Rosario de la C De Lescura Diaz
Rosario de la C's Story
My Life in Cuba
My life and learning have been a series of changes. I was born in Santiago de las Vegas, a town outside of Havana, Cuba, in 1948. My life in Cuba can be described as very happy, peaceful, safe, and sheltered. I don't remember ever worrying about anything.
I lived with my mother, maternal grandparents until their death, 3 aunts, and 1 male cousin. My parents were divorced when I was seven years old. My father continued to be an integral part of my life.
My mother was a secretary with the Department of Agriculture. My eldest aunt was a school teacher,and another aunt had a Business Administration degree. My father was a bus driver.
I attended public schools from kindergarten through the seventh grade, which I did not complete due to the takeover of the public school system by Castro's regime. I was an average student. I liked school and my teachers. Then on January 1, 1959, Fidel Castro took control of Cuba, and my life took a dramatic turn.
Months prior to my departure, my mother sat with me and discussed my coming to the United States unaccompanied with the Pedro Pan group. She explained in detail the rationale for my departure. It was of a grave concern to her that I would be drafted into the Cuban Armed Services and be forced to separate from her for an unknown destination. She also stressed that leaving Cuba was a good opportunity for me to visit the United States, learn a new language, and continue my formal education.
She assured me that everything would be all right, and that I was only going to be away for a short time, just until Castro was overthrown. Even though I did not have any desire to leave my family or Cuba, I knew it was expected and inevitable, as conditions in Cuba were deteriorating rapidly.
So on August 10, 1962, I left my hometown for the last time, and headed to Rancho Boyeros International Airport. I vividly remember the day of my departure. I felt both excited and scared. I felt excited about leaving for the United States so I could continue my education, since I had not attended school for at least a year; and I thought it was going to be an exciting short vacation!!!! I felt scared because I had never been away from my family, and I didn't know whether I would ever see them again. I didn't know what the future held in store for me.
At last we arrived at the airport. My mother started crying and hugged me real hard. I heard her sob and saw tears coming down her face. Then she warned me, for the hundredth time that when I entered the "pecera," a glass-walled waiting room, I would be searched and interrogated by the airport authorities.
She told me not to show any fear, cry, wave, or talk about why I was going to the United States, or my trip would be cancelled.So I just sat there in the glass-walled waiting area very stoic and quiet for over four hours, staring at my mother. She also sat stoically and quietly staring at me.
I would like to note that I did not remember this particular phase of my departure until I attended my first Pedro Pan meeting years ago. Some of the other members there present were reliving their own "pecera" experiences. I suddenly started to cry and shake uncontrollably.
I had blocked this particular experience out. Writing about it now still evokes some powerful emotions.
Finally, the time came for us to leave the "pecera" and walk outside to the waiting Pan American Airline plane. I looked back to take one last look at my mother, but I couldn't see her in the crowd. At that moment I started to feel scared and alone. Then we took our seats on the plane, and it seemed that almost everyone was crying except me. I started to reassured those who could hear me that everything was going to be all right. I found myself echoing the explanations my mother had given me. It didn't help them.
So here ends my life in Cuba,and my life in the United States began as an unaccompanied Pedro Pan child.
My Life in the United States
When I arrived in Miami I asked for George, a man that helped the Pedro Pan children as they arrived at the airport. I was taken with the other twenty-five or thirty unaccompanied children, to a large room inside Customs.
There were doctors, nurses, priests, nuns, and customs officials waiting for us. The priests greeted us, and then they introduced the rest of the people to us. They, too welcomed us. Then we were asked to sign a large book which contained the signatures of all the other children that preceded us. (At my first Pedro Pan meeting, I had the opportunity to see this book again. I can tell you, I had chills running up and down my back, when I located the page where I had signed my name fifty years earlier. It was a very emotional experience.)
Then the doctors and nurses checked my arms, legs, and thighs. They were looking for the mark left by the smallpox vaccination, which I received in Cuba months before my departure.
Unfortunately,the vaccination had not left a mark. I had to be vaccinated again. Afterwards, the nuns and priests escorted us to a waiting white van and there was George. He gave us gum. The van headed toward our destination, a refugee camp somewhere in Florida City.
After leaving the city lights, all I could see were miles and miles of dark empty fields, populated only by rows of pine trees. Then, George told us that we had entered Matecumbe Camp and that the older boys would be staying there. Some run down shacks came into view. I started to cry, saying to myself "where in God's name did my mother send me?" As we proceeded, there were some nice buildings and the house parents and boys that lived there were outside to greet the new arrivals.
We continued to our camp,called Florida City. As before, there were people and kids waiting for us.It was a very emotional arrival to the camp, a young girl named Maria de los Angeles, was singing the Cuban National anthem, and at the end everyone clapped and yelled "Viva Cuba Libre".
I stayed at the Florida City Camp for a short while. It was a pleasant experience since I was surrounded by lots of other Cuban children. Prior to leaving Cuba, my mother had instructed me to say that I wanted to go to New Jersey, because some people we knew lived there. My mother must have thought that New Jersey was small just like Santiago de las Vegas, my home town.
I was placed with an Irish-American Catholic family in New Jersey. Tom and Helen Mowle. As I learned to call them Aunt Helen and Uncle Tom. They were selected by the Catholic Welfare Bureau in Miami. Thy were very nice, and had a lovely home. They had four children, two that were married, a girl who was a senior in a Catholic High School, and a son who had passed away as a teenager years earlier.I did not speak English, and they did not speak Spanish.
Looking back at my life with them,everything seems like scenes from a movie: being introduced to the family and being stared at, eating foods I had never seen before, trying to communicate using hand signals, etc. Laying in my bedroom that first night,reality hit me again. This time it was like someone was standing on my chest, and I thought "where the heck is New Jersey and what the heck am I doing here with these people?"
I cried every night for at least two weeks. The foster family was very nice and supportive. I guess I just sort of stopped crying and decided I was here to stay until my mother could come from Cuba. The teenage girl at home was distant, but very nice. Most of my contact was with Aunt Helen, not speaking or understanding much English, with the exception of some words, was difficult. It was like being an infant who has to point to or pantomime everything. Aunt Helen introduced me to another "Pedro Pan" girl named Miriam. She was staying with another foster family up the road from me. Her foster family and mine were best friends. Aunt Helen and the other family signed us up at the ice skating rink, and made sure that we had all our needs and wants met. Unfortunately, Miriam left or was taken away from her foster family. I never got the opportunity to say goodbye or see her again. I still miss Miriam.
In school, I was placed at two grades below my grade level, because of the language barrier. No ESOL programs were in effect. I was in a class with kids who all seemed much younger than me. Thank God I was short and didn't stand out much.I didn't know what was going on except for Math,which was material I had studied years earlier. The teachers avoided me and blamed me for any disruption in the classroom.I should point out I was the only Cuban or Spanish-speaking student in the school.I made some friends regardless the language barrier.
I stayed with the my foster family for a few months, and I was feeling quite at home with them. But,they had to move to Texas, and I wasn't allowed to move with them. I was not allowed to leave the state of New Jersey. The friends I had made got together and did a going away party for me, they collected $60.00 so when my mom came, we could have some money. I have never forgotten this act of kindness.
I was placed in my second foster home. They too were Catholics and had three children: two teenagers and a girl in elementary school. They were also nice, but they wished that a much younger child had been placed in their care, not a teenager. Again, I found myself crying and wondering why I was there, and when will my mother join me.
I spoke some English by now, but school subjects were not easy for me. The teachers still kind of avoided me; one in particular, the music teacher. He would cover his ears with his hands whenever I tried to tell him I knew music, that I played the piano for five years in Cuba. He would look at everyone and say "Help, will someone help me out here?" and he would walk away from me. I quickly got the message and hardly spoke with anyone unless I was spoken to first.
Then I was told that my mother had arrived from Cuba. We were separated for one year. Even though we wrote letters and spoke on the telephone. It felt as if I had been away from her for a lifetime. Finally, on August 1963, my mother and I were reunited in Miami. Our reunion was very emotional and heartfelt.
Welived in a middle-to-upper-class socioeconomic neighborhood called Keystone Point. My mother had found a job as a nanny with a well to do Cuban family.
My mother had been a secretary,now she was a nanny. Her salary was one dollar an hour,room and board for the both of us.This arrangement didn't work out, and we moved to an efficiency apartment. She secured a better paying job as a nanny-housemaid with another well to do Cuban family.
I attended North Miami Junior and Senior High. Even though my social English was better than my academic English, I managed to pass all of my courses. It was hard. My mother did not speak English, and the teachers weren't very helpful or caring. When I was sixteen years old my mother got very ill, and I drove her to Jackson Memorial Hospital. She ended up having major surgery. There was no money coming in, so I got a part-time job as a sales clerk on Miami Beach. Meanwhile, my eldest aunt, who had left Cuba for Spain a few years earlier, came to live with us. Her nerves were shot.
Before going to the hospital to see my mother, I would have to take care of my aunt; then I would visit my mother for as long as I could, rush home to cook for the two of us, and head over to my part-time job from six to eleven o'clock at night. I was making one dollar an hour, but a job was a job. Thank God it was summer time or I don't know what I would have done. My mother was scared that I was working and taking care of my aunt.
Finally she came home from the hospital. She insisted that I take her to see my place of employment. She was horrified that I had to drive over the Julia Turtle Causeway at night, alone, and in an old car. Her hospital recuperation was spent sitting on the porch of the DiLido Hotel, which was across from my place of employment. As God would have it, she got well and found the same type of work with another family. She stayed with this family until her retirement.
I went back to school and worked nights, but I took the public bus instead of driving at night. The bus stop was right behind my house. I still remember my mother waiting for me to get home: she would be standing in the window with the light on. Then I would run home, while the bus driver waited for me to get in and turn the light off. He was a caring person.
Since I had done poorly in my SAT's, the guidance counselor said I was not suited for college,but, for factory work. Even though, I had wanted to attend college, I listened to the advise my high school counselor had given me.
I married my present husband on July 20, 1968. I worked for the phone company for a short time as a tlephone operator, but I didn't like it. So I got a job in a commercial bank, filing and microfilming checks. Then I was promoted to return items.
My daughter was born in 1970. I found a better paying job at a Savings and Loan. I handled all banking by mail and processed the mortgage payments. Two years later I was named head of my department, I kept this position until 1977. My husband wanted me to stay home when our daughter was seven years old.
I became very active in both my daughter's school and at church. Her third-grade teacher said that I had a knack for teaching and that I should go to college. I thought about it and decided to give it a try. I started taking classes at Miami-Dade Community College. I graduated in May 1981 with honors. I was initiated into two honor societies, Phi Lambda Pi and Phi Theta Kappa. I was also elected to "Who's Who in Junior Colleges."
I continued my education at Florida International University, but I had to withdraw in October of 1981. My beloved mother had passed away in July of that year. It was a very difficult time for me to overcome.
In 1983 I resumed my studies at Saint Thomas Catholic University, working during the day in a private Montessori school as a Pre-K teacher and attending school at night.
I found a permanent teaching position as a second-grade teacher, at Corpus Christi Catholic School. I graduated with honors from St. Thomas University in 1985, with a degree in Elementary Education. That same year, I was hired by Dade County Public Schools as a second-grade teacher.
In March of 1986 I was admitted to Barry University's School of Business. I was seeking a degree in Community Counseling. I was hoping that as a counselor I could influence young people to continue their education, even when their grades and SAT's scores said they shouldn't. But, I switched majors and earned a Masters in Reading.
That year we moved to our dream house, then our world fell apart and our lives were turned upside down. Eastern Airlines went bankrupt. My husband was with them for twenty-five years. Due to our economic situation, and a daughter who was starting college, I was forced to find a part-time job teaching ESOL to adults four nights a week. My husband found a lower paying job, and my daughter got herself a part-time job also while she attended FIU. Then in 1990 we had a son. He has been a Godsend. We all pull together as a family to raise him. My daughter changed her class schedule to nighttime, and she quit her part-time job to take care of her brother. She did this for three years.I am ever so grateful to her!!
My husband stayed home with our son till he was able to attend Kindergarten. My daughter entered law school and graduated a few years ago.
I give thanks to God everyday of my life that he gave me such a wonderful husband. Through our 44 years of marriage, he has stood by me and encouraged me to continue with my education. He has given me physical, mental, and spiritual support. I am also extremely thankful for my daughter. She selflessly gave of herself to take care of her little brother. There is nothing I wouldn't do for her.
As if things were not hectic enough in my life, I heard of the Miami Project, a pilot teaching program between Miami-Dade County Public Schools and Florida State University, and decided to apply. I never thought in a million years that I would be accepted, but I was. I graduated June 1998 with an Specialist degree in Science.
I wish I knew where my high school counselor was, so she could see that a test score does not determine your potential. I don't think she was being mean or nasty, she just didn't take into consideration the language factor, her words to me and the words of my daughter's third grade teacher had a great influence in my life. This taught me to be careful in what I say to my students. A teacher's words can affect a child's life.
Looking back on my life, I think that my mother's decision to send me as an unaccompanied Pedro Pan child to the United States was a good decision. Even though, being separated from my mother, and everything I knew and loved, was shocking and painful. I look at it as a positive experience. It molded my personality and made me a better, stronger, and more independent person. I think that the foster parents, nuns, priests, and social workers who came into my life did a fine job. Their love and care seemed to soften the blow of separation, a separation that has never completely ended for me. I never saw my father after I came to the U. S., and he died in Cuba in 1992.