just one more story

Posted by on Jan 11, 2017 in personal | 4 comments

a final little excerpt from Confessions of a Cubanita:

My husband’s uncle, Tío Humberto, was a classic character and a dear man. He passed away a few years ago, part of the old guard that came from Cuba early after having figured out that the coming regime was going to spell disaster in untold ways. Tío Humberto had some first hand knowledge of just how psychotic the despot Castro was, having run around in his youth in similar circles to that crazy bastard.

Tío Humberto was a dentist in Cuba, and like so many of the folks who came at that time, he had to find a different route for supporting the family because of language barriers and the difficulties of time and money for preparing to pass medical boards in the United States. Priorities and the pressing need to support a young family took precedence over personal goals and as a result, he never practiced dentistry again. I think that perhaps of all the indignities suffered by our loved ones in those days, not being able to practice the careers that they loved, and in many cases defined them, had to have been a terrible blow.

Tío Humberto’s case is certainly not an isolated one. When I was in high school, my Spanish teacher, Mr. Pedro Díaz, was another one of those displaced professionals. Mr.Díaz had been a lawyer in Cuba, and relocated to Nebraska during that mass sponsorship program that sent Cubans all over the United States in order to provide different avenues of support. I have to say that the idea of Tío Humberto and his spunky wife, Tía Esther, surviving harsh Chicago winters, and poor Mr. Díaz shivering in Nebraska is a little bit comical but a great deal inspiring. They did what they had to do.

One of the things that I have heard constantly over the years is that everyone who came to the United States during the massive wave of immigration that defined the exile community has a unique story to tell. The universities in South Florida, both public and private, have living history programs that capture these stories. When dressed up in the regalia of academe, these stories take on a profound level of authenticity. They become permanently etched in the history of an era.

Videotaping and documenting these experiences do not define their authenticity. The authenticity is defined on the porches, in the living rooms, and Florida rooms of our homes as our relatives reminisce and tell stories of their youth and their struggles as they learned to adapt to a new country, a new language, and a new culture. Regrettably, at the time when our loved ones had these memories fresh on their minds and the wounds were still raw from navigating the perilous waters of the Florida Straits, we cubanitos, obnoxious teenagers and full of our own angst in trying to bridge those waters and be true to our heritage while becoming more and more American, were turning a deaf ear to this living history.

We all had a Tío Humberto, the guy who would pull us aside at a family gathering and launch into a diatribe. Sometimes it was vitriolic bitterness about the way things have turned out. Other times it was poignant hurt over losses, real or imagined. And often it was a beautiful reminiscence of a bygone era, a rich remembrance of the good times, the adventures, the glory days of their youth.

We were too young and too focused on the future to stop and learn from the past. As youngsters, we turned it into an opportunity for mockery, and so we set up the Mr. Díaz’s in our lives to get going on a binge of memories and expound upon their experiences. It was an easy set up. Who wanted to learn about the proper placement of accents when we could derail the Spanish teacher and send him down memory lane? My friend Martha and I would get him started on a topic in first period, and then check in second period to see if he was still ranting. In retrospect it was a terrible prank, and if our real Mr. Díaz should read this, know that I am sorry. But here is the funny part. We thought we were being so clever in distracting him, but the joke was on us. We picked up more history and more culture in those distractions than we would have benefitted from the grammar lesson. I guess that what those tíos had to share was so powerful that they had to do it, even when they understood that at some level we were trying to ridicule them. They must have banked on the fact that we would grow up and those stories would be a part of ours. How right they were!

What became of all those stories? Well, here I am including them in my own story, a story that will perhaps be mocked by my own children and maybe, just maybe, be picked up in a decade or two out of curiosity. What became of Martha and her pranks? Together with her older brother, Juan, and her younger sister, Luly, they took their abuelos’ lament, “Ay, mi Cuba” and turned it into a board game of the same name. The game, a trivia challenge that encompasses all the generational experiences of exile, covers questions from a pre- and post-CastroCuba, as well as questions from the Miami experience of those Cubans who came during different waves of immigration. It beautifully captures the essence of the cubanito because no one can win the game alone. We need the older generations to build the foundation. It is who we are: part of the past, part of the future, trying to survive in the present.


  1. How familiar every thing you write sounds to all of us who lived thru it .hope to be able to get together soon. Call me when you can

    • Hi Julie! I will!

  2. Maria: thank you for the story. It makes all of us more rich in heritage to know what our brothers have experienced in their journey. You might be pleased to know that my life has a man like Humberto who influenced me. Jorge Alvarez, a Cuban exile who taught me Trigonometry in high school. He very nonchalantly one day in class gave us a warning, in his accented English, about the rigors of higher math. “Jou got to. be careful. Jou get too much dx and dy jou get dee zee.” It’s been 46 years and I still remember.

    • Steve, what a pleasure to share stories! I love your dizzy one. LOL. That made my day! Hope you’re well! Every once in a while when I contemplate the corpus on my rosary, I still think of you. The power of stories, no? xxxoooo!

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