Como Sea: How Their Father’s Words Influenced Four Sisters

For more than ten years, beginning in 1968, Felix Concepcion watched as a coup d’etat by the Armed Forces of Peru changed the way of life for not only him and his family, but for all Peruvians.

Felix began planning for an exodus for himself, his wife, Nelly, and their four daughters, Millie, 9, Tami, 8, Fada, 5, and Karime, 4.

“In 1978, the future in Peru was not looking very promising,” says Millie. “There were a lot of government issues and fears of communism spreading into Latin America by the action of Fidel Castro in Cuba, a lot of strikes with teachers; the whole country was in a difficult situation.”

Some members of the Concepcion family had already immigrated to the United States. They arranged for immigration visas for their large family, and one day, Felix and Nelly Concepcion brought their daughters to the airport where they said they were going on a trip to see their cousins in Hackensack, NJ.

“When we left Peru, our dad was the vice president of the Fiat Company,” Millie says. “He was very well-established, and our mother was an x-ray technician in Lima.” She and her sisters would have no idea until much later how much her parents had sacrificed for them.

Because of the rapidly escalating political climate, Millie says that when people had a chance to leave, they just left.

The Concepcions Start Life in New Jersey

Felix and Nelly Concepcion were determined to ensure the success and safety of their four daughters when the family moved to the United States.

The Concepcion parents knew their daughters would have to learn English; Felix Concepcion also realized that he was going to have to work hard to learn the language. wWhile the girls benefited from ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages), Felix refused to speak Spanish to his daughters, and spent hours immersed in reading newspapers and watching television, in an effort to teach himself how to read, speak and write the language of his new country. He pounded the pavement looking for work. There were times when he held three jobs at a time, a work ethic that he instilled in his daughters, who also worked throughout their time at UCF.

“Our mom realized that speaking Spanish would one day be an asset to us, so we mostly spoke Spanish with her, and English with our father,” Millie says.

It was hard work, his daughters say, but Felix never complained. They remember when he did tell them once that he recognized he was perceived differently by the people with whom he worked because of his heavy Spanish accent. “Como sea,” he would tell them, which translated in theConcepcion family to mean “Whatever it takes. Grab yourself by the bootstraps and just keep going.”

“My dad told us all that once we learned some English, we could go anywhere where it is always warm and the sun always shines,” Millie says. The family moved to Altamonte Springs.

Altamonte Springs, the “Land of Opportunity”

There, the girls attended Lake Orienta Elementary School, which had no ESOL program. Still, the girls were young enough that they had picked up enough English to communicate easily with their classmates, who asked them periodically to say something in Spanish. Give me a pencil. Dame un lápiz.  And their friends would squeal in delight at hearing this foreign language. “I think we might have been the first Latinas they’d ever met,” Karime says.

The Concepcion parents focused on instilling within their daughters the importance of education, so much so that they created a special room for their studies. The biggest room in the house, with the best lighting and most comfortable seating was dedicated to “el escritorio” or the library.

el escritorio or the library with people reading
Felix and Nelly Concepcion were determined to make sure their daughters had all the resources they needed for school. Encyclopedias, reams of writing paper, art supplies, reference books were all on hand to ensure their daughters excelled in every project.

El escritorio was always stocked with reference materials, supplies, and musical instruments. There was a globe of Earth, paper, pens, pencils, calculators, always within arm’s reach. Any school project could come to life with what seemed like endless supply of markers, construction paper, glue, glitter, poster boards.

However, one of Felix’s proudest moments was the delivery of the complete set of the Fifteenth Edition of Encyclopedia Britannica. It included the Great Books of the Western World such as Homer, Plato, Aristotle, Shakespeare, Cervantes, the full collection of Edgar Allan Poe poems and stories, All Quiet on the Western Front, and other classic novels.

Each book was leatherbound with gold lettering turning el escritorio into a study hall that rivaled most public libraries. Karime remembers their mother teaching her how to take care of the books. She demonstrated how to carefully turn the pages, use a bookmark instead of folding the corners, and to never write in books, and gently place them back on the shelf.

Nelly would say, “These books are a portal to the universe, you must handle them with respect.” Felix was so proud of his collection that he invited neighbors, family, and friends to come enjoy the books. It has even served as the backdrop of many family pictures. I El escritorio was also where they kept their prized National Geographics.

Whenever they wanted to leave the home to visit friends, their father would have them read an article from National Geographic and leave a written report about it next to his work boots. He would read it at 3 a.m. as he was preparing to go to work at TG Lee Foods on Bumby Avenue in Orlando.

At times, they presented an oral report to their mother, who periodically interrupted with probing questions, “What is mitochondria?” ostensibly to increase her own understanding of the topic, but really, to make sure her daughters understood what they had read.

Through it all, Felix continued working, sometimes as many as three jobs at a time. At T.G. Lee Foods he worked loading trucks with hundreds of gallons of dairy and then later, driving them. He was also, at various times, a driver for other companies, including EZ Bus Tours and Travel, also in Orlando.

During their breaks from school, Felix would drive the girls to St. Augustine to see the oldest city in the country; Stone Mountain, Georgia, and Washington DC to visit the nation’s capital, to gain a sense of appreciation for the country’s history, and even to the “Big Apple” in New York City to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island where so many immigrants entered.

It was on that trip to NYC during a Macy’s Day Parade that all four girls realized they wanted to be in a marching band and learn to play an instrument. Tami even went on to become drum major of the high school marching band.

The University of Concepcion Family

The sisters also knew there was never a question of where they would go to college. During their vacations, Felix would arrange for them to visit other colleges, like the Ivy League schools and military academies, and would tell them they COULD go there, but why WOULD they when they had one of the greatest schools in the country in their backyard? Felix would drive his daughters to the UCF campus and tell them how great the school was, and how he couldn’t wait for them to go there and get their degree.

Thus, the sisters began to joke about the growing campus being named for them: The University of Concepcion Family.

When Tami expressed an interest in becoming an astronaut, Papo took the family to Kennedy Space Center. Tami is now a civil engineer.

“I wanted to be an astronaut,” Tami says. On June 18, 1983, one of his very few Saturdays where he didn’t have to work, Felix woke his wife and daughters at 4 a.m. He packed them into the family station wagon with blankets and pillows and drove to Cape Canaveral to find a spot on the beach.

“I had no idea what we were doing on the beach so early in the morning without our bathing suits, Karime remembers. Felix was not going to miss the opportunity for his daughters to witness in person the 7 a.m. flight of Sally Ride, the first woman into space. The girls watched awestruck. “Dad wanted to show us just one of the things women could accomplish,” says Tami. It was this inspiration that encouraged Tami to obtain her B.S. Civil Engineering and Millie her B.S. Applied Mathematics so they could work for NASA post-graduation. The Concepcions would visit the Kennedy Space Center instead of popular Orlando theme parks every time they had out-of-town family visitors.

 Millie jokes, “Maybe our dad could foresee SpaceU.”

When Fada was younger, she had a strictly enforced bedtime of 8 p.m. Sometimes, she said, she would sneak out as her dad was getting ready to leave for his midnight shift. He did this for 20 years. She desperately wanted to see him, maybe make him something to eat before he left.

“Every night I would cry because I couldn’t believe he had to work so early in the morning,” Fada says. “He said I am doing this to teach you. If you dont want to work with your back, work with your head. If you dont get that education, youre going to be doing this kind of work.”

Later, Fada decided that she would be going to UCF for B.S. in Science Education and later earn a master’s in education and even went on to become a nationally board-certified teacher.

“Dad encouraged us to pursue careers in the fields of health and science because he knew those industries were ever-changing and always moving forward, giving us job security.” Karime says. Karime earned a B.S. in Health Services Administration and moved up the ranks within health insurance companies. Karime even arranged to have her dad to be featured on the companys marketing material.

woman in front of outdoor ad sign
Karime stands next to a photo of her dad that was used in a marketing campaign.

“I had dads picture plastered on bus stop ads all over Florida. Dad drove a tour bus during those days, and he got a kick out of telling his passengers to look out the windows on the right. He would slow down long enough for them to see his picture on the bus stop ads. He felt like a celebrity.”

There was nothing more important to him than for his daughters to maximize their potential, his daughters say. Even when, as high school students, three of them were prom queens, involved in student government, and they all excelled at academics, they would, perhaps, get a pat on their back.

He would then gently remind them of the end goal – their college degree.

The lessons of higher education extended far beyond his four daughters. Felix imparted his guidance on his niece, Izzy, and nephew, Jose, whom he loved as his own, and who also earned degrees from UCF. Millie met her husband Steve in Genetics class. Karime met Michael at UCF, too, and they would later marry after their graduation. For a span of seven years there was always a Concepcion in attendance at UCF, truly making it a family school.

Felix becomes Papo

In the fall of 1998, Felix and Nelly embarked on a new chapter of his life – one that would see them not just as parents but as grandparents.

“Little did they know that this role would become their most cherished title, a name that would resonate with love, wisdom, and a commitment to shaping the future,” Millie shared.

sisters with their mother
The Cncepcion sisters and their late mother, Nelly.

Upon becoming a grandparents, Felix and Nelly decided to take on a new moniker: Papo and Mamita. Unlike the conventional “grandpa” or “grandmom,” Papo and Mamita held a special significance for them. It wasn’t merely a title; it was an identity they carefully chose to foster a unique connection with their grandchildren. Mamita only got to spend a brief 14 years with her 9 grandchildren and her legacy lives in each of them today.

Fada says, “She remains for them a guiding force, a source of inspiration, and a repository of wisdom.”

As the years passed without his wife, Papo became a central figure in his grandchildren’s lives. His influence extended beyond the occasional babysitting duty. Each interaction with Papo was a lesson, a chance for the grandchildren to absorb not only academic knowledge but a sense of adventure. There were countless trips to the beach, the zoo, the Orlando Science Center, Kennedy Space Center, and more.

“The kids tell me that best time they remember most is when Papo picked them up in the tour bus and let us play on the microphone,” Karime adds. They kept the postcards he would send from all over the country while on his bus tours.

He encouraged his grandchildren to explore their passions. In 2007, he got a chance to drive the tour bus during the 15-state tour of the National Philharmonic of Russia. Papo, while wearing his driver’s uniform, took his young granddaughters, Annalycia and Elizabeth, to the symphony when they came to Florida.

They also remember the time, in 2011, when he bought all of them tickets to the movie theater when they were showing the live stream of the opera “Aida” playing at The Met.

“That is when Annalycia (13 yrs old at the time) attributes her inspiration to becoming an opera singer. She is now in her senior year pursuing a bachelors in vocal performance while already working professionally with Opera Orlando as a soprano,” Tami proudly said about her niece.

“The impact of Papo’s guidance is evident in the achievements of his grandchildren. Every milestone reached, every accolade earned, is a testament to the foundation he laid. Papo’s legacy lives on through the accomplishments of the younger generation, each success a tribute to the sacrifices he made to ensure they had opportunities he might not have had. The legacy of Papo isn’t just a name; it’s a narrative of love, sacrifice, and the enduring impact one person can have on the lives of others,” say his daughters.

The Return

80th birthday for Papo
Papo insisted on having a UCF-themed birthday for his 80th birthday in Peru.

The sisters recently returned to Peru with their father to celebrate his 80th birthday. They had not been there altogether since they left 45 years ago. “What is the most American gift we could give our dad for his 80th birthday? What could represent him as being the cornerstone in the foundation of his family’s success and happiness?” Karime wondered. “A steadfast brick installed on our beloved campus and a UCF themed birthday party is the perfect way to commemorate his story that will stand the test of time – because his legacy stands the test of time.”

The brick, which joins others on the terrace in front of the FAIRWINDS Alumni Center, reads:




Gracias Papo

Millie ’94 Tami ’96

Fada ’97 Karime ’98


This tribute is to honor Papo and Mamita, whose stories are the heartbeat of this article, and dedicated by Julia, Miriam, Mark, Matthew, Mariah, Jose, Isabel, Izzy, Millie, Steve, Elizabeth, Lensa, Tami, Brian, Fada, Sofia, Rosa, Karime, Mike, Annalycia, Donovan, Isaac and many more loving family members in New York, New Jersey, Peru, and Florida.

“We know there are many UCF families out there who have similar stories of how they had someone in their lives who encouraged them to get their education,” Karime says. “This is our small way of giving back to the man who did so much for me and my sisters. We love you, Papo, thank you for the inspiration and vision over the years to allow us to have better lives than we ever thought possible! Go Knights! Charge On!

If you would like to honor someone special in your life like the Concepcion sisters did, please visit Knights Terrace

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