a nine-year-old. “Spain bailed out the Cuban economy to enable Cuban-born Spanish citizens to emigrate.” Roxana explains that her grandparents had been born in Spain.
Once on the plane to Spain, Roxana recalls, she was fascinated with common items that they didn’t have in controlled Cuba. “It was my first flight. I remember I went into the bathroom and saw little paper cups. We had no paper or plastic products in Cuba. The Dixie cups were the most beautiful things I had ever seen,” she laughs. “I kept going back to get them and bringing them to my mom, who was horrified. She was convinced that if anyone ever found out I was taking these paper cups, they were going to turn the plane around and take us back to Cuba.”
The family spent their first year in Madrid but the Spanish government seemed politically undefined, and her parents, having just narrowly escaped a communist country, got very nervous and applied to come to America. They landed in Miami in 1981 through the sponsorship of Roxana’s maternal uncle, an athlete who had defected from Cuba when he competed in Puerto Rico.
“We started out in a one-bedroom, termite-infested apartment where the termites would fall into your food while you were eating,” Roxana cringes.
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Roxana was growing up during Miami’s transitional era, when there was already a sizable Cuban population.
She had a typical American childhood complete with Atari and cable TV, and was influenced by a new televised program that spawned a generation of rockers. “I remember MTV coming on. I learned a lot of cultural knowledge from TV,” including, she says, English. “I didn’t speak English when I got to America.”
She graduated from high school in 1988 and decided to move to New York City to attend Hunter College for studio art and graduated with a B.A. in both art and psychology.
During the 11 years she spent in the Big Apple she worked various jobs. One of them was running a vintage clothing store where she met a lot of theatre and film people. That led to assistant styling jobs, make-up and occasionally watching the offspring of notable people. “I babysat Courtney Love and Curt Cobain’s kid, and Patti Smith’s kid, and I met Allen Ginsberg, who was always looking for vintage top hats,” she recalls.
The 1990s in lower Manhattan were cutting edge creative but down and dirty. Roxana recalls the sometimes-harrowing city life. “I had a couple of instances where I was followed right off the subway by strangers and I had to go up into neighboring buildings and jump roofs to my real building so they wouldn’t know where I lived.”
After tripping the light fantastic with stage and film stars, Roxana dived into social work as an on-call counselor at a youth safe home for homeless HIV-positive children over age 15. “Most of the kids were gay or transgender so you’d walk in and there’d be like three guys dressed up as Janet Jackson trying to learn her new song,” she says.
Roxana used her summers off to escape the intensity of the city and her job—she hit the road. “I would occasionally take time off to sell merchandise on tours for bands and sometimes art production for shows. I thought I wanted to travel to see more of the U.S., so I got a summer job as a tour leader for Trek America.”
She signed up for the adventure company that cruised tourists around the United States, Canada and Mexico in vans for two-week to two-month tours. “Tours would sometimes start in Los Angeles and end up in New York. I probably drove 200,000 miles across the country.”
As Roxana was taking a tour group into the Grand Canyon, wrapping up her summer season before returning to Manhattan to resume her counselor work, she was shocked to hear 9-11 unfold. “As I rolled into the ticket booth, the guy told me to turn on the radio. We sat in the van and listened for four hours, and we cried.” The tour was modified, for obvious reasons, and also because all the national monuments closed.
“I flew back to New York City five days later. It was very unsettling. There were military police everywhere, military jets overhead… it was a very different place. It seemed that it would go on like that for a very long time,” Roxana sadly recalls. She decided to take a hiatus.
She had never been to Crested Butte but a friend she had met, Dave Bandes, who was living in NYC, had a car he needed driven to the Butte. Arriving in January 2002, Roxana came thinking that she was only going to be here a year, learn to ski and then go back to the city. There were four people from Crested Butte who had worked at Trek America with her, and one of them was Craig Lamar. They hit it off. “I was teaching snowboarding that winter and letting the universe make decisions for me,” Roxana says. Cash was born the following November.
Roxana worked the many jobs of those who choose to live in a wonderland resort town. Her daughter, Paloma Brooklyn, joined the family in 2006. Roxana figured if she was going to stay here permanently she needed to come up with a business idea, so she created an interior design business called Spacecology Design in 2010, attending classes back in Manhattan to supplement her degree.
Then, out of nowhere, the world fell apart for the family in January 2012. Cash became deathly ill with influenza H3, which developed into a staph infection, invading his lungs and within 36 hours moving into his heart. The saga and journey is now legend in Crested Butte.
“Cash was in the ICU on life support for two and a half months. The first things that go through your mind when you’re not sure if he’s going to live is all of the things you said and do as a parent,” Roxana says.
Her life became surreal. “The first time I heard someone say he was critical—you have no idea how to respond. All of my emotions had gone flat and I was trying hard to absorb all that was happening so I could deal what was happening in front of me. I had to make choices not based on an emotional response.”
The first six weeks Cash was in an induced coma and the family had to decide whether or not to wake him in order to avoid his wasting and dying because he wasn’t able to get enough muscle control to operate his lungs. But the route of waking him had never been done before with a child.
“His veins were compromised, there was the danger of stroke,” Roxana says of the difficult decision. “I feel it was the thing that saved him, making that choice to wake him.”
Cash became a walking miracle, and after months of rehab he left the hospital on June 7, 2012. Returning to the Butte, most of the town turned out for a grand homecoming parade down Elk Avenue. “Physically, it took Cash about a year to get back his strength but now he’s doing all the normal Crested Butte kid stuff,” his mom smiles.
“I have to remind myself that this was real and it was traumatic and it could have had all kinds of possible endings, but in the end, it had the best possible ending. I try to connect the experience with gratitude, sometimes you need to take a step back and be grateful. I think about being in Crested Butte, I’m definitely a rolling stone. I do not like to do the same thing,” Roxana laughs but realizes, “This is a wonderful community and the experience with Cash highlighted what a true commitment people have to community here.”
Roxana acknowledges people who stepped up to support the family with love, necessities, time and finances, and feels a sense of commitment to this community as well. “I will always want to give back to this community as much in possible.” Her sometimes-arduous life path has taught her to appreciate the moment: “To stop planning for the future when life is here right now,” she says.

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