Thankful Thursdays

For beginnings. This has been quite an emotional week for us Cubans and anyone whose life has been affected in one way or another by the tyrant that Castro was. This week we celebrate not his death but the beginning of a world without him. We celebrate not immediate change but the resurgence of hope for change.

My parents were in their late 30’s when their world was shaken to the core. They uprooted, kids in tow, leaving everything behind, including my grandparents, for the sake of giving me and my siblings a chance to live free. For them, el dolor Cubano hasn’t all been about the time my dad and blind grandfather (yes, blind) were jailed, or dad’s time spent laboring the sugar cane fields, or my brother and sister being pulled from school and sent to labor camps, or my being forced to pledge my allegiance to the tyrant at the start of every school day, or about the confiscation of all of our properties and possessions. All of it, punishment inflicted on those denouncing the communist party and upon submitting exit papers to leave the island, which punishment went on until the time the permit was actually granted and you boarded that twin engine plane. Mostly, their pain has been about the countless lives lost in the fight for freedom. About the loss of country, loss of motherland. And about the separation from family and friends, some of whom they never saw again. We left Cuba on November 22, 1969 en route to Spain where we knew no one. We left that day con una mano alante y la otra atrás, with only the clothes on our backs. My parents left that day con el corazón en la boca, with their hearts in their throats, but full of hope and banking on their unwavering trust in the Lord. I’ve often put myself in their shoes and have felt a shiver up and down my spine. Oh, the uncertainty of it all. Although my pain echoes theirs, mine is fixed on the sacrifices I saw them make. I admire them for their strength, courage, and resolve, for their vision and hard work, and for what they accomplished in new lands as they began again and again. First in Madrid, then in Miami.

My grandparents, father, and sister did not live to see the end of this tyrant whose brilliant hideousness destroyed la perla del caribe. But Mom got to. Unfortunately, nowadays, her mind doesn’t know what day it is, as her condition progresses. But this week she has recounted to me, clearly, snippets of stories she’s told me through the years about our lives in Cuba y el tirano Fidel. “Yo sé que ahora yo estoy muy confundida, pero hay ciertos momentos en la vida que quedan grabados en la mente de uno y nunca se borran.” “I know that now I’m very confused,” she said, “but there are certain moments in life that remain recorded in one’s mind and are never erased.” Ain’t that the truth!

Today, my kids are well aware of the symbolism of this tyrant’s death. My husband and I have shared with them plenty about Cuba’s history and our families’ struggles. We have passed on our traditions, and we have instilled in them the value of freedom. They know to respect their flag and stand in salute at the sound of The Star-Spangled Banner. Lauren and Danny grew up on the Cuban breakfast of champions: café con leche, and on arroz con frijoles, first puréed when they were babies. Yes, they are Americans made with Cuban parts. And they too understand the elation and hope in this historic moment.

Our families’ experiences and stories, both wonderful and grueling are many, as are those of thousands of other exiled families who, like us, felt compelled to record them, while they worked hard to begin again and again. And what of those who remain in power in this captivating and oppressed island? Well, one day their demise will come, no doubt.

But today, on this Thankful Thursday, I am grateful for all of our beginnings, and especially for the beginning of a world without him. He who destroyed and altered so many lives; this torturer who will not torture again, this oppressor who will not oppress again. Justice is the Lord’s.

“I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work.”
-Ecclesiastes 3:17

“We left the way one leaves a cherished but impossible love: our hearts heavy with regret but beating with great hope.”
-Mirta Ojito

“Whoever survives a test, whatever it may be, must tell the story. That is his duty.”
-Elie Wiesel

Us. La Habana, Cuba, 1965.


Me. Last portrait, six months before leaving Cuba, May 29, 1969.


Us, minus my grandparents, Madrid, Spain, January 1972.img_1251And our story continues.


Thankful Thursdays — 20 Comments

  1. Brought tears to my eyes your recollection of the pain and suffering, and yet powerful and beautiful how everyone endured, always with the Lord. Yes, its celebration for a world without an horrible monstrous tyrant. Would love to share.

  2. You have a true gift Connie! You bring to life so many heart felt emotions that reach to my core. Thank you for always sharing your journeys, your strength and above all else your faith. You are a blessing! May you and your family have the most blessed Christmas!

  3. Amiga, this is beautifully written and perfectly expressed. I am forwarding to very dear friends in Talley and Atlanta. Could not have said it better myself. Sending you and your familia love, hugs and prayers.

  4. I have had the privilege of knowing you for so many years, and yet have not really known you. You are like a beautiful flower that keeps on blossoming each and every year. I am reading this as tears roll down my cheeks. I don’t think anyone could have said this better. Keep it up. Love you, so privileged to call you my friend.

  5. Connie, so well written as always. Thank you for sharing your family’s incredible story of strength, courage and faith. I cannot even begin to imagine being in your parents’ shoes. The Lord was definitely with them every step of the way. May God continue to watch over and bless your family.

  6. Definitely a very emotional week that has brought tears to many of us who have experienced the agony of this monstrous regime in our beloved Cuba. Thanks for sharing your story.

  7. Connie – as I read your post so many similarities flooded my mind of the struggles my grandparents went through to be able to give future generations of our family the freedom they so desperately wanted. To live unoppressed, with freedom of speech and human rights to all humanity. Like your family, my grandfather was sent to the sugar cane fields to work 14 hour days without a break, simply because we too turned in the application yearning to escape. My grandmother and their two daughters, my mother and aunt were subjected to constant abuse by the locals who turned against them when news spread that they were leaving the island. They screamed at them daily on the way to school “guzanos!” (worms) because they were against the ideas of inhumane bastard. They were finally freed after 6 years of waiting for the miracle, and like your family, they boarded a plane with nothing and came to this beautiful country in January 1970. We have been Cuban Americans for 46 years, and we are so profoundly proud of it, and pained at the same time, for being pushed out of Cuba because we simply didn’t agree with the ideology of a communist nation. My father and maternal grandfather who passed away this past February didn’t live to see it. I’m grateful my 88 year old grandmother did. Our stories parallel each other, and I am truly touched by your post. The tirant is gone, but unfortunately, he left a legacy that far too many citizens in Cuba believe is right. I hope and pray to god that we get to see it’s full freedom in our lifetime. Unforntayely, I don’t think it’s likely to happen. For now, we dream. We dream of a Cuba Libre and pray that the dream becomes reality.

    Much love to you and your family my friend.

    Raul Valdez

  8. My name is Bob and I am a friend of your brother Arturo. Thank you for a well written letter regarding your experiences leaving Cuba and some of the hardships you and your family had to go through. My hope is that people get to really see the horror of living under a dictatorship that is and has been so oppressive to it’s citizens.

    We almost lost our country (USA), and it is only by the grace of GOD that a man was elected to serve our country that still believes in FREEDOM, and JUSTICE for all people, all colors, all races, all common people.

    Many really don’t realize what it means to have a true democracy until that democracy along with the freedom that it gives, is lost.

    Best regards,
    Bob V.

  9. Dear Connie,

    I finally had a chance to read your blog. I almost felt as though I was watching a movie while you were narrating it. I could envision and feel all the pain your parents and some many people in similar situations must have felt. I was greatly touched by the story, and I thank you for sharing it, even though it brought tears to my eyes.

    If I valued my life and my freedom before, which I most certainly did, reading stories like yours only makes me even more appreciative of what I have, where I am and where I come from. Having compassion and understanding of those who may have suffered similar fates has always been important to me, but sometimes, we don’t really get to know the extent of what each person experiences, and you most certainly bring it all to light. Keep doing it. People need to know, and need to remember that we cannot take anything for granted.

    I am so glad that your story has a happy ending, but I’m happier that you have not forgotten where you come from, and that you have taken it a step further by passing your knowledge and experience on to your children so that they too may value and appreciating what they have and where they come from.

    Kudos to you Connie.

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