Miami Stories

Ransom in Cuba leads to a life in Miami Beach


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HistoryMiami invites you to share your story about how your family found its way to South Florida.

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About this project: Miami Stories is a collaboration by HistoryMiami, The Miami Herald, Arva Moore Parks, Miami-Dade County Public Schools and National Conference on Citizenship Chairman Michael Weiser.

Special to The Miami Herald

We traveled to Miami Beach often, before deciding to move from Cuba for good.

The motivation? My father rejected an influential Cuban politician's demand to lead his Masonic lodge, and was kidnapped for it. After paying the ransom, we boarded a Pan Am flight, and landed in Miami in the summer of 1943.

We rented an apartment, and I enrolled at Ida M. Fisher — Beach High was not yet built. We lived south of Fifth Street because Jews were confined to that area of Miami Beach, nicknamed "Little Jerusalem."

African Americans had to leave before sundown, and hotel signs advertised: "No Jews, Blacks or Dogs."

I spoke little English, and was teased for being one of only three Hispanic kids at school. Back then, being Cuban was rare! I graduated as president of the French Club, and was one of the first Hispanics inducted into the National Honor Society. I went on to graduate from the University of Miami, completed an M.B.A., and then a law degree, and became a professor there.

Life in Miami Beach was simpler then: fishing off the Fifth Street pier and catching grouper in Biscayne Bay. I worked as an usher at the Cameo Theater and as a bellhop at the Marseilles Hotel to save up for a boat. You cannot buy much of a boat from tips, and on the fourth sailing, my boat sank a mile offshore. Luckily, I swam back to shore with the incoming tide.

My wife and I married in a civil ceremony, officiated by the only notary public we could find — our mailman. We joined Temple Beth Sholom, became active members of the Mr. and Mrs. Club, and met lifelong friends. We dined at The Famous, went to races at the dog track on the Beach, and ate ice cream at the Saxony Hotel.

Most of all, we traveled. We started small, taking our Chevy Bel Air and $100, and drove all over the country. We are still going strong, having traveled now to every country in the world, some of them many times over.

In those days we lived in a single room on the roof of the Ocean Reef Apartments, next to the building's boiler. We may have had to wash dishes in the bathroom, but we had a marvelous view of the ocean.

In addition to teaching, I worked as an accountant for a $1.50 an hour. My office was located on Eighth Street and 27th Avenue. Life changed after the Cuban Revolution. I helped many Cuban arrivals with the loss of their homes and businesses, even traveling to Washington, D.C., to facilitate a new tax rule to recoup Cuban losses. I also campaigned at the UM to allow me to teach newly arrived Cubans to become accountants in Florida.

And we raised a family. Our four children grew up roller skating at Crandon Park (then the zoo), and boating to Rope Island (before it became Fisher Island) to watch bald eagles nest.

Looking back, we've traveled the world, our children graduated from Beach High, went on to Ivy League colleges, and some of them have returned to raise their own families. One of my grandchildren even attends Beach High. Is another UM graduate in our future?

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