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Elsio Suengas's memory of Time

It was a horrible journey in the ocean and not a pleasant experience leaving your homeland.
As a 13 year old boy, the best memory that I have is seeing the american flag the morning that we arrived and knowing that we had arrived to a land tha (read the rest of this memory)t offered us freedom and a future.
I would like to express my deepest gratitude to this country and thank you for allowing me to joint you in freedom to the American people.

Juan F. Diaz's memory of Sun Hippie

My name is Juan F. Diaz, but my birth name is Juan Francisco Diaz Delgado. Like all Cuban immigrants, my name has been shorted to fit into what is customary in our new country. I write this for my children: Brian Pias of Jupiter Florida, Kenny, Crist (read the rest of this memory)ina, and Cynthia of California, whom I know someday will read this.
I came to America on a vessel named “Sun Hippie” on May 22, 1980. We arrived at Key West just after the morning sun had risen over the city, it must have been around 6:30 AM. I was almost 15 years old and I had never been on a boat before. The trip was, and still is, the scariest experience of my life; not because I vomited the whole trip, but because during the night due to the rough seas, we had to seek cover inside the hull of the boat. Being in those close quarters (where typically the shrimp was stored), I had come to the conclusion the boat was going to capsize and we were all going to drown in it.
Back in 1980, “Sun Hippie” was a brand new shrimp boat built in Spain. I remember going into the main steering house and seeing the brass plaque with its build date. She was made of wood and she was very beautiful and clean. Our voyage to the USA started on April 6th when the five of us, my parents, my two sisters and I jumped the fence at the embassy of Peru (that’s another story too!). A month and a half later we were transferred to a concentration camp called “Mosquitos”. It was located on the northern coast of Havana near the port of “El Mariel”. We spent five days on that camp. No restroom facilities, no showers, surrounded by rude and oppressive Cuban military police and guarded by police dogs. We were fed a small of box of rice and eggs only. Our water was our of a gross dirty garden hose hooked up to a water tank, the same garden hose the police dogs would drink water from. It was a horrible experience. Because we came from the embassy of Peru, we were isolated and not allowed to walk around the camp. We were confined to our green tent on the hot and hard soil. We had no bedding or blankets, were treated like animals and left on to fend for ourselves on the floor, surrounded by the fowl smell of human excrement and urine. The only thing we had to lay on that hard rocky floor was the clothes we were wearing.
On the fifth day, very early in the morning we were transferred via a bus to the port of “El Mariel”, it was a short 10 minute ride down the coast. As we approached the harbor, I vividly remember seeing hundreds of vessels flying the American flags. Suddenly it became obvious that we were finally leaving Cuba by boat.
Our boat, Sun Hippie, was heaven on earth for me; it was my first experience of the good life waiting in America. There were two gentlemen from the USA, one of then was the Captain. I later found out his name is Captain George Hooper. Captain Hooper to me appeared to me as a very tall, in command, happy faced man, with good spirits and jokester. Captain Hooper is an African-American who did not speak a word of Spanish, but some how he was able to communicate with us during the entire trip and even make fun of Fidel Castro and his regime. He personally walked me all around the boat and gave me tour. He was so happy and seemed very thrilled with what he was doing. He was the first American I had ever seen in person. (In 2002, I was able to reunite with Sun Hippie in Key West and met the Foltz family who owned the boat then and still does today! However, I have never been able to locate Captain Hooper.
Both Captain Hooper and his deckhand greeted us in a very friendly manner and showed us where all of the food and drinks were kept. My family was the first family to board Sun Hippie and I had a blast eating everything in sight. For the first time in my life I had an apple, as apples do not grow in the tropics. I had always wanted an apple as to me it was a symbol of freedom that one day was to come. Growing up in Cuba, I always dreamed of coming to the USA, this was due to the influence of my dad who hated communist Cuba and had been a police officer for the Batista government. I knew that the day I was able to eat an apple, it would represent a day of freedom. I did not stop eating just apples on that morning in El Mariel harbor on Sun Hippie; for the first time in my life I also ate a ham sandwich (Jamon que rico!) and I drank my fist Coca-Cola. Then there were the Vienna Sausages, hundreds of little cans, so tasty and delicious. I was in dream land! I ate all morning and afternoon. I must have eaten dozens of those little cans. Boy did I pay the price! All night during the voyage, all I did was vomit all of the food and all of the sausages (sorry to gross you out). In fact, still today, 30 years to the date, I detest and cannot eat a single Vienna sausage.
Our entire day was wasted at the harbor and not being able to depart because the Cuban government kept putting people in what was to me “my boat”. It was not until 5 PM that we departed in a flotilla of about 10 boats, all in a single line, being closely monitored by Cuban coast guard ships. For the first time in my life, I was able to see my little island of Cuba from the distance. I remember seeing the Havana skyline, the palm trees and slowly it all began to shrink as my past was starting to fade away and all I had known was being left behind, then the night set in and the ocean was a dark hole.
Sun Hippie was packed; there was very little room to move. We had to be on the deck of the boat, there was no other place to stand. I remember the Captain pointing out that we should not stand by the edge (which was only a couple feet in height) as we could fall over board. But there was no other choice because there was no other place stand. There was 200 people standing on a deck of a medium size shrimp boat that was meant to only have a handful of “deck hands” and was meant to carry shrimp and not people. These circumstances meant we were all in peril, but unknown to me we were in a much safer and better situation than most refuges because our boat was solid and formidable for what it was being put through.
Once we were in the open ocean, the Captain began to chant “USA Yes – Castro No” and all of us joined the chant. I remember the American flag was tangled up on the main centered mass and a bald shaven Cuban man (most likely a person from the Cuban prisons which Castro dumped on the USA) climbed the 50 foot mast as if he was climbing a coconut tree to untangle the American flag. When the flag was freed and moving about in the sea air, the crowd of refugees in the boat just shouted and applauded in happiness. It was a symbol of our freedom and our first expression of appreciation and respect for the country we were about to be part of. All of this occurred by the watchful eye of a Cuban coast guard ship, which made a couple of turns right in front of our boat as to intimidate us or threaten to sink us. Many of us laughed and gave them a friendly single handed goodbye if you know what I mean.
To me, our boat was simply overcrowded making it unsafe. It had way too many people in it, but this was how Castro wanted it, he packed us in there like sardines. This unsafe situation became very obvious to me when the Captain began to lower the two outriggers; one at a time as the boat leaned real hard towards the sea at a steep angle on each side as the outriggers were lowered toward the water. That was my first realization that we were too close to the water line, over weight with people, and still in very calm waters just outside the harbor. I remember people pointing out to the shark fins being seen above the water. I tried to see the sharks but it was getting darker. The thought of being in shark infested waters raised my concerns and elevated my anxiety; although I wanted to leave Cuba, I did not want to die doing so.
As the sun set and the ocean became rougher with huge waves, our Captain ordered all of use to lay or sit down. He did not want anyone standing because of the obvious possibility of falling overboard. The ocean got real dark; it must have been a moonless night. We couldn’t see much beyond the deck of the boat and all of the boats that had left with us, were no longer visible. In the middle of the night our boat came to halt, its engine at idle and we were not moving. I thought we had broken down and my nightmare of drowning was taking an emotional toll on me, I was already sick and nauseous, I just wanted to live but I also wanted this nightmare to end. Our boat was moving up and down, side to side and out of control. Waves were splashing us over the top and over the side. It seemed that our boat was out of control. Then out of no where, we can hear the screaming and begging for help from another boat. It was very small boat, maybe something you would see at a lake and not meant for the ocean. I estimate that it must have been between 20 to 25 feet long and it had like 15 people in it and just floating with no lights, no engine running and obviously broken down. From time to time I could see a red flare. Our boat turned around and began do make circles trying to get near the disabled boat. Eventually, we got near it and all the refugees were pulled aboard by hands of other refugees on to Sun Hippie. I remember our Captain tied a very thick rope from Sun Hippie to the small boat in an effort to save it and we were again on our way. That rope did not last very long, snapping suddenly and the disabled boat disappeared.
The next chapter of the voyage that I remember was the scariest of all. This is when it got so rough that we had to seek refuge inside the boat. I don’t know how big the waves or the ocean swell was, but I know that it must have been real bad, as Captain Hooper ordered all of us into the hull of the boat. In the middle of the deck, there was access hole. It was about 4 feet square and all of us went down into the inside of the boat. I felt like I was like climbing inside a coffin and although I wanted to be optimistic about surviving this ordeal, it seemed against all odds. We were packed inside the hull with no room to move and my back was pressed hard against the curved wall of the hull. I was able to tell that it was single wall boat. I could feel the waves crashing on the side of the boat and I could hear the wood beams and side planks stretching as if the boat was going to disintegrate. I kept looking up and praying that the room would not turn upside down and the hole we had just been through to get inside the hull of the boat was not going to be filled with water rushing in. I remember my poor mom was so sick that she was almost unconscious. My dad was standing over us and my little sister was so scared, my dad told me to hold her so I held her very tight. I don’t know what happened next, all I remember next is that my dad woke all of us. I felt so bad for him, he had been standing there all night over us and he looked so tired. But now, the rocking, shaking and the noise of the waves were gone and people were climbing back out to the deck. We all climbed out and it was still dark. We could see light in the distance and we shouted in happiness because it was Key West, or at least we thought it was. It turned out to have been a huge American naval ship. From it, a helicopter flew and an American seaman was lowered to our boat. He had with him a metal stretcher (known as a stokes-litter). I remember that he landed hard on his abdomen on the deck of Sun Hippie and he packaged an elderly lady that was unconscious into the stretcher. The seaman and the elderly lady were raised to the helicopter and taken to the naval ship.
It seems that it took forever to reach Key West. I remember seeing the City approach and the sun rising over it, but it was not coming fast enough. It was such a beautiful sight to see land again, but not because it was land but because it was American land. A land I only dreamed of coming to for so many years and now it was real.
As we approached the docks, hundreds of people were looking at us through fences. I could hear their screaming and clapping for us. I was so happy to see their emotions and feeling so welcome. Men and women in military uniforms helped us climb out of the boat. I remember looking back because I wanted to remember the name of the boat “Sun Hippie” and then seeing Captain Hooper who had climbed to the roof of the wheel house. He was looking right at me, our eyes connected and he gave me the biggest smile. I will never forget his only words in Spanish during the whole trip, he said to me… “No mas Fidel” and we waved goodbye.
Juan Francisco Diaz,
Cuban Refugee USA Arrival May 22, 1980

Orlando I Cartaya's memory of Estelita

Despues de 30 Años de aquel acontecimiento transcedental en mi vida , que me permitio por primera vez ser un hombre totalmente libre. Doy primeramente gracias a Dios de haber podido escapar de ese regimen, dictatorial tiranico, despota y opresor, qu (read the rest of this memory)e desgovierna mi pais , Doy Gracias a DIOS tambien por permitirme estar en esta gran nacion, en este maravilloso pais ,el mas libre, democratico y poderoso del mundo y en el de las mejores oportunidades para el progreso y desarrollo del ser humano,, Todo esto es como un sueño hecho realidad , por eso no me canso cada dia de dar Gracias a Dios por todas estas grandes bendiciones.. Y. Sobre los acontecimientos , relatos y anecdotas de la travesia , llegada , convivencia y adaptacion a esta nueva vida , escribire en otros comentarios, por ahora me despido y ojala personas que compartieron conmigo en esa pequeña embarcacion, que todavia esten vivas , podamos comunicarnos y hacer un reencuentro, seria algo muy interesante y como dice el dicho recordar es voler a vivir.. Orlando

Orlando I Cartaya's memory of Estelita

Un recuerdo gracioso , humoristico de cuando salimos de Cuba en aquella noche, fue que cuando el barco o la lancha se iba alejando de la costa, cojiendo el rumbo norte, camino hacia la libertad de todos nosotros , la bandera cubana que en esos moment (read the rest of this memory)os tenia la embarcacion, la fueron bajando y colocaron la bandera Norteamericana,.... En esos momentos un cubano de abordo grito a viva voz !Viva Carter y todos al unisonos dimos nuestro primer grito de libertad a puro coro vibrantes de emocion !VIVA CARTER!.... Yo me pregunto Quien fue? .. y que sera de la persona que tuvo esa iniciativa tan chispiante de desahogo emocional de por primera vez.... sentirse un hombre verdaderamente libre de la opresion y la dictadura

Mario Herrera's memory of Villarena

Recuerdo que salimos de nuestra casa en La Habana rodeados de un ambiente hostil, los actos de repudio y los insultos de la escoria gubernamental eran la despedida de esos tiempos. Cuando arribamos a Cayo Hueso desde nuestra embarcación divisamos un (read the rest of this memory)enorme cartel que decia. CUANDO UN PUEBLO ENERGICO Y VIRIL EMIGRA, LA TIRANIA TIEMBLA.

Mario Herrera's memory of Villarena

MAYO DE 1980
Corrían los días del mes de Mayo de 1980, acostado en la cama miraba el cielo azul por la amplia ventana. La luz que entraba tenia un raro resplandor, la percibía como un recuerdo, como si ya estuviera recordando ese instante con la c (read the rest of this memory)erteza de que no volvería a estar nunca mas en ese lugar, nunca mas caminaría las calles de la Ciudad donde nací, donde crecí, donde tuve mi primer ilusión de amor, mi primer trabajo, donde luche para poco a poco mejorar en lo posible el modo de vida de mi familia, todo quedaría atrás, todo lo perdería, nada podía llevarme, sabia que todo lo tenia que dejar, que después de mi partida, se repartirían personas extrañas, todo lo que había obtenido durante muchos años de trabajo, nuestra casa, nuestros muebles, hasta nuestra ropa y quizás alguna comida de la poca que no se había podido consumir en los últimos días antes de nuestra salida.
Era el alto precio que teníamos que pagar para poder escapar hacia la libertad, para que mi hijo no fuera un esclavo de una tiranía, para que mis nietos no nacieran rodeados de consignas de odio y miserias del alma.
Pero duele, es algo doloroso muy traumático, es permitir que de un golpe te hagan renunciar a tu pasado y a tu futuro renunciar al lugar donde debías de permanecer el resto de tu vida, donde nacieron y murieron tus abuelos y los abuelos de tus abuelos.
Se trata del desgarramiento de tus ancestros, de tu verdadero ser, es algo más que un idioma, una costumbre, un modo de comer, de vivir de reír o de llorar, es algo más que una manera de hablar quizás en voz muy alta.
Es tener que renunciar con tremendo sacrificio a la propia naturaleza personal.
Así lo sentí en los días que corrían en el mes de Mayo de 1980.
Siempre quedaba la esperanza, del regreso mas temprano que tarde, no era posible que un gobierno tan despótico y enajenante pudiera sobrevivir mucho tiempo.
Pero quedaban dudas dolorosas, como podría vivir alejado de la ciudad de La Habana, esa ciudad que tanto amaba, esa ciudad que tantas veces caminara hasta en sus mas ocultos rincones y donde crecí y madure amándola cada vez mas, día a día mientras mas la conocía, mientras mas sabia de sus mas de cuatrocientos años de historia, de sus edificios de sus parques de su alma exquisita de ciudad alegre y bulliciosa.
Maltratada, abandonada y despreciada por la Tiranía, pero orgullosa, imperecedera, como sus Iglesias, como sus calles, como sus casas de arquitectura española y moderna.
Con una rapidez alucinante pasaron los días y llego el día 22 de Mayo.
El hermano de Lourdes, mi esposa, llevaba más de 15 días con una pequeña embarcación en el puerto del Mariel esperando que nos permitieran salir.
La jefa de vigilancia de los Comités de Defensa de la Revolución toco en la puerta de nuestra casa, la acompañaba un oficial del gobierno que venia a hacer un inventario de todas nuestras pertenecías, todas, desde lo mas importante hasta lo mas mínimo.
Tuvimos suerte el oficial no quiso hacernos pasar un mal rato, quizás estaba cansado de tener que hacer tantos inventarios de salida. Le dijo a la jefa de vigilancia que cuando estuviéramos listos para abandonar la casa ella debía cerrarla y quedarse con la llave y que no podíamos sacar nada de lo que había dentro de ella.
Apurada y nerviosamente nos bañamos, vestimos y salimos a la sala a esperar a un amigo que tenia un auto en el cual nos llevaría a un Club de la playa ahora llamado “Circulo Social Amadeo Fontan.”
Este lugar era el punto de control, mejor dicho de hacinamiento, donde nos quitarían nuestros documentos para estar seguros que llegáramos a los EE.UU. sin ninguna identificación.
Eran las 12 del mediodía, la calle se lleno de vecinos del barrio, adentro de la casa antes de salir también un grupo numerosos de vecinos entro a despedirse y de paso a ver que se podían llevar.
Yo estaba preocupado, sabía que a mucha gente antes de irse los habían golpeado y humillado, turbas de elementos de la tiranía. A un vecino a patadas, un grupo como de diez entre hombres y mujeres le había sacado los dientes. Después supe que era un alto dirigente de la compañía de electricidad Castrista.
Pero milagrosamente nadie grito nada obsceno, nadie nos agredió a pesar de estar llena la calle de vecinos, primero entraron en el auto mi Sra. y mi hijo, cuando me disponía a entrar en el mismo un grito con mi nombre me detuvo, era el negro papi un amigo que junto a otros en la esquina de Sitios y Rayo moviendo los brazos en señal de saludo me despedían
Me gritaban “Mario que tengas buen viaje, suerte Mario, mucha suerte”
Ese fue el momento de mi despedida, despedida de mi patria de mi barrio de mi Habana.
Mi amigo Nicolás nos llevo rápidamente en su auto al lugar donde teníamos que chequear nuestros documentos, o mejor dicho, dejar nuestros documentos.
Dos cuadras antes de la entrada tenían la calle cerrada con vallas y detrás turbas del gobierno sacados de sus trabajos con la tarea de gritar, insultar y apedrear a los que entraran en ese lugar eran grupos de 30 0 40 personas.
Mi amigo se dio cuenta de la situación y entro con el auto al espacio entre las vallas y la puerta de entrada del lugar, de esa forma evito que fuéramos agredidos por los Castristas, estábamos a mitad de camino pero a salvo de las pedradas y los huevasos.
De todas formas no nos libramos de los insultos las escorias humanas gritaba con furia, todo tipo de insultos y obscenidades.
Oye Maric… a que vas al norte a dar el cu.., gritaba una dama.
Otro caballero gritaba -y tu pu.. , tortillera vas a Miami a hacer tortilla, otra voz femenina se escuchaba gritar -y el niño lo llevan a mamar pin...
Con paso rápido entramos en el antiguo club de la playa y en la puerta nos recogieron el documento que el oficial del gobierno nos entrego para presentar en ese lugar.
Pónganse por donde puedan y esperen que los llamen por los altoparlantes.
Adentro se encontraban cientos de personas que no tenían donde estar, ni donde sentarse,
Rápidamente comprendimos que el único lugar para estar junto con la mayoría de familias que allí se encontraban era la arena de la playa.
Lo que no sabíamos es que allí pasaríamos dos días y dos noches.
En ese lugar vimos llegar personas golpeadas, hombres y mujeres, algunos embarrados de huevos que les tiraron las turbas enardecidas.
En ese lugar vimos las letrinas sanitarias levantadas como tarimas con paredes y sin techo donde las montañas de excrementos llenas de moscas y la peste no te dejaban entrar.
Vimos a una señora como de 70 años que entro en una de las escasas letrinas, que estaban a poca distancia de la calle separados por una cerca de alambres, salir roja bañada en su sangre porque una piedra lanzada desde la calle por un elemento Castrista , lleno de odio, le fracturo la cabeza.
Vimos familias llorar desesperadamente porque en el ultimo momento los habían separado de sus hijos menores con cualquier pretexto, muchos se fueron y dejaron atrás a sus seres mas queridos, otros muchos como entraron volvieron a salir, “o nos vamos todos o nos quedamos todos,” decían.
Después el traslado al mosquito en una guagua que era apedreada por las turbas de la dictadura.
Al llegar al mosquito nos registraron con detectores de metales que nos pasaban por todo el cuerpo. La orden era que no sacaras nada ni lo mas mínimo de valor, a mi esposa la obligaron a desnudarse, fue quizás la ultima humillación.
Tuvimos suerte la espera fue breve al anochecer nos trasladaron a la embarcación que nos llevo a tierras de libertad.
Llegamos a Cayo Hueso el domingo 25 de mayo de 1980.

Miriam Herrera's memory of Estelita

A 30 años de aquella travesía hacia la Libertad, hoy, miro hacia atrás y me siento orgullosa de haber tomado la difícil desición de dejar atrás tantas cosas, como familia, amigos y mi querida islita, que siempre llevaré en mi corazón y emprender aque (read the rest of this memory)l viaje hacia lo desconocido...Agradezco a este maravilloso país, por abrirnos los brazos a tantos y tantos cubanos y permitirnos criar a nuestros hijos en libertad y prosperidad, pero sobretodo, agradezco a Dios, por ayudarme a escoger lo mejor para mi familia, fué una dura decisión, pero estoy convencida que fué la mejor. A cuba siempre la llevaré conmigo, y ojalá, el próximo aniversario de esta fecha, podámos celebrar también, la libertad de nuestra Patria.

Mario Herrera's memory of Villarena

A los 11 que estabamos a bordo el gobierno Cubano no sumo 11 mas eramos 22 en total.
Cuando creiamos que nos hudiamos aparecio un enorme barco de la marina americana y saco a los 11 que no eran familiares. Despues nos ayudaron guiandonos el resto (read the rest of this memory)de la travesia hasta Cayo Hueso.
Gracias a eso pudimos salvar nuestras vidas. Dios bendiga America.

alicia dominguez's memory of El Cid

I was 46 years old.

We had been following the news about the 10,000 refugees that had overtaken the Peruvian embassy in Havana and we knew that something big was going to happen. Fidel would have to allow the escape valve on the pressure c (read the rest of this memory)ooker that is Cuba to work.
We saw the news that people were leaving Miami in boats to rescue their family members and that the dictator, Fidel, was allowing it. By the next morning, we had our boat gassed up, our supplies bought, and our captain and crew organized for the trip. We left Miami towards Mariel.
When we arrived at Marathon in the Florida Keys, I thought we were already in Cuba.. it turns out the journey would be much longer. The US coast guard stopped us and took our information and allowed us to proceed.
The journey through the Florida straights at night time with a bad storm was treacherous. I don't know how to swim. But that fact didn't cross my mind at the time. All I could think about was my brother whom I'd made a pact with that if the opportunity ever arose, I would rescue him from Cuba. After so many years, the opportunity had finally arrived.
When we approached the island, the Cuban coast guard stopped us and took our names and the name of the boat and questioned us before we were allowed to proceed. There were so many other boats around us, heading in the same direction. We approached Mariel harbor and saw the massive number of boats anchored there. It was overwhelming. More and more arrived each day. We anchored our boat and soon a Cuban boat approached us and took information from us about who we were, and who we were there to get. The boats would be called on large speakers to approach the dock when their passengers were ready for pick up. We waited for one month in the harbor for our boats name to be called. For supplies, the Cuban govt had little boats selling food and other wares going from boat to boat in the harbor. We were also allowed to take water taxis into Havana to buy things we needed.
El Cid's engine died at one point and we had to get word back to Miami that we needed a new engine. My son in law made the trip to Mariel and brought us a new engine and installed it. These were tense times.
The refugees were being bussed to the harbor from a concentration camp called El Mosquito, where the refugees were being "held" prior to their departure. My brother, told me that while there, they were fed uncooked rice or uncooked potato and dirty water.
Finally on the morning of May 15, around 6 a.m., El Cid's name was called on the loud speakers. We approached the dock and I aw my brother standing there in a line of 50 people.. with another 50 people right next to them. Our boat was less than 50 feet long. They loaded our boat with my brother and the 50 in his line.. then started to load the other 50. I stopped them and said that we couldn't carry so many. Then the Cuban official said, "then they can all stay" and started to unload my brother and his group. I looked at my captain and asked him if we could do it. He said it would be difficult but he thought we could make it. So I agreed to take all 100.
The 16 hour trip back was horrible. The women and children were placed below deck and the men above. We only had 50 life vests.. which were given to those below deck. The men shoveled water out of the boat with cups and buckets. Large waves blew over us and left water on deck. At one point it seemed like we had a mutiny on our hands. People were tired and hungry and desperate. Thankfully, as we made it out to high sea, we saw a coast guard cutter - that was so large, it looked like an island from far away. they approached us and dropped water and a large bag of sandwhiches to us.. and yelled out "keep going, keep going"..
we had hope.
a few hours later.. we approached Key West and there was a long line of boats waiting to dock and drop off their passengers. We heard how they would announce the arriving boats on a loud speaker and they said "el cid!".. we knew our family would be there.. but there were so many people you could just see the mass of people and no faces.. as we got closer.. i saw my family.. waving at us hysterically happy to see us. We got processed and spent the night at the Holiday Inn on Key West before driving back to Miami.
I don't know the names of all of the souls that my husband and I along with our captain and crew, helped bring to freedom. I hope that this database will help record that information forever.
Today I am 76 years old - and the Mariel experience is one I have never forgotten and will ever forget so long as I live. The faces.. the fear, the hope and the deep sigh of freedom felt when we came back home are emotions that run very deep.

CARLOS's memory of Lucky Cracker


H. Herrera's memory of Estelita

Not many memories since I was only seven then. I do remember dad telling me to put the window up on the bus ride to “el mosquito” and me being a stubborn seven year old refusing. Needless to say after an egg thrown by people that though of us as dese (read the rest of this memory)rters flew close to the open window, the window got shut without haste. I remember “el mosquito”, the camp where we waited to board our vessel to freedom. I remember my great grandmother falling in the cargo hold of the boat. My mother holding us in the cabin as we got seasick. I recall tasting my first apple on that boat, and associating the sea sickness with the apple. I did not touch an apple for many tears after that! I vividly recall our arrival in Key West, and the overwhelming emotions that I felt that day.
I have been on many boat rides since that life altering journey, from canoes to luxury yachts. Thirty years later, that ninety mile ride in a shrimp trawler, remains the greatest boat ride of my life. Thanks to my parents for making that difficult decision and all who made the voyage possible, I can raise my children in a land without persecution and oppression. Most important thanks to this great nation for taking us under her wing in dire times; we are eternally grateful to you! I still carry heavy Cuban roots, but my home is now The United States of America thanks to the Mariel boat lift. I write that with a lot emotion and pride! God bless the U.S.A.
We found our “estrellita” aboard the “Estelita”.

lazaro a. santos's memory of Carrie Jill

Recuerdo que la mayoria de los que estaban en el barco tenian la misma camisa de cuadritos- camisa de guinga , le deciamos en Cuba. Una forma de identificar a los que habian salido directanente de las carceles para el Mariel.No llevabamos ni media h (read the rest of this memory)ora en el barco cuando nos mandaron a bajar a todos y comenzaros a montar a casi cien refugiados que estaban en fila en el muelle. Ellos fueron los primeros que salieron en el Carrie Jill. Algo menos de una hora despues el barco regreso por nosotros, los refugiados que habiamos montado primero. Un negro que estaba delante de mi en la "cola" comenzo a decir cuando empezamos a preguntarnos que habia pasado con los cien refugiados que habian abordado antes: " Yo creo que los tiraron en el mar!"
Yo pense: " SI llego a saber que los Estados Unidos estaban tan cerca me hubiera ido nadando hace rato!"
Bueno; al fin montamos otra vez con la incertidumbre de no saber que pasaria tan pronto el barco sarpara. Al poco tiempo de navegar nos dimos cuenta de que habia pasado con los otros cien refugiados: todos estaban a bordo de otro barco que se habia averiado a la entrada del puerto del Mariel, y el barco en que nosotros viajabamos los habia levado hasta alli.
Cuando nos acercamos sufiente a ese barco, del cual no recuerdo el nombre, les tendimos una soga bien gorda y lo remolcamos desde Cuba hasta Cayo Hueso.Recuedo la silueta gris de La Habana perdiendose a lo lejos y la extrana sensasion de no querer mirar hacia adelante, hacia adonde iba, hasta no perder de vista completamente el lugar que estaba dejando. Nunca mire en direccion de la proa hasta que no perdi el perfil del ultimo edificio de La Habana, de Cuba. Era como si estuviera esperando que en el ultimo momento alguna senal llegara a mis ojos que me indicara que no tenia que irme , que regresara, que todo estaba bien, que aun me querian en mi pais, en mi casa,donde naci y creci. Esa senal nunca la vi, a pesar de que hice el mayor esfuerzo posible para no llorar mientras viera algo de esa Isla bella, en otras palabras: queria tener mis ojos lo mas limpios posible para llenarlos solo de lo que estaba dejando. Todavia , y a pesar de haber vivido treinta anos mas desde ese dia 31 de mayo del 1980, tengo en mis ojos guardada, mejor dicho, tallada , tatuada , insertada como un apendice a mi vision la imagen de una Habana que, mas que decirme adios, parecia decirme :"Por favor, lllevame contigo!

Juan Ramirez's memory of La Siempre Viva

Yo tengo la lista de todos los pasajeros que vinieron en este barco , y el documento oficial de la multa

Raisa Portero's memory of Red Diamond V

Sali de Cuba con mi hijita de apenas 13 meses de nacida sola pues mi esposo habia salido el 17 de mayo en otra embarcacion llamada Cullen Bay fue muy duro verme sola con mi hija aunque las personas que estaban en la embarcacion dentro sus posibilidad (read the rest of this memory)es me ayudaron sobre todo un muchacho no recuerdo su nombre se porto como todo un familiar pues me ayude con mi hija hasta que nos bajamos de la embarcacion en Cayo Hueso pues mi esposo nos estaba esperando y senti cuando me grito Raisaaaa ,fue una sensacion de alegria y de dolor que todavia no la puedo olvidar .Hoy en dia tengo mi pequeno negocio de contabilidad y le doy Gracias a Dios por averme dado la oportunidad de legar a esta gran nacion y poder ser quien quiero y lo mas importante vivir en Libertad.Mi hija hoy en dia es Maestra y vive muy orgullosa de sus padres,solo quiero decirles;QUE DIOS BENDIDA AMERICA.

ruben gerber santana's memory of Estelita

Hay recuerdos que se han mantenido en mis memorias de este dia que marco la diferencia a convertirme en un hombre libre. Arrivamos al yate Estelita, hubo una mujer que de lo mas entusiasmada nos dijo: Ya son libres pero no hagan comentarios ahora. N (read the rest of this memory)os regalo una manzana.
Salimos bajo un terrible mal tiempo y nos mantuvimos vomitando todo el viaje, crei que perderia a mi pequeno hijo quien se me desmadejaba en los brazos. Al llegar a Cayo Hueso solicite del capitan algo para mi hijo y me dio un jugo de pera con lo que se recupero, habiamos ganado la batalla. En las horas que tuvimos que esperar en el puerto los patrocinadores prepararon sandwishes para todos los tripulantes, siempre recordare todas las atenciones, como el recibimiento ya en tierra. Pienso en la generosidad de este pais de albergar a sees humanos con ansias de libertad y permitirle los mismos derechos que a los nacidos aqui. Fue nuestra oportunidad para hacer lo que en la patria que nacimos no pudimos. Aqui nos realizamos como ciudadanos libres; la libertad no tiene precio.

Sergio R. Barrero's memory of Rubber Duck

Salimos del Puerto del Mariel el dia 22 de Mayo alrededor de las 5 de la tarde. Era una tarde soleada y la gran mayoria de las personas eramos solteros y hombres. Recuerdo algunos niños mujeres y personas mayores pero eran los menos. El dia 24 con la (read the rest of this memory) ayuda de los GuardaCostas Americanos atracamos en Key West a las 9 am. Ese dia naci de nuevo.

Liuba Gonzalez's memory of Miss Angie

I was 6 years old but have very clear memories of my family's voyage. I remember that we confined to our boat for days in the Havana harbor because of inclement weather. Thankfully, our boat was big (enormous to a 6-year-old) and the captain was su (read the rest of this memory)ch a nice person. He had coolers full of juice for the kids and the the cabin was full of snacks. The first time I saw Gilda crackers was during this journey and I thought they were so pretty because they looked like shells.
Our crossing was scary to say the least. The black sky and bottomless ocean seemed like one and when the boat would hit a wave, it would point straight up at the black sky and come straight down where it seemed like the bow was going to be break through the raging swells and the merciless sea swallow the boat. We were even towing another boat that lost its engines. The women and children were in the cabin and the men were outside. I was lucky that my mom's cousin was on the same boat with her children because my mother passed out from sea sickness. We finally arrived in Key West after what I thought was an eternity and the very next morning we left the base to start a new life.

Pedro Fernandez's memory of Miss Susan

I was the captain of this boat. We brought 65 people, not 50 to freedom. I hope and pray all of them put their new freedom to good use living a decent, moral life in this country.

Antonio Fleitas's memory of Lady Voncile

Hoy a los 30 años de haber salido de esa bella isla que me vio nacer, tengo varias anecdotas de como fue la travesia y a personas que concoi con las cuales perdi todo contacto.
Una de mis primeras memorias fue quando nos montamos en la embarcacio (read the rest of this memory)n y estabamos totalmente hacinados de manera tal que no podiamos movernos. Las personas que estaban junto a mi que venian como "escorias" han sido unas de las personas mas decentes que he conocido en mi vida. Despues de un largo rato pude moverme y caminar a lo largo del barco.
Un momento emocionante fue cuando el helicoptero del coast guard se mantuvo a baja altura sobre nosotros. Me di cuenta que ya estabamos en aguas americanas. El patron del barco le señalo que no necesitabamos ayuda.
Detras de nosotros venia una pequeña embarcacion con unas 6 o 7 personas abordo. La misma fue quedandose atras. Dos guarda costas americanos se le acercaron y nuestra embarcacion tuvo que hacer un giro de 180 grados y ver que pasaba con ellos. Se les habia acabado la gasolina y tuvieron que ser remolcado.
Recuerdo tambien lo primero que vi de tierra americana. Fue el pico de una iglesia en Key West. Desde ese momento hasta llegar a desembarcar pasaron alrededor de tres horas. Quando tocamos tierra, me dio emocion y alivio ver a un viejo amigo del barrio cuya tia me hizo el paroli en Key West.
Fue algo significativo y emocionante llegar a tierras de libertad. Fue un dia que quedara grabado en mi memoria para siempre.

SONIA IBARRA's memory of Charles M


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