"Once our eyes are opened, we cannot pretend we don't know what to do. God, who weighs our hearts and keeps our souls, knows that we know, and holds us responsible to act." Proverbs 24:12

“There are no strangers here; Only friends you haven’t yet met.”- William Butler Yeats

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Replay of a Huge Blessing

Since I've changed my blog look and know that I have quite a few new readers, I thought I would take this time to share a post I wrote a little over a year ago. I am so very blessed to be an American citizen in a country where freedom is something that most people never stop to thank God for, that is until they step out of their comfort zone and see how the world around them lives.

.....and the Land of the Free! (long)

March 31, 2007

About a month ago, Debbie had asked for me to blog about my own citizenship. Well, I was thinking what day better than today to share my story.

Why today, you ask? Today is a very special day in my life. It is the 40th anniversary of my having come into the United States!! Yes, at 2.7 years old, I arrived in this beautiful country. It is truly the land of the free.

I think most of you have guessed already, but I am Cuban. Now, Cuban-American. I am very proud of my heritage and my people.

I don't really want to get into a political post, but I think many of you know, Cuba is a communist country. One of the few left in the world. It is now a totalitarian state controlled solely by Fidel Castro, who is Chief of State, Head of Government, First Secretary of the Communist Party (PCC), and commander in chief of the armed forces.

My parents were in their late teens when Castro took power of the small island on January 1, 1959. By the time 1961 rolled in, both my parents were fighting against the revolution. They knew, even with all the "positive" propaganda, that communism would devastate the country, as it did. Slowly, any land or housing that Cubans owned were taken away from them and became State property. The citizens were now working for the state and being given rationed food that they were allowed to turn in "coupons" for 2x per month. This included 5 lbs. of sugar and 10 lbs of rice for a family of four. To this day, beef is only permitted to be eaten by tourist or top government officials. I digress.

On December 1, 1965, the second "wave" of Cuban exiles began coming into the U.S. via what came to be known as "The Freedom flights". My parents had only been married for 4 years. My brother was 3 years old. I was 2. After much soul-searching, they made the decision to flee the country. They began the tedious process of filing the necessary paperwork for both my grandparents, my parents, my brother and me to leave the country. As soon as people applied for a permit to leave the county, many lost their jobs and they were likened to that of sitting ducks instead of productive citizens of communism. Although some people may have planned for a few months of unemployment, they usually were left without work in Cuba for several years. Many people were turned down. They were ostracized, and forced to do hard labor in agriculture But, it was worth the risk.

After waiting months to see if they were approved, the news came. The Cuban government denied exits to my grandfather and my Dad, but my mother, grandmother and the children were allowed to leave. Both my father and grandfather were sent to the agriculture labor camp.

It was then that my parents were faced with a very difficult decision. Would my mother and grandmother leave with the children to a country where they didn't know the language, the people and possibly be separated from their husbands forever, in order to allow us the opportunity to live a life of freedom? Or would they remain as a complete family in a country where food, medicine and now even shelter was scarce, not to mention military police watching every move made because all of your freedoms were washed away when Castro came into power?

They selflessly thought of us first, the children, and chose the separation. On March 31, 1967, my mother, grandmother, brother and I said goodbye to our fathers and grandfather and boarded a plane to Miami, with only the clothes on our backs. We were allowed no luggage, no personal items. We were met at the airport by Red Cross workers who assisted in providing food and clothing for those immigrants coming in. Once we arrived, we settled in New Jersey first with some family members of my fathers. My mother worked in a factory long hours and studied English, while my grandmother cared for us at home. A couple of months after arriving, my Mom was able to settle us into a small apartment atop of a beauty parlor in Union City, NJ. It's funny because I was so little, but I clearly remember my Mom always hushing us and never being allowed to wear shoes on the wood floors because it would bother the people downstairs.

For two years, my mother and grandmother persisted in filing paperwork for the petitioning of my father and grandfather to leave the island. Finally, in 1969, we were all reunited and a family once again. My parents later heard that minutes before my father & grandfather's plane left the island, the military police had raided the apartment where they lived because they had been informed that my Dad had fought against the revolution. Thank you, Jesus for keeping him safe!

I began kindergarten up in New Jersey without knowing a word of English. I quickly learned the language, as did my brother. My Dad immediately found a job, my Mom continued working at the factory. She continued studying English and successfully acquired a degree in medical secretary at the same time. In 1970, at 7 years old and just weeks before my sister was born, we relocated to Miami where I grew up.

At the age of 21 years old, on May 22, 1984, I stood in an auditorium filled with immigrants from all over the world, and with large teardrops building up, I proudly raised my right hand and was sworn in as an American citizen. I clearly remember that feeling of "being accepted". I was an American.

In 1997, I took a huge leap of faith and returned to my birth country (as a Cuban because they do not recognize my American citizenship) with my father to visit his family, who still live there. It was probably the most poignant 3 weeks of my life. An experience I am thankful for and will never forget. I met the most humble, caring people, who offered me everything they had, and yet they had so very little. Two young cousins, age 12 & 13, I was not able to meet. They were at tobacco labor camps. You see, Castro uses young children to tend to the tobacco fields because their hands are softer and more tender with the fragile leaves. They would be taken there for 6 weeks and then returned to their families.

We had to pay the Cuban government "hotel fees" for the 3 weeks we were there, although we don't even know where the hotel was because we stayed with family. I lived as they do. During that time, there was a huge energy crisis in the country, and daily their electricity and water would be shut off for as long as 10 hours a day. I remember showering in the rain with a bar of soap behind my uncles house because we had gone 2 days without water. It had rained for 2 days, so the river water where they normally would take the oxen carrying 20 gallon barrels to fill with water, couldn't be used because it was too murky.

My uncle tends a farm in the countryside in the province of Pinar del Rio, a beautiful valley surrounded by mountains of unmatched beauty with its natural royal palms enhancing the views. We ate chicken and pork the 3 weeks, although he had over 20 cattle on his farm. But the fine for killing cattle and eating the beef could be up to 10 years in prison. I also walked over to the little store with his food coupons for him to get his ration of rice for the month. When we arrived, the shelves were bare. There was nothing available for him to purchase. My heart broke. Cubans are not allowed to use American dollars, and I was not permitted, as a tourist, to buy from the "Cuban stores".

The second week there, when we went to Havana, where we also had family. My cousins took me to to a beautiful 4 star hotel,
Hotel Internacional. They were not allowed in, yet the hotel was packed to capacity with tourists. It saddened me so to walk thru the beautiful lobby with marble floors, glistening chandeliers, and adorning bronze statues, knowing that I had family waiting outside because of they were not permitted anywhere the tourists were. I walked to one of the elegant restaurants in the hotel and read the menu outside of the entrance. A steak and lobster dinner was $49.US. Unbelievable! A doctor in Cuba makes less than $10US a month.

As I was leaving, I noticed a line of cabs parked around the circular drive. Next to each cab stood girls as young as probably 13-14 years old, waiting. They were prostitutes. My cousin then explained to me that prostitution had risen to exhorbitant numbers because it was the only way these girls could bring home extra money to feed their families.

One of the many things we spoke about while there was their desperation to leave the country. They truly see the US as paradise. The land of milk and honey. They explained why so many risk their lives, even their children's lives, crossing the Florida straits in rafts. They didn't have to explain. In the mere 3 weeks that I was there, I lived a very small part it. I'm sure I didn't even scratch the surface, yet I could feel the agony in their hearts, their yearning for the freedom that they could only imagine through conversations they've heard, yet they were happy. They were accustomed to having nothing and expecting nothing.

Saying goodbye to my family was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. It broke my heart to see my father cry as he hugged his brother, his nephews, nieces, cousins and life-long friends. We boarded the plane knowing how truly blessed we were, yet with an ache in our hearts for the suffering that so many endure because of one man's greed for power.

Again, I am so very proud to be Cuban. Yet, if you've never experienced having to abandon your motherland to seek refuge in a new country, or never experienced the denial, loss or violation of our your civil liberties, it may be difficult to completely comprehend the overwhelming sanctity afforded us all by American Citizenship. It is an honor and a privlege to be a part of this wonderful country.

I am forever thankful to my parents for taking that leap for us, for my brother and myself, and allowing us the chance at freedom. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness....what more could anyone ask for?


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mommy24treasures said...

thank you for sharing this post Ohilda. Your parents are to be admired, they are very brave.
Love your new look.

Ladyblog said...

I'm so glad you shared that story! It touched my heart. Thank you and God Bless You!

Holly said...

You've outdone yourself! LOVE the new blog! Your post was very moving. We are truly blessed to be Americans and so many of it just take it for granted. Thank you for sharing your story! There are so many God-prints all over your life!

Waitingfaithfully said...

Wow my friend! I am so glad that you shared that again, I missed it the first time around.

It's easy to see why you are a "go-getter" by the path your parents walked! Brave, brave people.

Praying that Cuba will someday soon be free. Thank you for sharing your story, and your family's story. I for one take waaaaaaaay to much for granted.

I'm blessed to know you as a fellow American, better blessed to know you as my sister in the Lord!

Hugs to you ~


Bella's momma said...


This was an amazing read. Your families sacrifice was so touching and admirable. They gave you a foundation to stand proud upon, because of their courage. It is a blessing to be an American and a blessing to be your friend!!!

Have a great weekend,


The Princess's Mommy said...

WOW! I missed that one the first time. I had no idea...thank you for sharing your story. I am praying for your family in Cuba and hope that someday they will know what it's like to be free.
Love and blessings,

Michelle said...

Wow! This is a wonderful story to share...thank-you! I can not imagine the courage that it must have taken for your parents and so many others to do what they did to give you all a better opportunity. Bless their hearts!!

Walker said...

Unbelievable story Ohilda! Thank you for sharing! God is Good.. isn't he?!!!
love ya,

waiting4Isabella said...

I love the new look - thanks for sharing your story about the braveness and courage that Mom and Dad had for you and Javi. Although I was not born yet - through your story I was able to live those moments through. Love you so much !!!!!

The Byrd Family said...

What a wonderful story of bravery and faith. I am SO behind on visiting your blog!

We don't like squirrels here either and I used to think they were cute too! We have lots of rabbits too but haven't seen their destructive behavior yet!

Thank you for the post on AnnaGrace...I have read it before and I have been faithfully praying for Michelle and Sophie.

Kristy said...

Something I so take for granted in this country, you have so beautifully shown us........may I never again forget my freedom, may I never again forget the sacrifices others have went through, may I never again forget how blessed we are to live in this country................
Blessings ~

Terynn said...

I have known you since you posted "the" phone call for Kai, so I've lurked a looong while. I did not know the story of your heritage and your immigration here. Welcome. We are honored to have you in this country. And yes. God please continue to bless America; by birth, a Christian nation.

redmaryjanes said...

There are tears in my eyes. I am truly overwhelmed by this post. I am so glad that you are here and that your family is safe.

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