The Miami Herald

WELCOME TO AMERICA: AS A MARIELITA, I WILL ALWAYS REMEMBER THOSE WORD

My family came to the United States during the Mariel boatlift. I've included a picture of our boat, the Atila, when we were coming into Key West.

The Atila only made one trip to Mariel. This picture was found among many websites of the Mariel. Today, I live in Charleston, S.C. My siblings and Mom live in Miami and my brother has every single memory of that trip in his brain!

Here's what I remember the most. We got on our boat on May 3, 1980 in the morning and arrived past midnight on the 4th.

Fourteen hours on that boat made everyone sick, the captain, my uncle Gilberto Galceran and I were the only ones awake and strong enough to help everyone on the boat. One of the passengers was airlifted in a helicopter when we arrived to American waters as she was acutely dehydrated.

Our boat the Atila pulled about two more smaller boats that we rescued in the middle of the ocean.

When we arrived, we thought we had arrived in another area of Cuba as the American soldiers were wearing almost the identical type of fatigues as Cubans did at that time. After we realized we were saved we were asked to follow a line and as we passed through part of the dock there were tons of Cuban-Americans on the other side of this wire looking barrier with sign and screaming ``Welcome to America'' those words and tears of those people I will never forget.

It was the beginning of a new life and the opportunity to be free.

The next few hours were amazing. We were given food, clothes and medical attention. About six hours later, our family from Miami had arrived to pick my uncle Gilberto and us four. The next thing I was blown away were the reflectors on the streets and the amount of light on the billboards and on the streets.

My cousin who was driving was crying and laughing since he could not believe that I thought America had lights on the streets!

It was new to me and I was in awe over the lights. As you know, lights and electricity are a luxury in Cuba.

When we arrived in Miami at my uncle Gilberto's house we met new family we had never seen, that is my siblings and I. My mother saw her father and we met him for the first time. It was emotional, very emotional.

But I have to tell you that my biggest memory was to know what a hot shower, shampoo and soap felt like it. I was in the shower for about one hour, scrubbing the filth of my skin and hair.

For the prior seven days we had no shower, hardly any food to eat, I personally lost 10 pounds in a week! I could not believe it that there was shampoo and then conditioner and then lotions and creams.

Remember Zayre? Well that was our first shopping spree. My aunt Ofelia Galceran took us shopping that day, we needed it badly. She told us to pick up underwear, socks whatever we need it.

We each went and got one pair of underwear and one pair of socks. She was laughing hysterically and we had no idea why. In our minds we thought that all was rationed as it was in Cuba. This mentality took a while to brake.

It was an amazing learning curve for each of us. Old habits had to be broken, old ways had to let go; and being open to the new thinking with the freedom to speak up without the fear of being heard was great.

We all worked so hard those first few years, we learned English, we went to college we got good jobs and we live in America.

I want you to know that I appreciate what I have and where I came from, I want you to know that the sacrifice my family made and the kindness of my uncle and aunt, Gilberto and Ofelia Galceran is forever in our hearts.

Lastly, I had the opportunity to shake President Carter's hand on a book signing affair here in Charleston S.C. in the mid 90's and I told him thank you because I was a Marielita. It took him a second to realize what I said, but he them firmly shook my hand even more, because he knew that I came because of his approval for all of us 125,000 Cubans to come.

We all have amazing stories to tell, I hope that just through some of them we can let today's generation know that they need to stop and say thank you and appreciate what we have without taking it for granted, because someone else has worked hard to make it what it is today.

-- Mirta Brady HEALTHSOUTH- CHARLESTON




© 2010 Miami Herald Media Company. All Rights Reserved.
http://www.miamiherald.com