How a young Winston Churchill discovered Cuban cigars

We remember Winston Churchill who was born on this day in 1874 and died in 1965. He was one of the great leaders of the 20th century and UK Prime Minister 1940-1945 and 1951-55. Churchill was also a great author and won the Nobel Prize in Literature for his six-volume history of World War II and for political speeches.

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American woman, made with Cuban Parts

As a descendant of Cuban exiles, I grew up in the vibrant city of Hialeah, “La Ciudad del Progreso.” Born to hard-working parents who walked the line of middle-class aspirations, I was initially unaware of the profound disparities in socio-economic classes that existed in Miami. Our family ethos emphasized the value of education and the virtue of seizing work opportunities.

Weekends were sacred, invariably spent at the abuelos’ house. It was here, under the tutelage of my Abuelo Mingo, that I truly connected with my heritage. He instilled in me a deep appreciation for our lineage, highlighting the honor and privilege of being a descendant of Cubans.

My story speaks to a reality that many children of immigrants can relate to. Growing up in a new country, there’s often a delicate balancing act between embracing the new culture and preserving the traditions and values of the homeland. This balance is often facilitated by family elders, like my Abuelo Mingo, who serve as a bridge between the past and the future.

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When July 26 turned out to be an ugly day

Growing up in a Cuban-American home acquainted me with a lot of the island of Cuba’s history.  

I guess that’s normal in immigrant homes, but my parents were the type committed to teaching us how communism destroyed what they lovingly called “la patria” or homeland.   

Conversations at our family dinners were always about Cuba.  My parents would often warn us about leftists by saying “cuidado” or “be careful” because they always tell you what you want to hear.    

Every time a Third World politician came on TV preaching “injustice,” my parents would say one of their favorite lines about the movie that they saw already and didn’t end well.

Once a year, the topic would be about what they would refer to as Moncada.  On this day, July 26, 1953, Fidel Castro and his followers attacked the Moncada Barracks in eastern Cuba.

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Looking for a good book to read this summer?

“La Belle Créole” is the story of Mercedes Santa Cruz y Montalvo, a Cuban woman in the early years of the 19th century. She was known as the Cuban Countess who captivated Havana, Madrid, and Paris. This summer, check out this book by Alina García-Lapuerta.

We spoke with Alina and our friend Fausta Rodriguez about the book a few years ago.

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We remember Don Newcombe (1927-2019) who played in Cuba

We remember Don Newcombe who was born in Madison, New Jersey on this day in 1926. He died in 2019. Newcombe broke with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1946 and won NL Rookie of the Year: 17-8, 19 complete games & 5 shutouts.

Like many future major leaguers, Newcombe played in Cuba. This is the story:

Newbombe played two winters in the Cuba: 1946-47 with Matanzas and 1948-49 with Marianao and Almendares, going a combeind 1-4 in nine appearances.

More importantly, Newcombe was with Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella and Roy Partow as members of the Montreal Royals team that conducted spring training in Cuba with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 as Robinson was preparing to break Major League Baseball’s color barrier.

After military service in 1952-53, Don became one of the best pitchers of the 1950’s, including winning 27-7, the NL MVP & Cy Young in 1956. He retired in 1960 with 149 wins, 136 complete games and 26 shutouts.

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When the State steals baseball

Years ago in Cuba, my father, brother, and I spent a lot of Sunday afternoons watching baseball games. I have memories of the old professional Cuban winter league and players like Minnie Miñoso, Camilo Pascual, Pedro Ramos and others.  However, most of my memories were actually watching the new teams that the regime created after outlawing pro teams. It was decent baseball but all politics. In the old professional league, the outfield fences had advertising from local merchants. The new league used those spaces to promote slogans praising the revolution and attacking capitalism. As my father used to say, everything with these people is pushing their agenda. It was.

So am I surprised the Left is now targeting baseball?  I am not because we’ve seen this movie before.  I am glad that Mike Gonzalez addressed this issue vis-à-vis the Dodgers. 

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Lindberg welcomed by huge crowds in Cuba

Charles Lindbergh visited Cuba in 1929 during his worldwide “hero” tour: With Party of Seven He Arrives at Santiago After a Brief Stop at Havana. He was a hit everywhere he went, and Cuba was no exception. The Cuba Post Office even released a stamp celebrating his heroics.

Jimmy Stewart’s The Spirit of St. Louis is a great movie, especially thanks to the scenes of Charles Lindbergh trying to stay awake over the Atlantic Ocean.

On May 21 in 1927, Charles Lindbergh did something that had never been done before:

At 7:52 a.m. EST on May 20, The Spirit of St. Louis lifted off from Roosevelt Field, so loaded with fuel that it barely cleared the telephone wires at the end of the runway. Lindbergh traveled northeast up the coast. After only four hours, he felt tired and flew within 10 feet of the water to keep his mind clear. As night fell, the aircraft left the coast of Newfoundland and set off across the Atlantic.

At about 2 a.m. on May 21, Lindbergh passed the halfway mark, and an hour later dawn came. Soon after, The Spirit of St. Louis entered a fog, and Lindbergh struggled to stay awake, holding his eyelids open with his fingers and hallucinating that ghosts were passing through the cockpit.

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When Enos Slaughter and the Cardinals visited Cuba

We remember Enos Slaughter, a great hitter and member of The Hall of Fame. Enos was born in North Carolina on this day in 1916 and joined the Cardinals in 1938. Enos played 13 seasons with the Cardinals, plus a three-year stint in the military during World War II. Slaughter was a sergeant in the Army Air Corps. After the war, he came back to play ball, retired with a .300 batting average, 2,383 hits, 1,237 runs scored, and 1,304 RBI.

Along the way, Enos spent some time in Cuba. This is the story:

In March 1940, the Cardinals returned to Havana for a four-game exhibition series against a Cuban all-star team. The all-stars were managed by Havana native Adolfo Luque, who pitched in the big leagues for 20 years (primarily with the Reds and Giants) and earned 194 wins, and featured left-handed pitcher Luis Tiant Sr., father of the future major-league pitcher of the same name.

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Another anniversary for the ‘what if’ conversation

My parents are gone and everyone from that generation is gone too. I won’t have that annual telephone conversation with my father on this day or with my uncle, who was a student at the university in the 1950’s. My father’s cousin, who was arrested around that time, is gone too. I am left with the memories of those conversations and the sacrifice that they all made for us.

My life changed on April 17, 1961 with the Bay of Pigs invasion.  Without question, this invasion was the biggest political event of my childhood. I was an 8-year-old boy living with my parents in Havana, and I don’t believe my parents had decided to leave yet, but they were unhappy with what was going on.

All of us have a memory of this day. I saw the events in Cuba, some of you were already in the US, and heard it on the radio. And the vast majority of you were not born yet, so you heard stories from your parents or “abuelos.” One way or another, we’ve all heard the “what if” conversation about what could have been.

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