Tersi Agra Bendiburg: A ‘Cubana’ storyteller

The Cuban American story is diverse. Speaking of that, we chatted with Tersi Agra Bendiburg, a “Cubana” who grew up in Georgia. Her family story is similar to mine, and perhaps yours.

“Tersi had vivid memories from her childhood in post-revolution Cuba.  She remembers soldiers walking through her house, taking inventory of everything her family owned.  A year later, when they were to leave the country with nothing –not even her parents’ wedding rings, the soldiers returned to re-inventory all the contents of the house.  She also remembers her father hiding a young man in their home  (who had been shot by soldiers) until he could be passed along safely.

At age, ten, Tersi’s family moved to Mexico City where they stayed with a distant relative while her parents applied for political asylum in the United States.  That Christmas was the first time Carmen, age 3, had ever seen Christmas lights because religious celebrations had been halted after the revolution in Cuba.

It was a wonderland.  On the Dia de los Reyes, Three Kings Day, Tersi wrote to the kings to let them know Tersi and her family were no longer in Cuba, but were, instead, in Mexico City so they would know where to bring presents.  Her parents were so worried that Tersi had written a letter and they had no money to buy her a present.  It was then that she spoke with a relative from Decatur, Georgia who told Tersi that the kings had left presents for her and Carmen in Decatur, and that in the future she should direct her letters to Santa Claus because the kings said the coffee in America was too weak for men from the east and the icy streets were too much of a challenge for the camels.  Sure enough, when they arrived in Decatur, both girls had presents waiting for them.

In Decatur, the Agra family was sponsored by the First Baptist Church of Decatur.  They never needed welfare since they had a little furnished apartment and Mr. Agra began work almost immediately.  Tersi attended Oakhurst Elementary where she had the famous spinach incident, and many other adventures.

That first Halloween in the United States Tersi ran home with a pillowcase full of candy.  She dumped it out and said, “You just say trick-or-treat and they give you candy!”
“What a country!”  Her father exclaimed.”

Yes, what a country indeed!   

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