The last goodbye: Cuban family reunites in Miami

I had just gotten home from school to our small apartment near Southwest 12th Avenue and Seventh Street and, even at the age of 5, I sensed there was something wrong. Mom didn’t greet me with her usual queries about homework, and my merienda, the afternoon snack , wasn’t ready for me on the table.

She didn’t ask me the usual: How was your day at school? “Please don’t make any noise,” is all she said.

The curtains weren’t drawn open like they always were. There was no midday sun brightening our small apartment and the din of the street still came through the open windows. I could hear the cars driving by and all the usual rumblings of that busy street, but I wasn’t allowed to pull the curtains and see my friends playing or the old man down the street carrying his groceries in his rickety metal basket, or the couple two doors down arguing.

The bedroom door was closed and just as I was about to open it I was admonished. “Your dad is in there and he doesn’t want to be disturbed.”

My first reaction to learning that dad was home in the middle of the day in the middle of the week was one of elation. Maybe I’d finally get to play catch with dad. Maybe he’d take me to the park or out for ice cream. He was always working, and time with my dad was precious.

But the bedroom door was closed and I knew, instinctively, that there would be no park for me that day. No playing catch. No ice cream. Something was wrong.

I asked mom. “Don’t worry about it,” she replied.

“Mami, but what’s wrong?” I asked again.

“Your Tía,” she said. “Your aunt who you don’t know, your dad’s sister, has died.”

I saw my father cry for the first time that day. Something so completely unimaginable for me as my father was larger than life. Big, strong. Man of steel.

And yet, that afternoon, I heard my father’s sobs come through that closed bedroom door.

I didn’t know the meaning of the word exile back then and that, sometimes, goodbyes are forever.

Of course, a few years prior to my aunt’s passing, when my father made the decision to leave Cuba, to make that sacrifice for his family, there were goodbyes. But these weren’t supposed to be forever. There was hope. Someday, soon, when this absurd horror is all over and our world is back to its simple, pure normalcy, we will be back and together again.

“Goodbye, sister.”

“Goodbye, brother.”

Three months ago and more than 40 years after that goodbye, my dad, white haired and now frail by time, leaned on his walker. His blue eyes lit, wrinkles betrayed by a wide smile. “I have some news for you,” he tells me. There’s no trace in his countenance of the severe arthritic pain in his hips or the wear on his body from the years of hard work and sacrifice. He is glowing.

“Next week,” he says. “ Tu prima, mi sobrina, my sister’s daughter, is coming from Cuba!”

My father is not a melodramatic man nor is he one to wear his emotions on his sleeve, but it has been some time since I see my father so happy. My mother’s failing health, his own health’s decline and the passing of his childhood friends recently, one by one, have taken their toll on him. And the passing of my uncle, my father’s older brother, two years ago has solidified a certain sense of loneliness in my old man. He is the last of his kin and the last of his generation in his family.

The arrival of “ La Sobrina” breathed new life into my father. It filled the void left by the passing of his siblings somehow. A piece of his life’s puzzle, missing, lost for over 40 years, finally found and put in its rightful place. Not only was my dad able to look into his niece’s eyes and see his long-lost sister, but through her, my dad got to revisit his homeland.

Being a man of principle, my father has never returned to Cuba. His convictions would not allow it. And while he may be an American citizen, he has always been and will always be a Cuban exile. The system and ideology forced upon him left him no other choice but to leave everything he had ever known and he refused to feed it, no matter how painful. No matter the anguish.

But here, for the past few weeks in this home he built in exile, through La Sobrina he was able to visit old friends. He was able to walk through the streets of El Puerto and relive the beaches of his youth. He and La Sobrina, mi prima, spoke in terms of hellos instead of goodbyes.

Unfortunately, we Cubans cannot be too happy for too long. La Sobrina’s visa is set to expire, and her visit must come to an end. Our family is set to be separated yet again by circumscription and conviction.

Today, my father, hindered by pain and aided by his walker, is at the airport with La Sobrina, daughter of his sister, awash in tears. They will hug, take in each other’s faces while forcing knowing smiles.

“Goodbye, Tío.”

“Goodbye, Sobrina.”

Valentín Prieto is the founding editor of the popular Miami-based Babalú blog.

Read more Other Views stories from the Miami Herald

Tony Lesesne


    Tony Lesesne: Overkill, and an apology

    Yes, it happens in South Florida, too — and it shouldn’t. Black men pulled over, needlessly hassled by police officers who give the rest of their colleagues a bad name, who make no distinction when a suspect has no other description than ‘black male,’ who harass residents because they can. A North Miami Beach officer pulls over a black man in a suit and tie — and behind the wheel of an Audi that simply had to be stolen, right? In another Miami-Dade city, an officer demands that an African-American man installing a vegetable garden justify why he has a shovel and seedlings. Detained for possession of cilantro? Here are five South Floridians who tell of their experiences in this community and beyond, years ago, and all too recently.

Delrish Moss


    Delrish Moss: Out after dark

    “I was walking up Seventh Avenue, just shy of 14th street. I was about 17 and going home from my job. I worked at Biscayne Federal Bank after school. The bank had a kitchen, and I washed the dishes. A police officer gets out of his car. He didn’t say anything. He came up and pushed me against a wall, frisked me, then asked what I was doing walking over here after dark. Then he got into his car and left. I never got a chance to respond. I remember standing there feeling like my dignity had been taken with no explanation. I would have felt better about that incident had I gotten some sort of dialogue. I had not had any encounters with police.


    Bill Diggs: Hurt officer’s feelings

    “I’m the first generation in my family to go to college, and if I wanted to do nothing else, I wanted to make my mom happy. I was living for my parents, I wanted to be that guy, I wanted to go to work and not have to put on steel-toe boots. And here I am in Atlanta, I have finally grown to a particular level of affluence. I wasn’t making a lot of money, but I was a college kid, wearing a suit, driving a nice BMW going to work everyday. Can’t beat that. I would leave my house, drive up Highway 78, the Stone Mountain area, grab some coffee, go to work. So on this particular morning, there’s a cop who’s rustling up this homeless guy outside the gas station where I was filling up. I’m shaking my head, the cop looks at me. This homeless guy is there every morning. I get in my car and on to the expressway. The police officer comes shooting up behind me. I doing 65, 70. He gets up behind me, I notice he’s following me. I get in one lane, he gets in the lane, I get in another lane, he gets in that lane. He finally flips his lights on, he comes up to the car. I’ve been pulled over for speeding before, I know the drill. Got my hands up here, don’t want to get shot, and I think he’s going to say what I’ve heard before: ‘License and registration, please.’ He says ‘Get out of the car!’ and he reaches in and grabs me by my shirt. He says, ‘So you’re a smart ass, huh?’ Finally he says, ‘License and registration.’ I tell him it’s in the car. He says, ‘Get it for me!’ He goes back to his car, comes back and asks, ‘So where did you get the car from?’ I say ‘It’s a friend of mine’s.” He says, ‘Is it stolen? What are you doing driving your friend’s car?’ I finally asked, ‘Is there a reason you stopped me? You followed me, what’s up, man?’ He says, ‘I’m going to let you go with a warning, but if you see me doing what I’ve got to do for my job, don’t you ever f---ing worry about it.”

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category