My sister and myself were given the ability to leave Cuba; however, my parents were not granted this permission – they were to come sometime later at an unknown date. Concurrently, my godmother and her son (my cousin) had presented their papers and were granted the ability to leave the country. My sister (6 at the time) and myself (9 at the time), along with my godmother and cousin, were able to proceed with getting the departure dates ready. My parents were strong, staunch individuals (I am not sure that I would have been that strong) who took us to the airport and had to leave us to go into the “pecera” (the fish bowl) by ourselves with my godmother and cousin. They had spoken to my sister and I the night before and told us that they were not coming with us and that my sister had to listen to what I was telling her to do. This was the day I became an adult and knew I had a real responsibility for my sister’s well-being.
The Pan Am plane came and was being prepared for our flight to Miami. Mom and Dad would come by the “pecera” and blow kisses and hugs through the glass which, of course, we returned. We had a short flight to Miami. My godmother and cousin deserted us by the luggage carousel – can you imagine discarding two helpless little angels, not looking back to see what would happen to us. My father had a good friend in Miami who went to the airport to meet us and wondered where my godmother and cousin had gone. He and his wife were in charge of the teenage housing for one of the Catholic refuge camp that had been opened for children being sent to the US from Cuba by themselves. Thank God for their being at the airport. They were granted approval to bring us to the refuge camp and keep us under their care. This was during the celebration of Christmas (Little Kings Day), so they ensured that we celebrated as if nothing had changed. But, it had – my parents weren’t there and we had no household to claim.
Within a week, my sister and I were given a ‘scholarship’ to a Catholic Orphanage in Ohio. Within a matter of two weeks, we had become individuals in a foreign country not knowing the customs or the language and living in an orphanage even though we were not orphans.
We reunited with our parents much later. But that topic is for another write-up!
Ram's note - Aleida, thank you so much for sharing your deeply moving, immensely inspirational story of humanity amid adversity. Your amazingly positive spirit is something that I shall continue to be in awe of. Thank you for giving me the honor of posting your story for the blog.
With much affection and admiration,