This is the fifth Mother’s Day after my mother’s passing. I expect most people, certainly most Cubans, see their mothers as special if not extraordinary, which no doubt involves significant bias, and I’m no different. I suppose devoted mothers have many things in common and are relatively similar, but my mother was more unusual as a person than as a mother.
Her family was lower middle class, but she excelled in school and was able to go to university on scholarship. She was quietly religious; serious; not very social; thrifty (made her own clothes); a dutiful if not a natural housewife; averse to pretense, sentimentality and payasería; very good at seeing through BS; and not all that Cuban (she took after her father, a Spanish immigrant who was always an outsider).
She believed in God, but not so much in men. She expected little from politicians, so when Castro showed up as would-be messiah, she didn’t buy it. Initially she thought he was just a poseur, someone too good to be true, but she soon saw he was not a “soft” dictator after money and status like Batista. She realized he was after a great deal more, including the hearts and minds of her children, and that terrified her.
She became obsessed with getting her kids out of harm’s way before it was too late. It had nothing to do with material issues; she had first-hand knowledge of indoctrination in the schools, in addition to the totalitarian nature of the system, and she feared her children would be taken from her and turned into alien communist robots. She dreaded every Castro speech, lest he issue some new decree closing the exit door. Although not domineering, she made it clear to my father that leaving Cuba was both imperative and urgent.
He agreed, but being deeply rooted in his native environment, I’m not sure he would have left of his own initiative. However, she was dead serious, and I expect she would have left without him if that’s what it took to save her kids — she’d never have bought the idea they should stay in Cuba to “be with their father” (which has much to do with my views on what happened with Elián González). It took a good three years to finally get “permission” to essentially escape, and during all that time she was wholly focused on la salida.
Later, in exile, she was largely immune to nostalgia. She saw la Cuba de antes as dead and gone, and more or less buried it. She never contemplated going back to visit, and it was absolutely out of the question that her children would go and put themselves within reach of the evil from which she’d worked so hard to distance them. In a way, it was as if that had been the major task of her life, her greatest challenge and accomplishment: leaving her past, her world and other loved ones behind forever to secure her kids’ future.
Thank God she pulled it off.