I must admit I was taken aback by the news when I first read of his passing on Facebook. It was truly surreal; quite a visceral reaction, I must say. I was born in the U.S. and quite honestly related more to my Spanish/Lebanese roots. However, when I read of his death, my mind and my body were consumed by a flood of raw emotions regarding my grandparents.
One day, soon after Fidel had taken power, my grandfather was visited by a man who apparently was sent to speak to him. He told my grandfather they knew how much money he had and the properties he owned. He told my grandfather that he had a determined amount of time to leave; otherwise, his family would pay the price. They were forced to leave in their 50s with their children and grandchildren.
Can you imagine having to flee for your life, leaving all you know, all you have worked for, with just a few belongings in hand? Imagine having to start over in an unfamiliar country where you have limited resources, an entire family depending on you, and you barely speak the language.
My grandparents left their home in Guantanamo, their daughter's home, a beach house, the Picolo Night Club, a caoba furniture store, and rental property. My grandparents worked for every cent they had along with my grandfather's brothers. They came as immigrants to Cuba themselves and so did my grandmother.
They left Cuba by way of Spain, because my grandmother was Spaniard. They lived in Spain for two years. During this time, they sent their son ahead to the U.S. to forge the way in New York. Luckily for them, my uncle had an accounting degree and spoke some English.
When they arrived in New York, everyone hustled to find work. As soon as they were able to rent a large home in Long Island, they opened a basement hostel, providing meals, linens and bathroom amenities to single Cubans who couldn't afford an apartment.
—Celia M. Almeida, MS '96
The Dr. Daniels docks at Key West during the Mariel boatlift, a mass emigration of Cubans to the U.S. in 1980. (Photo credit: Keith Graham, The Miami Herald)
For as long as I can remember my family and every Cuban-American I know has been waiting, hoping and planning for the day the old dictator dies. You see, if only he would die, things would be better in Cuba: families would reunite, people would not take to sea looking for freedom, political prisoners would be liberated, Cuba would be prosperous again and a half century of suffering would finally come to an end.
Now we face the reality that Fidel Castro is dead and it makes no difference. Sure, we celebrate the death of the head and ultimate symbol of the failed revolution, which my family fled 36 years ago during the Mariel boatlift. No doubt the world is generally a better place without one of the darkest figures of the 20th century, a man who brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.
But not much has changed in Cuba as a result.
¡Se murió Fidel! But the wait continues.
–Maydel Santana, director of the Office of Media Relations at FIU
Hearing about Castro’s death reminded me about how grateful I am that my parents risked their lives to bring me to this country. I was 4 years old when my parents decided to leave Cuba and travel to South America to reach U.S. soil.
We left to Bolivia, then Guatemala, until we arrived in Mexico. Once we got to Mexico, we swam through the Rio Grande. I remember looking down into the embankment and hearing the water. It was cold and dark. My parents placed me in an inner tube and my dad swam me across. We left behind suitcases of clothes and hundreds of pictures by the river banks. My uncle, who also came with us, almost drowned. He was caught in debris, and my dad had to jump in and save him.
We ended up in Brownsville, Texas, where we met up with a cousin that drove from Miami to pick us up. We moved from a no-name hotel to a Holiday Inn in fear of being discovered. My parents later heard on the news that the same hotel we originally stayed at was raided.
Anyway, that’s my story. I came to FIU in 2004 as a student and never left.
—Dolores Medina '07, MS '09, associate director of Enrollment Communications & Outreach at FIU
All I can say is that my family felt relief. The next day, my family (those that live here) threw a party just to celebrate. [I felt] a little sad that a few of our loved ones didn't live to see this day. The biggest thing was hope - for a new chapter and for a better future. The hope that one day Cuba will be free.
—Diana Pupo, biology student