Emy’s Pedro Pan Story
It was a beautiful sunny morning in Santa Fe Beach. The sounds of the waves and the moving water could be heard through the open windows of our home located on large corner lot and secluded within high concrete walls. The Boxers were playing and barking outside on the ample patios.
The news was that we had electricity therefore the Invasion had failed. There had been a leak…anyone considered a “gusano”, was at risk. A general feeling of uneasiness permeated the island and no one felt safe. My mother had been trying to exchange our house for a house in the province of Pinar del Rio. The laws had changed and houses could no longer be sold, but they could be traded for houses of the same value. Her efforts to convince my father to leave Cuba had failed and she thought a move would keep him safe until she could persuade him to change his mind. Many believed the communist dictator could not last too long, being so close to the US as it represented a risk for the rest of Latin America to allow for such a cancer to flourish. My father was one of those.
I heard Waldo, our cook, gently knock at my parents’ bedroom door. Carrying two cups of espresso on a small tray he announced “Café”. When my father opened the door to take the tray he became immediately aware of the militiamen behind Waldo. “Dr, they come for you”. My father pulled out a pistol and pointed it at the militiamen. Unprepared for his swift reaction they had no time to take out their guns and ran out of the house and down the stairs, hiding behind the front walls of the house where they joined a whole army of them maybe 35 or 40 then who were already congregated in front of our house armed with guns and rifles.
Inside the house my father quickly told my mother: “ Take the children downstairs…they’re not taking me alive!” My mother obeyed him without question and we hurried down the winding staircase that connected our living space to the first floor where my maternal grandmother and my aunts Anita and Chata lived. We all lay down on the bedroom floor …my brother and I went under my grandmother’s bed.
My father had several guns, and he started shooting at the militiamen from different windows. He had a good reputation as a “marksman” in shooting competitions in his youth and he managed to kill a couple of the militiamen. We could men screaming: “Coño se murio!” (Damn he killed them!) We could hear their cursing and their rage through the ample windows in my gandmother’s room where the glass now shattering made us scream. Hearing the loud bullet sounds so near us, we were crying.
I remember thinking how little time my brother and I were to live. I was sure we would be killed. I started to pray so I would die praying….
Outside the militia kept getting re-inforcements and by now they had brought a bazooka/machine gun on a truck. Somehow, my father was thin and fast…and managed to keep up the shooting, but when they brought the bazooka on the truck, they also had a loud speaker and said “Botet! give yourself up or we’ll kill your kids too” and as they said that, they increased the shooting against the front walls of the house which broke some more glass windows…..we all screamed again…
My father came to the entry of the stairs and said to my mother: “Are all of you alright? Is anyone hurt?” My mother answered: “We’re alright” and he said to her: “This is over!”
My father screamed at the militiamen from his front bedroom window: “Alto el Fuego! Cowards maricones, que vienen a atacar a una familia con un batallon de asquerosos milicianos”…suban a buscar a un macho, pero muerto porque vivo no se lo llevan”. (“Halt your fire you cowards, maricones, you come to attack a family with a batallion of stinking militiamen! Come up here to get this man. But come and get me dead. You will not take me alive!” In the following silence we heard the sound of “one bullet” coming from inside our house.
Our mom said: “el se mato”….ya acabó….it’s over, he shot himself…
The autopsy would later reveal that he died “instantly”. He was such a good shot that he hit the center of his aorta. This was confirmed by his own brother who performed the autopsy, Dr. Jose Francisco Botet.
The militia then ran like a herd of savage bulls into the house. They started opening drawers and stealing our possessions, putting my mother’s jewelry in their pockets and my father’s belongings as well, and taking anything they liked in the way of clothes, etc.
A group of them came to where we were and said: “Maten a la mujer y a los hijos” “kill the wife and the kids”. We were stunned. My mother and my grandmother put their bodies in front of my brother and myself, but just in the knick of time amongst all the chaos of the moment a young tall officer with an olive green uniform and a green beret pushed his way through the crowd, like an Archangel, and jumped in front of us screaming with authority to the mob: “ Paren!” Stop! Leave that family alone!!! He put his arm around our mother and us and led us to the 2nd floor to my father’s office and as he locked the door he said to my mother: “Señora! que horror! Is this how we’re going to run this country? I have lost all my faith in Fidel Castro after the things I’ve witnessed. But Señora please, get these kids out of the country immediately….we don’t have any control in this country now. Sell your cars…sell as much as you have left of value.
My mother told me to call my father’s family from the neighbor’s house, since our phone lines were cut off. I remember walking in a daze to tell the story to my father’s family so we could prepare the funeral and burial. My mother counted on me as of now to act like an adult. My childhood had ended.
As of that day, our house became an outpost for the militia because we had a beach where another invasion could land and enter through the back of the house with the protection of the walls and the isolation offered by the location. They remained there until my mother and my aunt Chata were allowed to leave in 1963.
My mother sold the cars and started to research the way of getting us out of the country through the Pedro Pan flights. Although we were supposed to leave together, they separated us and my brother was sent alone first, in Aug/61. As he walked up the stairs of the plane he waved good-bye and turned his back to us because he did not want us to see him crying. I’ll never forget that scene. I so wanted to go with him in the same flight, being the older sister.
I was allowed to leave in Dec 7/61 and was happy to leave Cuba with the limitations of living in fear. But I still cry when I remember my grandmother Mercedes and my Tia Anita waiving good bye as I entered the taxi. I would never see them again. Although mami and Tia Chata were waiving too…I would be re-united with them 3 ½ years later…
In Florida City I ran into childhood friends and was quickly offered a foster home in Chicago, Ill. About two weeks later I was part of the first group of Pedro Pans sent to the Windy City where I lived with a very nice family from Winnetka, Ill and where I finally reunited with my brother . I still remember though, feeling that I was in a dream or in a movie…events were happening one after the other and my life kept changing so fast…I remember the sadness when I had to leave my house parents and girlfriends in Florida City, just when I was beginning to bond into a family again. Then again in Chicago, while waiting for the foster parents to pick each one of us from our group, I knew I would miss the friends I had made on the trip there in the few days we gave company to each other while we wondered what our foster families would be like and we had to speak English all the time, a skill we rapidly acquired. The snow was everywhere, a stark contrast from our tropical home.
My foster parents were wonderful warm people. He was a lawyer,like my father had been, and she was a teacher. She helped me with my homework, and I loved their kids and their dog Pepe who lived in a cold basement and didn’t seem to mind.
Our mother and aunt Chata were able to leave Cuba in the Summer of 1963, we moved closer to the city and eventually re-settled in New Orleans, LA in 1964, in search of a warmer climate. While in Winnetka I had saved all my babysitting money and had a few hundred dollars so we could buy pots and pans and necessities our mother would need when we finally were able to be together.
I have never been back to Cuba. I hope some day I can walk through that house and see it again. The bullet holes are still on the outside walls. Many in that beach community still recall the event. My relatives tell me that people still bring flowers and leave them at the front gate in memory of my dad’s soul.
Emy Botet and I went to Merici Academy together during our grade school years. She grew up to become a successful realtor in South Florida and now resides with her children and grandchildren in Georgia where she continues to dabble in real estate.