From February 24, 2005:
I don’t recall whether it was a Saturday or a Sunday but I recall noticing it had turned out to be a beautiful South Florida day as we made our way through the tunnels and ramps at the Orange Bowl. The clear sky and light breeze went unnoticed by most as the previous few days in Miami had been ill-weathered and marred by pain and anger and protests and tears and more pain.
I was there with my girlfriend at the time, a Colombian girl who despite having lived her whole life in Miami had never really delved into the Cuban psyche of its diaspora. She was there with me for me. She knew what it meant to me. I had to be there. I had to go regardless of the hurt. She’d seen me crying for days. Seen my father depressed and my mother somber. She’d seen the anger build up in me and turn into a rage, then, as quickly as it had begun, lulled into a whimpering sob.
There were thousands of people there. I remember I had to fight back tears the moment we made it through the ramp and up into the stands. So many people, I thought. So many flags.
There were hundreds and hundreds of Old Glory’s waving alongside the red, white and blue of the Cuban flag. The colors of Venezuela waved there, and Colombia. Argentina and Brazil chimed in with the light breeze. Puerto Rico and Nicaragua represented. Dominican flags waved alongside flags from Jamaica and Mexico. It was a sea of solidarity. Symbols of our neighbors offering condolences and support.
On the stage below were red, white and blue wreaths and large photographs. Pictures of four men who had just been murdered. Men whose only crime was wanting freedom for the people of Cuba and who spent their days flying over the Straights of Florida seeking those seeking liberty. Men who saved countless lives. Who spent hours upon hours searching the ocean for the speck of a human trying to survive it.
An old couple came and sat next to us. Someone’s grandparents who had braved the parking and the crowd and the stairs and the ramps because they knew they had to be there. This was their fight. Their battleground and they came to make a stand. To be heard. I remember I helped the old woman sit. She held my arm as her years made her legs tremble when she bent to sit.
I dont think I will ever see or remember a more heartfelt “Gracias” as the one she gave me at that moment. She was sad and glad and proud all at the same time. There were alot of years in her eyes. Both her and her husband dressed to the nines, old school, just like my grandparents had always been.
Speeches were made. Roars of “Libertad! Libertad!” resounded through the stadium over and over again. Madeline Albright came up and assured us something would be done. The pressure would be put on the murderer. The world was with us, she said. They didnt seem like empty promises then.
The old folks next to us, their white hair gently dancing to the breeze never wept. They consoled my tears instead. The woman held my hand, softly ran her thumb across its back. No llores, mijo, she said. Dont cry. As if to say they had already run out of tears. Understood already what was incomprehensible to me.
We have been here before, the old man told me. We saw Kennedy here. We shed our tears then.
A moment of silence was announced, the din of the crowd slowly wanned. I helped the old woman up from her chair. My girlfriend held one hand, the old woman, this new Abuela of mine, held the other. I could hear her whispered prayers amid the sound of flags in the wind.
A faint sound approached from the South. It grew louder and louder. The crowd slowly began looking toward the sky. And then, during this moment of silence, four twin engine Brothers to the Rescue Cessnas appeared. The Missing Man Formation flew directly above us in honor of their fallen brothers.
My new grandmother looked up and squeezed my hand, then began to cry.
Today marks the memorial of the murder of three American citizens and one US legal resident by fidel castro. On February 24, 1996, Cuban Migs shot down 2 Brothers to the Rescue planes over international waters at the order of fidel castro.
Rest in peace, Hermanos.
And dont forget to visit the Shootdown page.