Cuando salí de Cuba - Maria Elena's story + A Giveaway

Marta here: I'm celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month: Cuban-Style with a series of stories about Cuban American families: Cuando Sali de Cuba, stories of courage and hope.

Today's story comes from MS. She owns and operates the online store, A Taste of Cuba

*Tissue warning!*



I was born in Havana, Cuba in 1956.  My mother was married to my father, I had a sister and a brother.

My father owned his own business, family owned accounting firm.
My dad, sister and brother on car in front of the house 
 Her dad, sister and brother on car in front of their house in Cuba.

My mother is still alive and is a feisty 92 1/2  year old  mother, grandmother  and great grandmother!
My memories of Cuba actually begin when our life in Cuba ended.
My brother with his nanny Her brother with his nanny.

By 1960 my mother and father had separated. My mother and her immediate family began to make plans to flee Castro's regime.  One thing my mother promised was that Castro was taking over her home but she was not leaving anything inside for the communist to enjoy.  She kept her promise.  Sometimes in the wee hours of the morning she removed every piece of furniture and gave it  to friends that were staying in Cuba.  By the time August 1961 came around there was nothing left inside the home.

My memory of that horrible departure begins.

My mother took my sister, brother, grandmother and grandfather to the airport.  We had packed a suitcase and were leaving to Miami, FL on a Pan Am airplane.  We arrived at the airport.  The soldiers had separated the people leaving from the people that were staying. 
All of a sudden my mother and I were separated by this huge glass wall.  The glass wall was a partition so that the people could not smuggle things to the family members leaving. The passengers were not allowed to take anything but a suitcase.  Our suitcases where searched by the military personnel and only clothing was allowed.

I did not know what was happening, why my mother wasn't with me, I was only 4 years old?  I quickly found out she was not going with us.  She decided to stay behind with her brother that did not get his visa.  She didn't want to leave him in Cuba by himself.  By now all my aunts and uncles had left, two uncles went to Miami and one had settled in NYC.

I had never been separated from my mother before and was not happy.  I started crying and having a big tantrum.  Finally a soldier allowed my mother to comfort me.  She hugged and kissed me, and assured me everything was going to be ok.  She told me my grandparents were going to take care of me until she could join me again in a few days.

I remember I was holding my favorite doll, she told me when I got to my seat on the plane hold the doll up to the window and wave to me.  She said, "Then I'll know you are ok."
 After a few minutes we had to board the plane.  But back then they didn't have ramps to board a plane.  You actually had to walk on the tarmac to a stairway to board the airplane.  I started walking and right before we boarded the plane there was a soldier making a last minute check of all boarding passengers.  He took my doll and told me I could not take it in the airplane. 
I started to cry that it was my only connection to my mother. I had promised her I would wave so she knew I was ok. My family pleaded with the soldier that the doll had already been checked inside and I was to wave to mother good bye.  So I was able to board the plane with my doll. 
I sat down next to the window, waved my dolly goodbye to mother, as I cried, the plane too off into the sky.

That was very traumatic for me, as a four year old, but nothing compared to what my family went through.

Days turned into months, it wasn't until two or three long months later my mother and my uncle were able to leave Cuba and reunite with us in Miami.

As a mature woman now, mother and grandmother myself I often think back and wonder how my mother was able to handle everything in her life.  I realize how strong my mother is and her strong faith in Jesus has allowed her to sustain the turmoil.

This was very difficult to write I was reliving it.




Marta here: I'm so grateful to M.S. for sharing her deeply personal and painful story. As a mother myself, I cannot imagine letting go of my 4 year old and putting her on a plane to another world not knowing when we would be reunited. I have tears in my eyes even as I type this. 

MS owns the very cool online shop, A Taste of Cuba and has generously offered to host today's giveaway.

It's a Cuban Coffee Basket (yes, please!) that includes the following:

  • 1 Coffee maker (3 cup pressure system)coffeemaker is perfect for cafe, latte, or cafe con leche!
  • 1 Cafe Cubano (espresso coffee)
  • 2 cups and saucers (design varies)
  • 1 Maria cookies(3.5 oz)

Cuban Coffee Basket

Just leave a comment on this post telling MS your thoughts about her story, or tell your own. 

I'll choose a winner on Wednesday, September 21, 2011 at 5 pm.