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realclearworld

Cuban, with a detour in Mission Viejo

 Marta Darby -  author, blogger extraordinaire, and more importantly just about the best person I know, has shared her family's story in The Orange County Register!   Super congratulations Marta!

Cuban, with a detour in Mission Viejo
By MARTA DARBY

I was born in Havana, Cuba. My family left Cuba on Valentine's Day, Feb. 14, 1961. I know the date because it is stamped on a passport, and forever in my memory.

It cost $21.60 for the half-fare for children to fly the ninety miles from Havana to Miami.

It's not lost on me that I can easily spend more than that to feed my family at McDonald's, and that the distance is about roughly from here to San Diego.

We didn't tell anyone in Cuba that we were leaving. There were no goodbyes. My mother never saw her own mother again.

My dad left Cuba months earlier and was just waiting until my mother could get visas for the five girls.

My brother left Cuba as an unaccompanied minor on Dec. 26, 1960 — one of the original Pedro Pan kids taken in by Father Bryan O. Walsh in Miami.

So it was my mom, and us girls, and 13 suitcases on that midnight flight.

•••

Back then, in early 1961, Cubans would still go to the airport to greet other arriving exiles.

I remember being oh-so-tired and happy when we landed. I remember seeing my dad on the other side of the customs counter and not being allowed to go to him. I remember that he and my brother were yelling directions to my mother: "Ask for 3! Ask for 3!" I later found out that it was for the length of the visa. I remember the cheering and clapping when we finally made it through customs.

I remember wishing my dad a happy birthday and thinking how very old 50 was. I can only imagine the relief that was in his heart that day as the eight of us were reunited.

That was 48 years ago. All my family's memories of Cuba, B.C. (Before Castro) are happy ones. We still maintain many of our Cuban traditions and love all things Cuban, particularly the music and the food.

I am the youngest of six.

My parents, Luz and Rodolfo Verdés were married for 60 years. My dad, Papi, passed away in December of 1999. Before he died, he asked me to return his ashes to his hometown of Pinar del Rio.

"Wait," he said, "until Cuba is free." I will keep my promise to him one day. But, as of today, I am still waiting.

I don't know if it is because we spent the first few years in exile talking about when we would return to our home in Cuba. I don't know if it is that we left home and family and beloved places without much warning or planning. But not a day goes by that I'm not aware of a longing for the land of my birth. I fill it with the music and the food, and of course, I scrapbook, and I write.

I am happy to be connected to an amazing Cuban community online. Before anything else that I am, I am first and foremost Cuban. And I celebrate that every day. My immediate family has since grown to over 40 people who all consider themselves to be Cuban-Americans. My children, nieces and nephews who were all born here in the U.S. are also proud of their Cuban heritage.

•••

My sisters Miriam, Alina and I started school in Miami in the fall of '61. We spoke a tiny bit of English that we had learned back in Cuba.

We looked different. We dressed different. Our food was different. Yet there were so many of us experiencing the same things. At that time, there were so many Cuban exiles in Miami.

But time passed and we realized we would not be returning to Cuba. So we assimilated. We moved to California. We grew up. We married. We had families of our own.

In our homes we have tokens of our heritage. We drink café Cubano. We pay extra close attention to anything having to do with Cuba on the news. Practically the first thing we tell people we meet is that we're Cuban-Americans. We say it by way of explanation. We leave this part unsaid, but implied — "That's why we're different."

We are different.

We are proud U.S. citizens. We value freedom in a way many born here in the U.S. do not. We value family in a way someone who has never been separated from theirs would not. We pass our heritage on to our children so proudly. We love our culture. We love our food. We love our homeland. We love the USA.

We are no longer dreaming of the day we will return to Cuba.

And yet, we still have an intense desire to see real freedom come to our homeland.

But to this day, when we encounter other Cubans wherever we are, there's always a sweet recognition. Then comes the interview:

"Where are you from? How long have you been here? Do you still have family there?"

"Havana. 48 years. Yes."

Contact the writer: Marta lives with her husband, Eric, and 4 children, in Mission Viejo, in their cozy home with a white picket fence. She writes all about her Cuban-American life on her blog, http://www.mybigfatcubanfamily

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