It was 1964, many years ago today, that my dad, mom, and the three kids woke up in Cuba knowing that things would never be the same. A few hours later, we caught a flight to Mexico City and then Jamaica. We waited in Kingston for a couple of months until our papers were ready to fly to the U.S. All five of us slept in a small room, my parents on the bed, our little sister to their side and my brother and I got the floor duty. We rented the room from a Jamaican fellow who worked in Cuba and now helped other families as well. He worked in the sugar cane fields as a guest worker or something that many Jamaicans used to do in pre-Castro Cuba. They’d cut sugar, earn a few Cuban pesos and send something to their families. The Cuban peso was worth something back then.
Nobody said a lot that morning of July 2nd 1964. My parents had decided to leave after the Cuban Missile Crisis and the “communist radicalization” of Cuba. They did not want us to attend government schools where kids were taught communist ideas and history was rewritten to justify “la revolucion.” Does some of that sound familiar if you have kids in school today? Rewriting of history? Fidel’s version of CRT, or something like that.
My parents knew that this day would come but it was still a bit hard for them to take. Cuba was all that they knew. They were born there and never expected to leave their country to pursue a better life anywhere else. Cubans did not leave the island back then. Instead, they moved to the island from other countries.
My friend, author Carlos Eire, wrote about this a few years ago:
Between 1900 and 1930, the first three decades of Cuban independence, about one million immigrants flooded into the island, mostly European, and mostly northern Spaniards. This population tsunami also included Asians, Levantines, and Jews.
These immigrants doubled the population of the island and changed its complexion, literally. Tens of thousands of immigrants continued to flow into Cuba every year after that, up to 1958. Immigration from the U.S. was comparatively slight, but in 1958 there were more Americans living in Cuba than Cubans in the U.S.A.
Emigration from Cuba was minimal during this half century.
Rates of immigration as high as this and of emigration as low require a robust and growing economy, and a considerable degree of political stability.
By the way, one of those Spaniards who moved to Cuba was my mother’s father who settled in the island looking for a better life. He found it, along with his brothers who came with him. They became successful entrepreneurs, but everything was “nationalized” or stolen by the communists.
My father and mother are now gone and my brother and sister have their own lives and families. I used to call my parents on this day and joke with them about the family anniversary. I would always say in Spanish something like do you know what day this is? Of course, they knew and usually remembered something about that day.
It just does not seem possible that it happened so long ago. I will always be grateful to my late parents for bringing me here. It was very hard on them but they did it for the three of us. They did not want us to grow up under communism and I thank them every day for that.