Miami Stories

A rough start, but a beautiful life in America

 

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About Miami Stories: This project is a partnership between HistoryMiami, Miami Herald Media Company, WLRN and Michael Weiser, chairman of the National Conference on Citizenship.


Special to the Miami Herald

It was back in the year 1956, when I arrived in Miami from Peru in September. I was told that the weather in America was totally different than in Peru and that I should take with me a heavy overcoat because it was going to be cold.

After a brief stop in Havana, the regular route for some airlines, some bandit-looking individuals entered the plane to arrest some people without giving an explanation to other passengers. After I complained that our plane was registered in Peru and that their entering the plane was not legal, we received apologies and a tour of the city. It was a difficult time and no one could clearly explain to us what was happening. I believe that it was near the end of the old regime of Fulgencio Batista and a time when revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro were causing political havoc.

After a brief tour of Havana, we were allowed to reboard the plane and continue our trip to Miami. Arriving at Miami International Airport, the heat was uncomfortable and I was carrying my heavy coat and a little luggage. I soon realized that my papers, including passport and visa, were left in the plane.

While forming the immigration line, I was requested to present my papers, which I could not find. I attempted to explain that I had left them in the plane, using my poor English, which was not understood by the American immigration officers. They were rough and screamed at me to the point that I decided I was going to return to my native land instead of receiving more harassment. Suddenly, a lady inspector, something not usual at that time, arrived. She spoke Spanish and ordered the brutal men to leave me alone and said that she was going to take care of the situation. After a brief explanation, the lady went to the plane and retrieved my documents and brought them to me, and things went smoothly thereafter.

Being a gentleman, as I was raised to be, I decided to invite the lady for dinner, despite the fact that she was perhaps older than any one of my aunts. To me, she was a beautiful blond. She thought that it was “cute” and after gently slapping me with a smile, she told me to go to my hotel and not to leave until I took the bus that was going to take me to my final destination in Washington, D.C.

At that time, South Americans with little means were told to stay at the YMCA hotels wherever we went, and I directed the taxi driver to take me there. It was difficult to find, so I was taken to another, nearby hotel that appeared to be suitable for for a night’s stay before taking the bus for Washington, D.C.

The hotel was in downtown Miami and the noise of the window ventilation fan was too much for me and I could not sleep. I decided to explore the city, or at least the parts surrounding the hotel, and I found myself in a popular restaurant/bar in which young people were the patrons.

I sat at the bar and asked for a “veer” and the bartender asked me what type of beer I wanted. Despite my studying English in Peru, I did not understand a bit of American English and people did not understand me either. I did not know what to say but suddenly a kind young man told me in Spanish the names of the beers and I decided on a Budweiser.

The young man explained to me that he and the other young people were students and invited me to sit with them and, after a couple of beers, I was taken to a party where I was, erroneously, asked to teach them to dance the Cha-Cha. Coming from Peru, it was not what we danced, despite the fact that most Peruvians can dance to almost any music. Some kids did not have any idea where Peru was located and one or two believed I was from Beirut.

At about 6 a.m., I realized I did not know the name of my hotel or the location, other than, as they say, “it was around the corner.” The kids told me not to worry, that the police were going to find my place, a situation I did not like after the episode at the airport. They assured me that it was OK and a nice policeman came and in few minutes found my place and, again, told me not to leave until I took the bus to Washington, D.C.

The next day, I found the Greyhound bus terminal and bought a ticket to Washington, a trip that lasted two days. Amazingly enough, while on the bus, I was told to move myself from the large back seat and sit at the front. Little did I know that the back seat was for “colored people” and that I was not to sit there, despite the fact that it was larger and I was planning to take a nap.

The funny thing that occurred was when another young boy of Latino background seated himself at the front of the bus, he was moved to the back. Later on I realized that it was because he was a bit darker than what the driver considered to be “white.” It was even more outrageous when, arriving in Georgia, the same boy was asked to move to the front, an episode that made us laugh and realize that we were entering a new world .

Since then, my life in America has been easy and filled with rewards and I find myself in very comfortable circumstances with a good income, lots of knowledge, and the respect of my peers. Eventually, I returned to this beautiful city where my life in the States started and am living in Miami Beach, a place that really has not changed very much in respect to helpful people -- if one can put aside the drivers and the traffic.

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