A Cuban father remembered
In the Miami Herald, a wonderful and emotional piece by Fabiola Santiago on the recent passing of her father:
Heartache and hope made Dad a true exile
My father was a true exile.
Although he loved this country deeply and the United States could do no wrong in his eyes, he hung on to his Cuban citizenship, carrying no longer the hope of a return but always and forever, until his last breath, the torch for his native island.
“I was born in Cuba and I will remain a Cuban no matter where I am,” he would say. “No one can take that away from me.”
On Sunday we buried my father, Aniceto Teodoro Santiago, 88, in a Miami cemetery where clusters of American flags flutter in the breeze, the same neighborhood where we have lived since 1973. He wore for his last trip, as was his wish, the suit he donned when he left Cuba on a Freedom Flight in 1969 to an exile he thought temporary.
“ Sastrería M. Reyes, Matanzas,” reads the label on his brown tailored suit.
Made in Matanzas, as was he; born to immigrant parents from the Canary Islands on April 17, 1923, a date that would prove fateful. He might have been arrested and thrown in prison for helping the Bay of Pigs invaders on April 17, 1961, he told me, had it not been that he was celebrating his birthday and only learned of the invasion when it was all over.
Orphaned at age 5 after his father died from pneumonia, my father started a food distribution business as a boy, fetching groceries for the neighbors on his bicycle for a dime a week to help his mother María support five brothers and sisters. He quit school at 12 to work full time and he and his little enterprise grew up together. He graduated to a motorcycle with a sidecar, then cars (which he bought and sold for profit), and finally to a truck he stocked with freshly baked bread and crackers every dawn to make deliveries to bodegas and cafeterias all over Matanzas and its surrounding rural towns.
All was ripped from him in an instant one day in 1965 when the Cuban government confiscated his small but thriving business. The olive-clad officials who took the truck keys and his contracts asked him to stay on as a state employee, but my father declined, telling them he’d rather leave the country. As punishment, he was sent to work in the agriculture fields in the countryside, harvesting root vegetables, picking tobacco leaves and cutting sugarcane until we were finally allowed to leave.
My father suffered the loss of Cuba, all that a homeland represents in history and loved ones left behind, deep in his heart. The sadness was always there in the small and large moments of the everyday.
Once, I treated him to a weekend in Naples for Father’s Day. I had booked an oceanfront room where the soft white sands and the clear waters were right outside our door, and he, my mother and I had a great time — until his mind flew home.
“If only we were in Varadero,” my father said, voice cracking, eyes tearing at the thought of his beloved beach near Matanzas. “There is nothing in the world like Varadero.”
At times like this I would enumerate all he had built here: Bought and paid in full a good home; lived through a myriad of health scares, including a quintuple bypass; raised my brother Jorge and me, who became professionals and married good people, Kim and Wayne, and gave him five grandchildren – Tanya, Marissa, Erica, Sean and Nicole – and a great-grandson, Devereaux.
Most of all, he had my mother, Olga Ruiz, who was his inseparable companion for 62 years, six of courtship and 56 of marriage.
Continue reading HERE.