The Summer of 1970, a Cuban Journey

My daughter asked me to share a peek back in time to the day I came to America. She’s a clever one to attempt to distract me this way right now, I’ll have her know.

It was the summer of 1970. I was only six years old, but there are memories etched in our heart as clear as the light of this very day.

Still standing on Cuban soil, I remember how it took several customs agents to hold me down for my vaccine. I have the distinguished left upper arm stamp to prove it, in my case a cluster from being pricked several times. If you’re a Cuban who made that journey, you know the mark.

I remember my parents nervously trying to distract me from crying. They’ve shared the story many times, how the Castrist customs officials would often use this as a twisted motive to keep families from leaving. She’s crying because she doesn’t want to leave, therefore she must stay.

You’re a child, and of course the magnitude of such crude realities doesn’t hit you at that moment, but in time it does. It does.

Para el amigo sincero que me da su mano franca. José Martí

Breathe. To think of all that my parents risked and sacrificed for freedom, including my dad being unjustly imprisoned, tormented and tortured preceding our exile, solely for political reasons. If not for their only child, they may have never left that island. Most of our family is still there.

We were separated from so much we loved, but no one could keep me from making the journey without my favorite doll. I kept it all these years. I boarded that momentous freedom flight with it, sat it on my lap and held on to it for dear life until we stepped into my aunt’s Miami home. My new temporary home, a large central air-conditioned four bedroom house that seemed so cold and empty in contrast to the lively open-doored and open-windowed Havana apartment that we once shared with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, neighbors who bustled in and out all day.

Abruptly, an only child who had never been one before.

In the days to follow, fevers from vaccines, tears from homesickness, my first taste of bubble gum. I could still hear my family laughing when I asked, “Por la libre?” If you’re Cuban, you understand. We were used to rationed products, forced by the government to keep record in a booklet. If and when available, you got your dozen eggs per such and such and on and on.

New to America, second grade schooldays were very difficult. Fear, sadness, dread, I still feel every emotion I felt then. I can easily relive the dozens of times I called my parents from the school office sobbing, “Me quiero ir para la casa.” Fifty years later, I still want to go home.

I have so many memories, how I missed out on a larger family table where no one dared to eat until my grandfather took his seat and gave the go, the bright bold colors of Spanish conversation, gathering together in the middle of the work day pausing to rest, to live, it’s all still very vivid.

A way of life, in a blink, switch.

Do you remember when families would gather around a radio to listen for important news, when the world paused in respect and grieved as one? I did not live that but I know friends who did. An entire nation would mourn together. A world.

I am saddened, deeply grieved and disturbed by our world. I am desperately searching for humanity, but sometimes it seems nowhere to be found.

Still calling from that school office, take me home.

To every Cuban.
Written with a heavy heart, as I hear the freedom cries.

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves;
ensure justice for those being crushed.

Proverbs 31:8

Published by Marcia Pilar

And a Little Flower, earth & home