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Prince Charles’ Mexican beneficiary launches foundation to aid orphans

April 29, 2012

Aged 11, Jose Humberto Romano Jimenez lost his mother in the Guadalajara gas explosions of April 22, 1992. A year later, he was crowned by British tabloids as the “adopted son” of the Prince of Wales.

Now 31, Romano has turned his life into a success story and is ready to give other needy children the helping hand they require to do the same.

This previously introverted boy was transformed irrevocably on that fateful day 20 years ago, when thousands of gallons of gasoline  seeped into 13 kilometers of sewer line in Guadalajara’s Reforma district. The combustible mix eventually exploded, killing more than 200 unsuspecting people.

The roof of Romero’s home began to collapse on top of him, but he was mercifully rescued by firemen, along with his grandmother.

His mother, Guadalupe Jimenez Ramirez, had gone to the bank minutes before the first blast. It wasn’t until following day that Romano was informed that she had died  in the explosions.

“It completely changed my life,” Romano says. “I had to take care of my grandmother, who was 79 years old, when I was only 11.” Left homeless by the disaster, the pair entered a raffle and won one of ten apartments donated to victims by the British government.

On February 16, 1993, Romano’s life was transformed once again. On a royal visit to Guadalajara, Britain’s Prince Charles stopped by several of the apartments, including Romano’s, to check how the survivors were doing.

Unfazed by seeing the heir to the throne up close, the young boy tugged on the prince’s sleeve and asked him for help. “I told him that I wanted to study English and he said to me, ‘everything is possible,’” recalls Romano. “Two months later I got an official response.”

The British Council gave Romano a three-year scholarship to study English at the now-defunct Anglo-Mexican Cultural Institute.

Romano excelled in education. He now has two master’s degrees in education and human development, and is currently studying a doctorate in social sciences. He also teaches communication at the private UNIVA university, as well as working as a director at the Universidad Enrique Diaz de Leon.

Ever thankful for the opportunity presented to him, Romano has stayed in regular contact with his royal benefactor. In 1997 he sent a letter offering his condolences to Charles, following the death of his wife, Princess Diana.

At the age of 22 he was reunited with the prince, joining Charles at a reception in the British Embassy during a visit to Mexico City in 2002. Romano has since traveled to the United Kingdom as a tourist and says he still harbors the ambition of one day studying and even working in London.

In 2010, Romano decided it was time “to give something back.” The idea came to him to provide local kids with the same social assistance that made such a difference in his personal development.

At 11.11 a.m. on November 11, 2011, Romano formally launched his new foundation, Humberto Romano Somos Once. The foundation supports 11 orphans aged 11, whose academic performance is high.

Through Somos Once, they reap the same benefits Romano received from the Chamber of Commerce: money to buy school supplies, uniforms and shoes so they can continue their academic development; plus additional coaching and nutritional aid.

“At the moment it all comes out of my salary,” says Romano, who currently works on his own. But other people are interested in getting involved, he adds. “Maybe in 2013, he will help another 11 children.”

On the 20th anniversary of the explosions last Sunday, Romano says he went to a private Mass and decided to “spend the day by myself, reflect and remember my mother’s last words. A few days before she died, she told me ‘Humberto, your effort will become your success’ and these words have become a personal philosophy for me.”

Positive as always, Romano believes the tragedy helped him to grow as a person. “It made me feel that I had a second opportunity in life, to really be myself.” His mother would undoubtedly be proud that her son is now extending that opportunity to other children in need.

To contact Romano, search Romano Humberto on Facebook or email

City remembers day when streets blew up

The water ran red in several fountains across Guadalajara on Sunday, to symbolize the blood of those lost in the infamous sewer line explosions 20 years ago to the day.

The crimson dye tinging the water was the work of activists angry that no one has ever been held responsible for the deadly catastrophe.

The protesters want federal, state and municipal authorities to reveal exactly what happened on April 22, 1992, admit the real death toll (believed to be far higher than the official figure of 210), fully compensate all of the victims and punish those to blame for the disaster.

To draw attention to their demands, the activists colored the water of fountains in the Plaza Liberacion and Avenida Chapultepec, as well as in the “Estela Contra El Olvido” monument built eight years ago in the Analco neighborhood to honor the victims.

Other commemorative activities included a march along the route of the explosions, organized by the Asociacion 22 de Abril en Guadalajara, with the aid of planners from the Western Institute of Technology and Higher Education (ITESO), and the unveiling of giant murals painted on the streets hit by the blasts.

Two Mass services were held in rememberance of the victims and floral bouquets were left beside the aforementioned monument. A minute’s silence was also held before a memorial plaque was unveiled next to the monument.

Enrique Alfaro Ramirez, the leftist Citizen’s Movement candidate for governor of Jalisco, placed an offering beside the memorial, while wreaths were also sent by Raul Padilla, the former rector of the University of Guadalajara; and Alfredo Barba, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) candidate for mayor of Tlaquepaque.

Representatives of the right-wing National Action Party (PAN) were conspicuous by their absence. One of the marchers carried a banner addressed to Governor Emilio Gonzalez of the PAN that read, “The governor promised to help and so far has failed … Has he forgotten that he won thanks to our support? It is better not to promise, it is best to act.”

Head of the 22 de Abril association Lilia Ruiz Chavez also reserved choice words for the governor: “We are outraged, yes, because nobody has held Pemex responsible, because in 20 years justice has not been done, because the governor lied to the public, saying that he has now fulfilled the eleven points of his commitment.”

The latter comment was a reference to a statement signed by Gonzalez ahead of the 2006 state elections, promising to comply with 11 demands made by the victims of the gas explosions.

“Maybe what we have pursued these 20 years is a utopian dream but we have not resigned ourselves to the absence of justice. We could have been thrown into a corner of depression, apathy and helplessness, but we decided to fight so that what happened is never forgotten,” added Ruiz.

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