Emiliano Mercado del Toro was born in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico (then Autonomous Province of Spain), on 21 August 1891. He was the son of Delfin Mercado and Gumercinda del Toro and had at least one younger sibling. He could reminisce about being a child when U.S. troops invaded Puerto Rico in 1898, and he clearly remembered the fighting that marked the end of Spain’s colonial empire in the Americas. During his life, he worked in the cane fields, until his retirement at the age of 81. He never married and had no children, but said he had three “girlfriends” (love interests) in his life.
In 1993, he was honored by U.S. President Bill Clinton with the medal commemorating the 75th anniversary of the signing of the truce that ended World War I. Mercado del Toro had to move from his hometown of Cabo Rojo due to a fall he had in his home when he was 102, which affected his hipbone. His 85-year-old niece took him to live with his relatives, and he was well taken care of by his nieces, nephews, and their families. He was known as “Tío Millo” (“Uncle Millo”) by his relatives.
He credited his longevity to funche, a boiled corn, codfish, and milk cream-like dish which he ate every day as a habit. Mercado del Toro also claimed that his sense of humor was probably responsible for his long life, and he would tell jokes and humorous anecdotes almost to the end of his days. He would not elaborate on details of his love life, but would humorously hint about them: in one of the many interviews he gave to Puerto Rican media, he claimed to be at the “dancing club” (euphemism for a bordello) owned by Isabel Luberza Oppenheimer (better known as “Isabel La Negra”) the day she was assassinated. He was 83 years old at the time and claimed to have hidden under a table when Oppenheimer’s killers started firing shots at the place. When asked what he was doing there, he said: “Praying… or at least I was when the bullets started flying!”
His last two birthdays were media events in the town of Isabela. Civic leaders and veterans commended Mercado del Toro on his endurance and lucid mind, but the “gift” he would enjoy the most was the visit of Puerto Rican vedette and media icon Iris Chacón. In an interview, he claimed to be a great fan of the artist, and particularly of her derriere (“That rump was something serious!”, he was quoted as saying). Chacón visited Mercado del Toro, who could barely see or hear at the time of his 114th birthday in 2005, yet he was extremely pleased with her visit. She returned the following year to greet him. After hearing news of Mercado del Toro’s death, Chacón was quoted as saying: “I feel like I’ve lost my own grandfather. I was blessed for knowing him, knowing that I made him happy, and blessed for the anecdotes and wishes he told me the times I met him. His wisdom is something I learned a lot from. His life is an example of how you’re supposed to live your life, happily and doing good, for it will give you longevity and goodwill from everyone.”
Emiliano Mercado del Toro died in Isabela, Puerto Rico, on 24 January 2007, at the age of 115 years, 156 days.