It was in the blood."
So says Alvaro Saralegui, SI's new advertising sales director, when asked what attracted him to publishing. Behind that matter-of-fact comment lies an extraordinary story.
Saralegui's grandfather, Francisco, a Basque who had been orphaned at birth, sailed from Spain for South America early in the century in search of his fortune. Following a stint as a bartender in Argentina, he traveled on to Cuba, where he found work as a packer in a sugar mill store. Three years later, in 1919, Francisco got a job as an accountant for a trading company. By the time he was 30 years old, he had risen through the ranks to become president of the company, and started making major changes. "He turned it into, among other things, a mini publishing empire," says Saralegui. "He bought Vanidades, the biggest women's magazine in Latin America. And he published Bohemia, the biggest newsweekly."
Saralegui's dad, Jorge, went to Colegio de Belèn high school in Havana with Fidel Castro, but the family decided to send Jorge to college in the U.S. "It was 1945, and a lot of Latins were going to Yale at the time," says Alvaro. "Dad got on a train in Miami, and I guess he slept through the stop in New Haven. He ended up in New Hampshire, and someone told him there was a good school there, too." In 1948, Jorge graduated from Dartmouth—Alvaro is class of '78—and returned to Havana to help with the family business.
September 1, 1991
"In the '50s my parents supported Castro, as did many antifascists," says Saralegui. "But when Castro became more totalitarian, they changed their opinion. They wrote some editorials critical of Castro, and things got dangerous for us."
In 1960, using the pretext of a Florida vacation, Alvaro, his mother, Adelaida, and his four siblings flew to Miami. "I remember the kinds of things a four-year-old would remember," he says. "I remember a lot of fear. I remember being pretty uncomfortable on the flight because I had the mumps. My father escaped a week later. He just told his chauffeur to hang a left and head straight for the airport. The driver said, 'Oh. You too?' "
The family settled in Bronxville, N.Y., where Alvaro played high school football and baseball, and where, in junior high school, he met Lisa DeCrane, a schoolmate. Alvaro and Lisa were married in 1984, the year he joined SI as a publishing assistant for the L.A. Olympics. Since then, says Alvaro, he has held "almost every job on the publishing side of the magazine. I've been a gofer, the business manager and now the ad sales director. Barcelona will be the fifth Olympics I've worked on for SI."
For obvious reasons, the 1992 Summer Games have a special importance for Saralegui. "I've been able to travel to the Basque country when negotiating deals for the magazine in Barcelona," he says, "and I've established ties with my relatives—there are a lot of them. This chance to go back to my roots has been rare and really pretty wonderful."