I was born in Havana, Cuba on July 4th 1956, and came to Miami in January of 1962.
For years I thought I came to Miami as part of the Freedom Flights, until I later discovered that those flights did not start until 1965. As young as I was, I remember boarding the plane with my mother and father and my four siblings.
I sat on my mother’s lap and my father carried my baby sister, making room for two more passengers. At a time when so many parents were sending their children to the states alone and out of harm’s way, my mother did not waiver. She later told me when I was older that she told my father, “we all leave together, or we don’t go,” and so we did.
My father was 38 and my mother 34 when they arrived in Miami. How courageous they were to leave their homeland with nothing but the clothes on their backs and a couple suitcases of belongings. I am certain they struggled but I don’t ever remember going to bed hungry or not celebrating Christmas. How they managed I don’t know.
Shortly after we arrived, my mother took in three young teens sent alone to Miami. The first, my cousin, was later reunited with his parents. The second was our next door neighbor’s son-in-law, who was the eldest but cried the most having left his new bride behind.
He, too, was reunited with his family shortly after living with us. The third eventually married my oldest sister Mary. We lived in a two-bedroom home near the Allapatah area. I don’t remember being cramped but I do remember covering ourselves with the curtains one very cold January in Miami.
My father, a successful salesman in Cuba, took the first job he could find. He made fudge in a candy store in downtown Miami. I wish I could remember the name of the place. I would watch my dad through the large glass window, making fudge in his chef’s hat. We got to enjoy some of the leftovers at the end of his work day.
Before arriving in Miami, the Fourth of July did not have much significance other than my birthday. I don’t know what year exactly but I recall all of us sitting on the hood of my dad’s car watching the fireworks at Northside Shopping Center, while “Skipper Chuck,” Chuck Zink, emceed the event. You can just imagine the excitement of my birthdays going forward. We used to have so much fun. It was an event I looked forward to annually.
My parents and my oldest sister have passed away. The rest of us, with our respective families, live in Kendall. I have lived here since 1977. A lot has changed in 34 years. There were mostly strawberry fields in what now is a vibrant community. I live here with my 16-year-old son, David. He attends Belen Jesuit Preparatory School, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary in Miami this year.
I wonder at times what it would have been like if I had remained in Cuba. What would have become of our family there? Would we have been able to remain together? My parents never returned; they would not go as long as the Castro regime remained in power. In the spirit of their beliefs, I have not returned either to the place I was born. Maybe one day I will, but without a doubt Miami is home and it always will be.
Thank you Mami and Papi for your sacrifice and, most of all, your love.