Name: Alejandro Szwarcztejn
Major: Accounting and finance
Hometown: Miami, Florida
Population: 4 million
Why do you use the name David?
David is my Jewish name and I’ve always gone by it. Alejandro is just the birth name my parents gave me. I used to go by Alex when I was little.
Was that when you lived in Mexico City?
Yes. I was born in Mexico City, and I lived there until I was eight years old. Then I lived in Texas for a year until my family moved to Miami.
Where did you live in Texas?
A little city called Laredo.
What part of Miami do you call home? Do you live in South Beach?
I live in the southern suburbs, but Miami is a driving city, so everything is a drive away. You can go to the beach or the clubs in half an hour.
Is your community Spanish speaking?
I live in a more American neighborhood. At home we speak a mix of English and Spanish and also Spanglish, which is a language of its own.
What is a good Spanglish sentence?
I think one of the big things about Spanglish is that you take a word in English and you put it into a Spanish conjugation because you can’t think of the Spanish word. Sometimes it is the other way around. For example, I would say ‘Voy a salir runiando,’ which means, ‘I want to go running.’
Your father was from Russia. Did he ever teach you Russian?
No, he’s forgotten all the languages he used to know when he was little.
How many did he know?
He used to know Polish, Russian, German, Spanish and English.
Did he learn all those in Russia?
Yes, because his father was German and his mother was Polish.
How did you end up being born in Mexico City?
My grandparents were fleeing the Holocaust. They hopped countries and went from Germany to Poland to Russia to Cuba to Mexico. It was good that they left. Not everybody else made it from the family.
Do you know a lot about your family heritage?
I’ve sat down with my father a few times and tried to learn stuff because we’re pretty much the only branch left. There are other Szwarcsztejns that are distantly related, but of my grandparents’ immediate family, nobody else survived.
Did your father tell you tales about his childhood experiences?
He’s actually got a great story about when he lived in Russia. When he was little, he had heard of chocolate, but he’d never seen it before. All they had was potatoes and onions. He asked my grandmother for some chocolate and she told him it was too expensive. He kept asking, and eventually she saved up money and bought a one-ounce Hershey bar on the black market. He went to show all his friends. He un-wrapped it and was holding it in his hands, and was about to put it in his mouth when one of the other kids ripped it out of his hand and ate it.
What lesson did he learn from that?
I don’t know that there is a lesson to be learned. But he was five years old and didn’t leave Russia until he was eight.
How does he feel about chocolate now?
He loves it. He has a very big sweet tooth.
You have a really cool family history with so many cultures combining to make you. Do you feel like that diversity gives you a different perspective on life?
Definitely. I think that having been born out of the United States and being raised in a Hispanic sort of background is a very different way of life than the American way of life. While I’ve adopted most of the American values, a lot of things I retain from my Spanish heritage.
For example, Spanish men have to be very chivalrous compared to American men. I was always taught that, and in my dating life I practice that.
What types of practices? Opening doors?
Beyond opening doors. You know, I’ll always pay for dinners and things. I would never borrow money from my girlfriend. There is the man’s place, without saying anything negative about the woman. But the man has his place and he’s got to retain that.
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