Ileana P Ramos Riera
Ileana P's Story
I left Cuba with my older sister Viviam on March 2, 1962. We spent a very short time in Florida City (about one month) and were sent with 2 other sets of sisters to a Catholic orphanage in Greenville, RI.
St. Aloysius Home was a like a large castle surrounded by woods. It was run by nuns of the Sisters of Mercy with a French priest named Father Gurtin. One set of sisters was very quickly released to their parents (within the first six months) and the second set of sisters within the following year. My sister and I were left in the orphanage for give or take 3 years. My mother was a judge in Cuba and therefore my parents were not allowed out of the country as easily as the others.
Even though it was a very difficult time in our lives, Father Gurtin and the sisters were warm and understanding to our situation. The people from the town were equally warm and charitable not only with gifts but with their time. During all holidays we were sent to a different home to spend this time with their families and we were treated like family.
It was not easy to adjust and understand at such young age and with such insecurity of what our futures would hold but under the circumstances we can truly say we were blessed to be in this place surrounded by such wonderful people. I have heard other stories; good and bad and am happy to report we were amongst the lucky ones.
We were allowed to phone our parents approximately once a month and sometimes they were able to call us. This made many things bearable.
I have many funny stories about those 3 years and some not so funny which after all are part of life and growing up. Some day I hope to write a book; if only for my son to have a record of my life experiences.
One story that always remains in my mind is when my parents finally left Cuba through Mexico. At this point my sister had been transferred to a high school in Providence and I was left in the orphanage in Greenville (she would come back every weekend). This was a very expensive High School for very well to do children. When my sister received word that my parents were in Mexico my sister sat in her room crying and was asked by her roommate why she was crying. She explained that our parents had finally left Cuba and were in Mexico and although this was great news it also meant that we would not see them for several more years while paperwork was processed etc. Exactly 24 hours later my parents were in Miami and no one knew how. We later found out that my sister’s roommate was the daughter of a very influential Rhode Island Congressman and when his daughter called and told him the story, he made all the arrangements for our parents to be allowed in the US immediately. She never told my sister and took no credit, this is real charity. But I will let my sister tell this story since she knows and remembers the details a lot better than I. In conclusion I am very thankful to the American people to Father Walch and everyone involved in this operation for their care, love and generosity to us. I am thankful to my sister who became my mother for those 3 years always making sure I was safe and happy. I am most thankful to my parents every day for being so brave and selfless to make such a sacrifice for our survival. When my son was the same age I was when I was sent to the US I often tried to imagine (and still do) if I would be strong enough to do the same and always the answer was no, I don’t think so. My parents are both gone now and unfortunately will never be able to see a free Cuba but they will always be part of it's history and the heroes in my life.