Cuban dictator Fidel Castro finally died. Good riddance. No one is going to miss his passing. While his tiny country mandated a nine-day period of so called mourning, here in the United States several cities with a heavy concentration of former Cuban citizens celebrated with free drinks of rum and Coke!
A dictator is a dictator. Most of them throughout the world are cruel and inhumane beyond the realms of human decency or comprehension. Castro was at the top of my list of scumbags ever since I had the blessed opportunity to study and learn Spanish all through my high school years under Mrs. Celia Pineiro, a Cuban refugee.
Each school day in the hallway, I was greeted with a “Buenos Dias, Victoria!” (the V in Victoria was pronounced like a B so read that again with that pronunciation so you can imagine her greeting). I loved her. She made me feel so special. Our relationship deepened from me being just a student to a comrade in arms as she shared privately with me the atrocities and the hardships she endured to start a new life here in America. Freedom. How she loved that word. America meant freedom. And she was willing to do whatever it would take to get it.
Celia was a professional journalist with a Master’s degree at a newspaper in Havana when Castro started gaining popularity with the people. In fact, she met him on one occasion and along with everyone else, was misguided into believing that his reform would bring their backward country into the twentieth century. But she was wrong and soon was going to find out just how mistaken she was.
“Almost the very moment Castro was sworn in as the new leader of Cuba on January 1st, 1959, he showed his true dark colors. Immediately he announced that he was a sworn Communist and would rule as a dictator. This was tragic news for a country already hurting and looking for a savior in a new regime. Castro took over ownership of all kinds of businesses, especially all media and communication, so newspapers, radio stations, personal property, houses and even transportation was now under government control. So we lost our newspaper and everything that we owned!”
But under this new reign of terror, they simply couldn’t just purchase airline tickets or passage on a boat. No, they had to apply for deportation. And the new Cuban henchmen would be the ones to decide if and when, if ever, you could leave! But not only that, they would decide “who” could escape. Families were not allowed to go together. Oh no, Castro made sure of that.
Then one day her one and only child, fourteen year old Jose confided in his mother that he would be required to join the Pioneers, a Castro youth group similar to the Hitler Nazi Youth during WWII. So with a heavy but determined heart that ached for a safer and better life, Celia, a single mother now after her divorce to her first husband, decided to send him to the Florida coast where he could be absorbed into the Peter Pan Program, especially designed for the young to escape to the United States.
Very quickly food, groceries, and supplies started to become scarce and commodities began to be rationed. The life that they once knew was now gone forever.
At this point in her conversation with me, Cecilia closed her eyes and bowed her head in a quiet reverence.
“Oh, Victoria”, she began again looking deeply into my caring soul; “you can’t imagine what it was like. To live in constant fear of saying the wrong thing to a friend or a neighbor and that very night you could disappear! Never to be seen or heard from again! It happened to some folks down the street from us! Poof! Gone! Who knows what happened to them!”
I remain quiet and shake my head in disbelief. I think to myself. . .
No, thank God, I don’t know about not having the freedom of speech! And I hope I never do.
She continues, “And oh, I remember once, my dear old mother was sick. Because of the food rationing, we were given ONE chicken a week to eat! Can you imagine . . . ONE chicken for a whole WEEK? So I made some chicken soup to take to my precious mother to help her feel better. However, on the way to her home, I was stopped by some soldiers as I was walking down the sidewalk.”
“Where do you think you are going?” one of them demanded of me.
“I was shaking in my shoes Victoria! I told him I was going to my mother’s house. She is sick. I have made some chicken soup for her.”
“Hah!” he replied and waved his gun at me. “She has her own chicken. Go back home!” He motioned for me to return from the way that I had just come from, so I spun around not daring to argue but only to obey. I was so scared Victoria. I cried for two days worrying about my mother. Then one time, a friend of mine was going downtown to the shoe shop to get some new shoes since his soles had holes in them. His socks were getting wet and dirty because of the holes. He too was stopped by a patrol and questioned as to his intentions. When he explained that he had holes in his shoes, he was told that they were fine and would last him a little while longer! They sent him back too.”
I glance down at the new cowboy boots I had on. How many pairs of boots and shoes did I even own? My closet was full of them. I had the freedom to buy as many pairs of that my selfish little heart could afford. But yet he was denied one pair.
She leans closer to me with tears in her eyes as she dares to go on with these painful memories.
“But the worst Victoria, oh the worst of all . . .,” she pauses as she transports herself back to that moment in time in the past that she has tried to unsuccessful erase from her memory, “the worst of all were the trucks!
“The trucks?!” I interrupt to make sure that I had understood her correctly.
“Yes, trucks with . . . like cargo boxes. I don’t know what else to call them. But they were trucks with a cargo type container so you could not see in them or out of them with a large locked door on the end of the box. They would pull into the public parks and gather up the young men and boys and take them away! People would be trying to stop them and were forced back by the armed soldiers! We were never told where they were taking them for sure! Some said that they were being sent to Russia to become what they considered to be good communists!”
She stops herself. A look of pure hatred covers her face and she stiffens in her posture.
“My Joe was safe now. He was in America. They do not do that in America” and her voice trailed off as she relived the trauma of those dark and sinister days.
I bite my lip as I think of one of own my brothers disappearing like that. Yeah sure, Jake drives me crazy as my little brother, and older Brother Bob basically just calls me Dumb Smuck and tells me not to touch his stuff; Doug and Galen are gone and married, but I would probably die trying to save either one of them.
“Senora Pineiro. What about you? How long did you have to wait before you could escape?” I reached over her desk and laid my young hand on top of hers with a gentle pat of emotion.
“Only about three months. When my day finally came that I was to leave, I had the most horrible experience at the airport. I had to wait for my flight sitting in a glass cage with a loud speaker blasting anti-American propaganda right above my head! I closed my eyes tightly and covered my ears with my hands praying to God to get me through this torture and humiliation, knowing that our Joe was waiting on me. The LORD answered my prayers.”
I set back in my chair and try to comprehend what she suffered for something that I daily take for granted.
“It was a miracle that I was able to join Jose once I arrived. So we were finally able to be reunited as a family and start our lives over. We wound up here in Kansas. This is where I met my second husband, a Cuban lawyer and journalist named Sergio Pineiro. We moved to Dodge City later so here we are. Me, of course teaching Spanish here in the High School and Sergio teaching Spanish over at St. Mary’s College. Plus we are the Editors of the Spanish newspaper here in Dodge City called La Estrella.”
I smiled at her grateful for the happy ending to their story. My complete disdain for Castro was born that day. He does not deserve any kind of recognition from our President of the United States or any representatives of freedom!
(Victoria’s note: I had no intention of ever writing a story like this but due to the news of Castro’s death, I remembered that conversation so long ago with my Spanish teacher. Sergio went home to the LORD in 1996 with Celia joining him in 2009. She is indeed free at last)