It is not unusual when my family gets together for us to talk about some of the things we went through when we first left Cuba. We always speak of this time with humor, laughing at some of the things we had to do to get by.
When we left Cuba in 1963, we lived in Spain for 9 months. When we arrived in Spain we had no money and only one change of clothing per family member in our suitcase. The Cuban government took everything else from us at the airport before we boarded the plane.
When we got off the plane in Madrid a Cuban refugee organization gave us a place to stay for one week, fed us two meals a day, and also provided us with clothing.
My father immediately went looking for work. He had many odd jobs, one of which was being an extra in the movie The Fall of The Roman Empire that was being filmed in Madrid at the time.
While my dad was at work my mother would stay with us in a bedroom that was the size of a walk in closet; it had a bathroom down the hall, which we had to share with everyone else that was living on the same floor.
My brother was two-years- old and I was four, my mother had no baby stroller, toys to entertain us or any of the things that make life easier for a mother with two small children.
In the afternoons we would go for walks, and every Sunday we would spend the day at El Parque del Retiro, one of the most beautiful parks in Madrid.
One of my favorite stories is about the dress they gave my mother at the refuge. It was a very elegant black dress, but on the back it had a horrendous bow. My mother took it back to our room with the intention of removing the bow, but when she lifted the bow from the skirt, she realized it had a huge hole in the back.
After we moved to McAllen, Texas my parents had to work very hard to make ends meet. My mother learned to sew and she would make clothing for my brother and me; she even made my dad’s shirts. She did this by taking apart a shirt someone had given my dad and using it as a pattern. On a few occasions some of my dresses didn’t fit quite right; however, she always managed to have us all looking nice and neat.
When the money situation improved, my mother would put our clothing on lay away at J.C. Penney. I remember walking to the downtown store with her to make payments, and the thrill when we took an item home.
When I think back on my childhood, it always reminds me of how little we really need in life to be happy. Although it was a difficult time for us, when I look back on those years, they were some of the best times we lived through as a family. We were together, we were healthy, and we were free. What else does a person need in life?
I know that the close-knit relationship that I have with my parents and my brother has to do with the experiences we shared as a family.
When you can count on your family to overcome the challenges you face, you can get through the tough times because you know, that you have people who believe in you, and love you. Love is powerful, and without it no one can get very far in life.