It’s all Fidel Castro’s fault.
It was Fidel’s fault that our parents, brothers, sisters, and grandparents were shot or imprisoned. It was Fidel’s fault that hundreds of our schools were closed in Cuba when our teachers were forced to leave the country because of their religious beliefs. Slowly, relentlessly, the beliefs that nurtured for centuries, the beliefs that we cherished, were repudiated and then forbidden. Churches closed, and even God had to leave the island.
Because of Fidel, we, the more than fourteen thousand children of the Pedro Pan airlift, embarked on a journey bereft of the arms that held us since our birth, leaving behind the embraces of our fathers and the tender caresses of our mothers, arriving in a strange land in search of something elusive that our parents could not stop speaking of: freedom.
Have we found it?
As the Pedro Pan camps in Miami became crowded with more and more children arriving daily in that exodus born from the womb of our parents fear, we were sent to group homes, schools, and even orphanages, in over one hundred cities and thirty five States.
When our journey to this thing called freedom took us away from our barely sprouting new roots, home became more distant and freedom and pain began to feel synonymous.
Fully immersed in a new culture and language, the distance from home and our families appeared to be insurmountable. Still, even for those of us who feared no one would find us, who feared we would never find our way back, the hope was alive that we would see home again.
“Don’t worry”, our parents had told us, “there is no way that the United States will tolerate a Communist government so close to its shore! You will be coming home soon!”
Soon would prove very elusive. Soon would never come. Soon would never come because of one man: Fidel Castro. We, the children, never forgot his name. Nor did our parents.
For a half a century, while physical freedom has been possible, we are still in a yoke of our own making. It is almost impossible for Cubans to get together without bringing up the subject of Fidel; almost impossible not to wake up and wonder if he is dead yet. No matter how many thousands of miles we travel, Fidel is always in the suitcase.
We will be in someone’s back yard celebrating the First Communion of a grandchild, talking about Fidel. We will go home for a visit, and we will find him there, alive in our conversations. We will be at a party celebrating the Fourth of July, celebrating our freedom, and he will be in our midst. We crossed an ocean to escape him, only to find out we brought him with us.
And that is our fault. And we are the only ones who can change it.
Freedom will require of us the hardest thing of all. It will require us to forgive the man and the harm he did to every one of us, the pain that he and those who followed him caused us. Then we will achieve our parents’ dream for us, and walk through what is left of our lives weightless, with no one holding us down.
I suspect the God that followed us to exile will be pleased….
With permission of the artist, my friend Henry Flores-Galbis, I am sharing what seems to be a drawing lesson, but is much more. In Henry’s own words: