Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Thursday, November 10...1960 and 2005

I intended these postings to be in chronological order, starting with May 1950. However, decided to break the rule (probably will not be the last time) to point out a curious coincidence:

November 10th fell on a Thursday, in 1960 - it also falls on a Thursday, in 2005. So what?, one might ask. November 10th, 1960 was the day mom, dad, sister Marta, sister-to-be Grace, and I left Havana, probably forever...a black day for us, although we were, in fact, leaving the descending darkness behind, for a new and welcoming land of light, promise, and freedom. At the time we thought our absence would be short - "6 months at most," my mother says to this day. Alas, it was not to be.

There are no photos I know of from that day - only images of the bureaucratic stamps of the authorities in our passports. Perhaps I will display these later after rounding up the passports, still in our possession.

These are the images of that day, firmly (to use a cliche) "etched into memory:"

-The tears of Lucia, who worked at home helping mom in the kitchen - and how she hugged my sister and I; can't help but think she knew, deep down, she would never see us again. Years after we had left, she kept inquiring about us, through my grandmother who was still in Havana. We never saw her again. She died in Cuba.

I remember being a little embarrassed at seeing Lucia cry - the way children get when they see tears in an adult. After all, we think adults are strong and above all that. At the time, I did not understand why there was so much unhappiness-after all, we were only going to be away "for a little while."

-Going downstairs and stepping into Palladium Jewelry, at the ground floor in the Focsa building. This was my parents' business, which they had run since early '57. My aunt Josefina was being left in charge, together with Migdalia Gonzalez, who had worked at the store several years. There were more tears and hugs. I experienced the same feelings I had when seeing Lucia cry.

The photo of Palladium dates to April 1959. Dad is on the left, followed by aunt Josefina to his right, then Migdalia, and finally, mother.

Then off to Rancho Boyeros airport (now called "Jose Marti International Airport"), driven there by my uncle, Josefina's husband, Fernando Prego. My cousin, his son "Fernandito" was with us. After we got to the airport and settled in the waiting area, Fernandito winked at me and said: "Why don't you sling your suit jacket over your shoulder, you know, in the AMERICAN style?" He said it loud enough to be overheard. My mother admonished him - "shhhh! - you know not to say certain things these days..." Fernandito liked to taunt the "revolutionaries." We said goodbye - don't remember more tears, except maybe from mom. Grown men don't cry - or didn't back then. Besides, uncle Prego was always the optimistic sort. His take on the whole thing was: "You'll be back before long, you'll see." It was not to be, and had I any idea it would be so, I would have tried to say goodbye to my classmates in Prof. Duran's 5th grade class at Colegio Baldor, as well as to my playmates at the Focsa building, among them my close friends Mario Garriga and Jorge Soto, with whom, thankfully, I managed to reconnect over the years. One thing I forgot to mention: credit for the photograph of Rancho Boyeros in the 50's goes to my good friend Jorge, author/creator of therealcuba.com - check it out.

Dad recalls that, as we were going through Cuban customs on the way out, he had to declare personal belongings, currency, etc. At the time, while you pretty much could still take your personal belongings out, strict currency limits were in place. I believe you could only leave with $50 per person. In late 1960, the Cuban peso was still worth one U. S. dollar. Dad had 60 cents in his pocket, in addition to the paper money allowed. The revolutionary customs official, upon hearing dad declare the 60 cents, solemnly stated "coins cannot be taken out of the country." Dad asked him what to do about the 60 cents...the official "helpfully" suggested the coins "be donated to the Revolution." Whereupon dad gave him the coins and the official dutifully and with bureaucratic finesse wrote out a receipt for the "voluntary donation."

Eventually, the family would wind up "donating" everything else to the revolutionaries. Except for ourselves.

The prop plane - maybe a DC-6, I don't know - was, am pretty sure, a Cubana Airlines plane. Mom cried as it lifted off the runway. I still remember the tall royal palms that could be seen as the plane lifted off. We flew to Kingston, Jamaica, landing there sometime in the afternoon. From Kingston we switched to a KLM flight and flew to Aruba, where we arrived before nightfall. Why we had to go to Aruba instead of directly to Miami is another story which will be told later. The photo of Havana's waterfront, which dates to around 1958, symbolizes the last view we would have had of that beautiful city as our plane took off. The Focsa building, with its curved architecture, is to the middle-right. Adios, Habana.

The people of Aruba were very warm and welcoming to us; the smiles and their helpfulness were in stark contrast to the grouchy faces and curt, rude manners of the "revolutionaries" back home. I will later tell of our 9 days in Aruba in detail - Aruba, the Happy Island. An oasis after leaving The Unhappy One.

After obtaining the necessary immigrant visas at the American consulate in Aruba, on November 19, 1960 we arrived in Miami, courtesy of KLM Airlines. I still recall fondly the excellent food served on the plane, which included FILET MIGNON and potatoes - no cheap bags of pretzels or peanuts in those days! Gracias, KLM.

45 years...even Moses and the people of Israel wandered in the wilderness for "only" 40 years. Yet, as November 10, 1960 was a dark day for us, it was also a bright day of promise. We left our home, our family, our friends behind. But we gained something precious, which could not be taken away: freedom and the promise of a new opportunity in what would become our adoptive country. Gracias, Tio Sam!

November 10, 1960-November 10, 2005 - Ying and Yang in the lives of the Quirogas...


At 12:47 PM, Blogger Mario said...

I am most humbled by the use of my name in your commentary and need to post for posterity that your red bicycle became a prized possesion until I left in November 17, 1961. Maybe next time you visit my corner of America I will get 2 red bikes and we will ride around to celebrate our friendship.

At 9:04 AM, Anonymous Jorge said...

Congratulations Alberto!
I also remember very vividly all the details of the day that we left Cuba.
We left a few weeks before you did, on October 22, 1960.
Please post more photos of the Palladium.

At 3:27 PM, Anonymous Kathleen said...

What a wonderful gift this blog is. I am convinced if every Cuban exile published their families story and people read them, castro would be gone. What you brought with you into exile is the broken heart of Cuba, I'm already crying. Thank you Alberto, I'm linking you. Kathleen

At 9:43 PM, Blogger melek said...

Thanks for sharing this with us. My family left Cuba in 1962. I was too young to remember all the details, but I have heard accounts of the "inventario" and "clausura" of our home with such vivid details that it all remains very much with me. Our family settled in Puerto Rico via Miami; and as I have gotten older, I have learned to appreciate more our Country and its history. I'm so glad that I have found blogs like yours, Babalu, and Kathleen's blog ... thank you for reminding us that it's critical to know where we came from because of its relevance to where we are today. Good Luck!

At 10:54 PM, Blogger Songuacassal said...

Asere, welcome to Blogdom. And I think your contribution is ESSENTIAL. Thank you

I'll keep a link on you!


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