My late father was made for small-town life in Cuba, where everyone knew everyone else, along with all their business, and there was an endless round of small talk and visitas to relatives and friends. He was very social — the kind of person who never missed a velorio — and spent more time in other people’s houses than his own. He was a great gossip with a prodigious memory and knew the lowdown on everybody. He loved his native environment. But then he had to leave and give it up, for his kids.
We didn’t settle in Miami or New Jersey but where he first found a job, in a very American small town where Cubans were exotic and no provisions were made for them. Everything was in English; there was no Cuban food to speak of, and only a few Cuban families with whom to socialize. Once or twice a year we’d go to Miami, where he would binge-visit as many people as possible, but it wasn’t the same as in Cuba — too frantic and artificial, almost forced, as opposed to natural and organic.
Upon retiring he moved to South Florida, and for a few years he was able to indulge himself, or rather, be himself, but it was still not like Cuba — and then he had a stroke. He was never the same again, physically or mentally, but it was not as bad as Alzheimer’s, thank God, and he was in good spirits — like an old child. To the end, he kept talking about Cuba, especially about going back. He’d often ask me if the passports were in order and the plane tickets ready, as if returning was imminent, and to this day that breaks my heart.
He did OK in the US but was never really at home. Still, I expect if he’d stayed in Cuba, he would have become a stranger in his own country, like his father did, a kind of living ghost. Either way, he was robbed, in every sense, and it cost him — a lot, in every sense. Material losses could be replaced, but not the rest, not a whole culture and way of life — and I want justice for that, for his sake, and that of countless others like him. I’m grateful for what he did, but it was a crime he had to do it.
May he rest in peace, chain-smoking cigars someplace like the Cuba where he belonged.
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