"October 8th, 1968...Communist Cuba" Homanded's Profile
On January 28th, 2008, my father peacefully passed away.
Suffering from long health issues but, having beaten all the odds several times, he awoke this particular morning feeling "down".
My mother, thinking he might be coming down with a cold babied him as only she could.
He had breakfast but no lunch.
At 1:30 in the afternoon, he called her into the room. When she asked him what he wanted, he told her he was feeling "bad". Mom approached him, smiled and asked if he just wanted to be babied some more. She told him she loved him, he told her: "Not as much as I love you"...closed his eyes and passed.
Mom, thinking he had fallen asleep, tried to remind him to sip from his sippy cup as he needed to keep hydrated. When, after several attempts to get a response...there was none...she realized he had called her to his bed side to bid his final, loving goodbye. The following is my tribute to him:
October 8 began just as any other day had begun for me as a child in Cuba… watching mom trying to get us ready for school, alone. My father had unexpectedly been whisked away 8 months earlier to do enforced labor in the sugar cane fields far from Habana where we lived. We had not seen him in numerous months except for a brief few days when mysteriously he had been dropped off at our door suffering from a self inflicted machete wound. The wound was to his lower arm and he had acquired it as a result of his lack of skills in manual field chores. My father was not used to this type of work as his pre-revolution job was as a lawyer’s assistant to the government agency which processed visas for tourists and locals wishing to visit far away lands of which our family only read about. Now he suddenly found himself having to perform manual labor which was normally reserved for farmers or hired hands.
In 1959 (the year I was born) a charismatic young Fidel Castro initiated a revolution which succeeded in overthrowing then president Fulgencio Batista. Soon afterwards, changes started taking place throughout Cuba. People were stripped of their titles, family property and their lands were confiscated, strict government laws were imposed and public executions of individuals siding with the former government became common place. Food ration cards became a staple of Cuban society, for food was reserved for the government’s “select few,” and to the winners went the spoils. Food lines became the norm and day to day basics became more difficult to find. Religion, public meetings, political discussions were all banned!
Some individuals, such as my parents, quickly foresaw all of these changes as communism in disguise. Many foresaw this long before Castro’s infamous speech to the Cuban people (the one where ironically, a white dove seemingly on cue, flew onto his shoulder and deposited bird crap on it!) An insignificant act, but one which has never lost significance with the present Cuban exile community throughout the world! ...The universal symbol of Love and Peace had defiled the new leader of the Cuban people.
My parents knew that they did not want to raise their children in such an oppressive society and quickly requested political asylum to the United States. My more resourceful aunts and uncles left the island nation first and invested in real estate in Miami Florida in order to sponsor subsequent family members wishing to flee. This was a requirement as the United States Government required sponsorships of individuals seeking political asylum in order to prevent them from becoming burdens on society.
Additionally*, this was LONG* before the present day system, where as soon as one arrives nowadays, one is greeted with food stamps, automatic visas, access to medical insurance, even public housing aide. In 1968, my family only received a white cardboard box containing a ham & cheese sandwich, a soda, toothpaste, a toothbrush, and other miscellaneous welcome gifts as we were processed in what is now Miami-Dade County’s historical “Freedom Tower”.
landmark…but I’m getting ahead of myself….*
Before leaving Cuba, and prior to requesting political asylum status, our family was branded “Betrayers of the Government” or "Gusanos"(Worms) **which meant we were under constant watch. Cuba’s Communist social class consists of “Committees” which are spread out throughout the various townships. These select few people (usually strong leaders and members of the Communist party) are a form of ad hock committee designed to keep watch over the comings and goings on of an entire neighborhood. One is under constant supervision with regular impromptu reports about your behavior, social gatherings, and even types of TV/Radio shows which one watches being reported to the higher-ups in government – Fidel’s Henchmen!
It became well known that many a Committee member became quite well off due to their own unscrupulous bribery demands or worse yet, of their jealous and spiteful conflicts which sometimes erupted between neighbors, giving them the power to blackmail individuals with unwarranted accusations and false denouncements towards their character. A practice that still goes on today beyond the eyes of the tourists that visit the island.*
The first item of business in the 1960’s when one requested political asylum was for a militia party to come knocking on ones door and thoroughly inventory EACH* and EVERY* item one had in their possession. This inventory took into account everything from knives, forks and dinner plates in ones apartment or house to the clothes you had in your closet. Under Communist Law, these items became property of the state and one was not allowed to sell, give away or destroy anything that was state owned. It was the Committee member’s responsibility to report any “suspicious” activities or attempts of “illegal” business, which included the trading or selling of household goods..*
The second was to force adult male (and female if they didn't have children to care for) members into ardous day long jobs designed as punishment for leaving the island but disguised as mandatory labor to help the nation prosper. Many a family were separated as the fathers were force to cut sugarcane, pick cotton and plant fields. Days were long, often without food or poorest of quality food which many exhiles admit were not fit even for livestock. It was meant to break the people's will. My father was no exception..*
Mom walked us to school on that morning of October 8th as she had done every morning and left us to our childhood studies. Already at that age I remember feeling like an outcast. We had been branded children of “Gusanos” (worms), the literal translation - used to ridicule people who had turned their backs on the regime. Even at such a young age children could be cruel, but that did not phase my desire to learn and I continued to be a good student, excelling at drawing, biology and reading.
Early that afternoon, I remember hearing a commotion outside our classroom. Looking out, I found my mother being escorted by 2 members of the militia (government police), both dressed in their traditional olive green fatigues. My mom in tears was quickly met by my teacher, Ms. Marilu, who embraced her and then returned to the classroom to hug my brother and I. She told us to wave goodbye to our friends as we were leaving on a journey. .
I had heard my mother give vague explanations as to why we were called names, why we were looked down upon in society, and why we had to be extra careful with the things we said and did, all of which I took in, but what my 8 year old mind could not completely comprehend was the finality of leaving my friends, family and homeland behind. What I DID understand was that I was finally going to get to see my father, a hard working man who had disappeared from my life an eternity ago.*
The militia escorted my mother, brother and I back to our modest apartment 3 blocks away from the school. My mother was given 5 minutes to quickly gather up some clothing for us to wear on our trip. Questions such as “Where are we going?, What is happening?, and When do I get to see dad?,” kept running through my head. The feeling that something monumental was happening was making the hair on the back of my young neck stand up, even as a little boy..
I remember the militia unrolling the red tape and sealing our apartment doors after my mother had exited with an armful of clothes (which were quickly inventoried and crossed off the list by the Committee member). .*
We were made to stand against the iron railing of our 2nd story balcony as the police took inventory of the remainder of the household..our poor mother being made to feel like a common criminal and having to account for the whereabouts of everything she once owned but now belonged to the goverment!
I remember an issue with some broken dishes and a missing decorative vase which had been broken accidentally. My mother had carefully kept the pieces neatly tucked away inside a paper bag in the back of a cupboard in case they were called into question..* The government seeks ANY excuse to deny your exit visa at the last moment citing stealing. The question is, how can you steal something which rightly belongs to you to begin with? My mother wanted to make sure we didn’t encounter any such hassles. After a couple of hours of standing on our balcony and having satisfied the head of the inventory committee, our papers were finally stamped. My mother, brother and I then walked to our aunt’s house who had volunteered to baby sit us while my mother drove to the country to be reunited with my father.
I remember my father’s bittersweet coming home reunion. He had grown a moustache and beard (he had always been clean shaven) and looked thin and gaunt. With tears in his eyes, he hugged me first, then my brother and then the rest of my family, for he knew that it would be the last night that he’d ever see them. I remember an endless throng of people coming to see us and bid us goodbye. My mother came from a large family, 10 sisters, 1 brother, all who had married and had children of their own. My father came from another large family of 9 siblings, most, also with children. .
At one point in the afternoon, my favorite aunt, Amalia, pulled my brother and I into a room in order to dress us with matching tan suits which she had sewn for us with contra banded material. This was my mother’s doing as she had managed to save some for us in order to have something decent to wear on our journey to America. These are the suits that we appear pictured with on that last day. My grandfather slipped a ring onto my finger for safekeeping as a memento of him. He died 4 months after we arrived to the United States. To this day, that is the only memory I have of him.
What I DON'T* remember*is grasping the immensity of it all, only confusion and wondering what the big deal was. I know my brother and I played with my cousins that night, I know my aunts, uncle and only surviving grandfather wanted to hold us. I remember my mother crying endless tears and my father kissing her over and over again. I don’t remember feeling scared, just anxious.
All too soon, the militia showed up again, called out our name and ushered us into an open backed vehicle for our final transport to Varadero Airport. Aunts, uncles, older cousins, friends, neighbors, and people whom I’d never seen were all suddenly there, all at once trying to scream out a final goodbye while the militia tried to hurry our departure. The street seemed to swell with a throng of people, like a block party!
I remember my mother and father’s final goodbyes to their loved ones as we drove away and I remember my first surge of fear and insecurity seeping in as my brother started to wail uncontrollably. My brother’s crying a result of being a frightened 5 years old reacting to his parents angst and not of the actual realization that his life was forever changing at that moment. Children reacting more to their parents sudden loss of self control which in turn triggered the insecurities in ourselves. My body tightened down to my toes...
The next two nights at the airport would be miserable. There was no food to eat and one had to endure an endless slow buearacratic inept procedure to exit the country. Families would be called out by numbers, checked once, twice, and then had to endure a final documentation check. The red-tape, mumbo-jumbo was designed not as being necessary, but as a final attempt to “break” the betrayers before finally being boarded onto an airplane bound for Miami.
Finally, on October 10th, 1968, our number was called out and we headed to the Tarmac to climb the stairs to an awaiting Pan American Airplane.
This was my first trip; this was my first experience of travel. I only remember 2 things about it.
I remember the feeling of departure as the plane took off, losing control of myself and my mother taking my hand and telling me to pray and genuflect (cross myself) – a superstitious act I still perform to this day everytime I board a plane.
I remember the plane making a circle above the island as we took off, EVERYONE on the plane breaking into CUBAN NATIONAL ANTHEM as the adults cried for their homeland and loved ones and the possibility they may never see them again. Yet the emotion of the moment was somehow lost to the mnd of an 8 year old. It is only now as an adult I can fully appreciate it.
The feeling of excitement and awe as we rose above cloud level to then see blue sky as the plane leveled out and we saw only grey and white clouds below us. An 8 year old boy full of excitement and awe, wondering what was in stored at the end of that journey. Today, I get that same feeling each time I embark on a new adventure!
My desire for travel only grew after that, yet I realize that every part of my life has been but a series of small journeys. From personal choices that I’ve made and which have affected me and others as well as things that were "naturally" chosen for me but have presented their own set of challenges. It’s all been part of the journey.
and the opportunity it offers us to share our travel experiences with others. I appreciate and I am constantly inspired by the similarities in a world so full of differences, and how people from so many different walks of life; seeking adventure and knowledge, seem to come together through travel. Most of all, I’m encouraged by the simplicity of being able to make friends worldwide once we share our tips, stories and insights with our fellow travelers.
Life has afforded me the opportunity to travel to some great parts of the world. I’ve been to every state in the Union except for three and hope to complete the list by seeing New Mexico, North and South Dakota some day.
I’m often discouraged by the present day situation throughout the world we live in; the hatred that exists between cultures, the conflicts over boundaries and the greed of man towards resources which are ultimately a gift from the earth. I am also disheartened by the anger which people demonstrate towards things which they do not understand - and in turn deem them unfit or disgusting. No one should be made to feel inferior just because they are different!
Masking fear with discrimination is too common an observation which troubles me of my fellow man and being judgemental because of self doubts and insecurities is equally disturbing. To "quote" a higher power in order to strengthen their individual point of view is a travesty.
I’m just as quickly refreshed when I’ve looked into the eyes of an innocent child existing on bare essentials and with no sense of loss or want for that which he or she doesn’t know. I'm enlightened by the simple masses who welcome strangers to their land with genuine graciousness expecting nothing more than to learn from us as we do from them.
Peace, respect and the freedom to exist remains our biggest asset as present and future goodwill ambassadors of our own countries.
I hope our tips help others and I hope to keep learning from all of you.
Thank you in advance,
Kenya and Egypt!*
After years of researching my dream trip and thinking it would all be fantasy wasted for day dreaming lazy days or mere wishes as I watched endless hours of the Discovery Channel or Animal Planet we are unexpectedly getting to travel to Kenya and Egypt.
Have received alot of help from the various forums and members who have either made the trip themselves or have put me in contact with people who have.
Thanks to all who've helped thus far...
Look for our upcoming trips and pics. I'd like to think that now that we've been a member of VT for over a year we will have developed the sense of looking for tips on our journeys...We've begun our task by chronicling our research as to hotels, tourguides and best deals.
We hope that by doing this as a "How to Journal" we will save some fellow travelers out there the frustrations sometimes involved in acquiring the best deals.
Look for these under our Kenya Travelogue pages titled: "CHOOSING THE RIGHT TOUR OPERATOR"
If fellow VT'ers have suggestions for us, please, by all means
SEND US IDEAS!!!
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