The first time I saw my father cry was on March 14, 1967.
I was 26, he was 57. Dad, Mom and I were saying goodbye to Cuba forever. Hours later, we landed in Miami. After our documentation was received, we reunited with my mother’s sister, Estela. We arrived at my aunt’s house in Carol City. At our first dinner in exile, I noticed that after many years lacking the main staples in my country, I had forgotten all about olives, peas and delicious Del Monte peach halves in syrup that my father devoured. The mattress in my bed was so old and soft that we had to place a wooden door between the box spring and the mattress to make it firm. Still, I slept like a baby. I was in Miami.
The next day, we went to a Christian organization, where I found a beautiful blue dress. My mother got a coat and my dad a jacket. Friends and relatives came to visit bearing gifts. Just a few days later, my father got a job working the graveyard shift. Pilin, my dad’s nephew, gave him $85 to buy a 1956 Chevrolet Bel-Air. In those days, we called those cars “transportations.” Dad was really happy. He was going to get to know the streets of Miami. That weekend, we had our first Cuban sandwich at Badia’s.
Fourteen days after my arrival, I started working at Florida National Bank in downtown in its trust department. Our boss and three other employees comprised the bookkeeping area. Every morning, I took a one-hour bus ride from Carol City to downtown, via Seventh Avenue. Bank employees received a discount lunch card, and during lunch break, we shopped at Burdines, Richards, Jordan Marsh, Three Sisters, McCrory’s and Woolworth.
My father loved to drive and familiarize himself with the streets of Miami. We went to Zayre in Hialeah and visited my mother’s older sister in Little Havana. During this time, the Jersey Boys had one of their great hits and Dad was always singing, “I love you baby…” I got married in October that year. My husband and I moved close to downtown but in November rentals went up and we moved to Southwest Fifth Street.
In 1968, I got pregnant. We bought a house in Carol City so my mom could take care of the baby, but after a few months, my dad got sick and could not work, so my parents moved in with us. My first child, Ingrid, was born in 1969. In 1970, I had my second daughter, Eloise. I found a job close to home. But soon after, my father — who had continued to be ill — took his own life. My mother was devastated, so I stayed home to be with her, and soon after, we moved to Puerto Rico, where we lived for a little over two years. When we returned, I was amazed at how congested the traffic had become and noticed big changes in such little time.
Back in Miami, we bought a house in Westchester. Every Sunday, we attended Coral Way United Methodist Church. There, I reunited with friends, professors and ministers from my school in Cuba, Colegio Buenavista. I went to three consecutive Christmas parades in downtown, walked the first Calle Ocho Festival, and visited the zoo in Crandon Park. I remember buying fresh fish at the area where Bayside and the American Airlines Arena now stand. I can’t forget the go-go girls dancing in Miami Beach.
After our return to Miami, I worked at the offices of a trailer park on Southwest Eighth Street and then at at electronics shotp. Then, in 1978, my life took an unexpected turn — I got divorced. Searching for a better life, I started working at a bank in Hialeah as executive secretary to the senior vice president, and later I went to another bank on Brickell Avenue. There, I made my first Ecuadorean friends. The area was beginning to flourish with lots of international banks. Moving on, I was employed at a mortgage company on Northwest 79th Avenue. I made good friends there that I have to this day.
In the ’90s, it was difficult to find a good job, but after several part-time jobs, I was hired at Banco Cafetero International in the private banking department, working among Colombians, whom I still call my friends.
In 1986, I remarried and moved to Kendall. My husband Alberto and I are retired, but he continues his passion, which is preparing income taxes. He works from home. I joined the Senior LIFT Center where I made new friends from Puerto Rico, Ecuador, Chile and Venezuela. I go to the gym for zumba, yoga and water aerobics. I stay close to my family and friends. They fulfill my life.
I had a very happy life in my native Cuba, but March 14, 1967 changed my life for the better. Thank you, Miami!