A friend called me recently: "There's a new book called, The Cubans. You're mentioned in it." I was intrigued and contacted the author, Fernando Hernandez who very kindly agreed, not only to share his story, but to share his book with MBFCF readers.
First, let's let Fernan tell his own story.
July 8th, 1962 was the day I left Cuba, my parents, other family members, friends, and all the memories that a nine year old boy had experienced. On that fateful day my life was changed, transformed, I was never to be the same again. It was to be also one of the saddest days of my young life as I waved goodbye to my mami.
My brother and I were among 14,068 young children who left Cuba via Operation Pedro Pan, a clandestine operation from 1960-1962 that brought youngsters from 5 to 17 years of age to the United States by themselves. I am sure the communist authorities knew perfectly well that thousands of Cuba’s youngest citizens were leaving, but I believe they did nothing to abort the operation. Family separation was one of the many tactics the regime enacted, and having heart-broken parents in the island assured them of fewer political troublemakers and contrarevolucionarios. When we left from our hometown of Banes, in the Oriente province (now called Holguin), only mami accompanied us to La Habana. You may wonder, where was your father? He was too despondent, emotionally wrecked to muster the courage to bid us goodbye. He never came to see us, as my brother, mother and I got on a bus for a long ride to the capital. Papi stayed behind, comforted by our abuela and other family members. Sometimes we don’t fully grasp or comprehend the suffering that so many of our parents endured when we left our homeland. The other day a man who knew my dad told me he never met a man who shed so many tears for his children as my papi had. Our separation was close to four years, did he have any tears left?
Mami showed me what unconditional love is as we spent a few days in La Habana, a city we had never visited. She took us to the zoo and went sightseeing while we waited for the departure day. She never cried or displayed any emotional weakness during the ordeal, I can still see her permanent smile and her encouraging words to my brother 11, and I. All that she knew was that we were going to a boys’ camp in Miami and then we would be relocated to either a foster home or an orphanage somewhere in the United States. My parent’s main concern was that we would live in a democratic society and that they would join us in the near future. Her anxiety, anguish, and motherly instinct of being close to us did not cloud her judgment and she proceeded to send us to the promise land. Her pain was secondary; she knew this difficult decision had to be made for our benefit.
The day finally arrived. We were placed in the pecera, a large room in the airport enclosed with glass that resembled a fish bowl. We were the fish and those on the outside looked at us as if we were in an aquarium. Mami reminded us to behave well and to take care of one another. But I do not recall mami kissing or hugging us one last time. She walked out of the pecera firm, stoic, and walked to the upper level to see the plane depart. My brother and I, along with the rest of the people waiting, were notified to board the flight.
As I took a seat in what was my first flight, I glimpsed out the window and saw my mami frantically waving a white handkerchief toward the plane. Then I saw her embrace another woman (perhaps another Pedro Pan mom?) and began to see her collapse in a torrent of tears. Even after 51 long years, I have to dry my eyes as I write this. I cannot forget, and I don’t ever want to forget, that moment when a mother’s heart could not be contained. Mami waited to the very last, possible second to unleash what her heart felt, she could no longer conceal her parental anguish. She thought I could not see her from the plane but my eyes were fixed on my precious mom who gave everything she had for my brother and I. As I watched helplessly, the mother I loved was baring her soul and spirit in a continuous cry. What a great blessing to have Maria Elisa Lorenzo Gonzalez as my mami! Thanks to mami and papi I had an opportunity to live as a free man. May my parents reside in a special place in heaven, a palace reserved for all the loving and courageous Cuban parents who sacrificed all so that we could live in an open, free, and democratic society.
by: Fernando “Fernan” Hernandez
Author: The Cubans Our Footprints Across America (July 2013) Amazon.com.
Fernan has graciously agreed to share his book with MBFCF Readers. So let's do a giveaway!
The Cubans, Our Footprints Across America by Fernando "Fernan" Hernández.
One person will win the book, autographed by Fernan. Please leave a comment on this post for a chance to win the book. Answer one or both of the following questions:
- Do you know (or are you related to) any Pedro Pans?
- Did you ever have your own "Cuando Sali de Cuba" moment?
(The realization of what an enormous thing had happened to your family.)
I'll choose a winner on Wednesday, September 25th, 2013 at 11 am.