Beatriz Amézaga Wolf
"Passage Through Time"
It was May 14, 1962, the day after Mother's Day; my youngest brother and I were getting ready to leave our homeland for an undetermined number of weeks, perhaps months. It was a hot, sunny day, and I was wearing a 100% wool tailored suit, a beautiful silk blouse, made specially for this trip; after all, it was the only piece of garment that I was allowed to take with me, and it had to be the best for the 'cold' weather in Miami!!! I was thirteen, my brother Pépe was twelve, and all very confusing. Our oldest brother, Clemente, had left in October 1961, and we hoped that he would be waiting for us at the airport.
We had already gone through a lot of turmoil since Fidel's triumphant entry. Our dad was an Agricultural Engineer, Administrator of the Santa Rosa Sugar Mill in Las Villas; totally non-political. Our mom, on the other hand, had always been politically-inclined. She helped Fidel's militia troops while he was in the Sierra Maestra, by sewing patches on militia fatigues, giving them money, feeding them, and running the washer and dryer at night so that they would have clean clothes! All of these 'contributions' awarded her with a personal letter from Fidel, written while he was still up there in the mountain with his delusional war schemes. My mom's brother, a doctor, was captured by Fidel's militia, taken up to the mountain, and while he and Fidel had known each other from Belen school in Habana, it didn't stop Fidel from making him a prisoner. He needed a doctor and that was that. But upon releasing him, my uncle asked Fidel for a favor, and that was the letter for my mom.
Castro felt that one sugar mill was not enough, so he assigned my dad to twenty five sugar mills in the North of Las Villas Province, something totally absurd. Since he would have to travel all over, we were not able to stay at the mansion in the 'batey' where the executives lived. We moved to our house in Habana so that Fidel would not confiscate it, and our dad would drive over in the weekends. It was very difficult for everyone. Before too long, they had both awaken to the realization that communism was on it way. My mom, her brother, and my oldest brother Clemente, began working against the Castro regime, once again sewing different kinds of patches on military fatigues, hiding arms and ammunition in our back yard, sending messages through short-wave radio, housing USA men and women divers (hombres/mujeres ranas) while they would be in Cuba doing their undercover work.
The house next door to ours was occupied by an ignorant family who served as one of Fidel's G-2 (Gestapo), and needless-to-say, brought lots of problems for us. In addition, my mom and her brother were under the watchful eyes of suspicion. Our house was searched by armed militia men many times; a couple of them at 2 and 3 in the morning. They would ransack the house, open every drawer, confiscate anything they found in the freezer, read every paper, and in doing so, that famous letter from Fidel would surface, saving our lives many times. The ignorant men would even apologize thinking that they had entered the wrong house!! So, as you can see, we were pretty much aware of what was going on. Our parents explained to us what could be foreseen ahead. We were on the brink of losing our other houses, our Catholic schools had been closed, and things were getting very tough. It was time for my oldest brother, then 16, to leave Cuba; it was devastating for all of us. Our parents hired an American lady who lived in Cuba, Mrs. G, to tutor us daily. One day Mami asked me to follow her into their bedroom, and with a trembling voice tried to explain what I should expect as I went from a child into womanhood, realizing that she would not be by my side when the transition would take place!! It was so difficult for her as these types of talks were not customary. She also gave me a big book to take with me, especially written for girls, "En El Lumbral De La Vida." because it explained everything I should know about growing up, the changes in our bodies, marriage, children. She had bought one for boys and gave it to Pepe. They honestly did the best they could to prepare us for our new home, as they knew the possibilities of never seeing us again.
That Monday morning was a very sad day. Friends and family had come to say good-bye. My parents and maternal grandmother were doing all possible to control their emotions; however, I could see the pain in their eyes. In a way, I was excited to come the Miami I had heard so much about. Our parents used to visit there every so often, bringing back lots of goodies, like those hard-shell chocolate eggs with surprises inside. We knew that they would follow as soon as possible; little did we know of the horrible episodes they would encounter.
We had been well-versed on 'what not to say.' The trip to the airport was in total silence, and I could see my dad through the rear view mirror wiping his tears. I had this beautiful brown leather purse that had been made for this trip, but had no idea it was loaded with jewelry. After arriving I found out that it had three levels on the bottom, but you sure couldn't tell. At the 'pecera' (the pre-departure glass enclosure), we were not to speak to anyone, nor make eye contact with whoever was inside. I could see the tears coming down from our parents' cheeks, and my heart was pounding very fast. My name was called to a table, and I left the purse and the wool jacket in my seat; it was a miracle that I was not asked to bring it. I was wearing a small Russian-made watch because I had to leave my gold one in Cuba…..so did I think!! The skinny man at the table asked me to remove my watch, and after looking at it for a while, told me that I could not take it with me; I did not reply. I have no recollection of what happened after that.
It was a very emotional, very long, short ride. We were not to say a word until we could tell that the plane was in the air. Pepe and I were crying. along with so many others. The very pretty stewardess brought us a coca-cola, a sandwich and chocolate chip cookies; I don't remember the time. I kept wondering if our brother 'Clemen' would be at the airport waiting. I kept thinking that we had to ask for 'George.' I remember holding Pepe's little hand as the plane took off. His blue eyes were full of tears, they looked totally transparent. How long would it be before we could be with Mami and Papi again?
The arrival at the airport was even more emotional. People kissing the ground at the bottom of the stairways, children crying, stewardess so nicely dressed in beautiful blue suits, smiling as they welcomed us to Miami. It was chaos at the airport, people screaming with joy, calling names. We were taken to an area to review our papers, and I was asked where I had been vaccinated. I showed them the leg, but there was no trace of the smallpox mark, and with that, I was told that it would have to be administered again in my arm. I was told to sit on top of a table; I cried a lot. Then 'George' found our group, and we were guided to another open area. All of a sudden I heard Clemen call our names; I still cry feeling that moment. I also heard my Godmother, my mom's sister, who had arrived about two years before with her husband and his family. When they got close to us, after many hugs and kisses, my Godmother told me to give her my purse, and that they would follow us to the camp where we were going and she would explain. I was all puzzled at her request, and that is when I found out about the triple lining on my purse. Did anyone think of the consequences if the inspectors had found out? My mom was scolded by Clemen years later.
As we boarded this little van, there was no silence; everyone was crying. Poor George tried to appease the screaming children, sang familiar songs, gave us 'Chiclets' and tried to explain where we were going. Everything was green, pastures with cows, driving on a semi-dirt road; it reminded me of my childhood. At the camp's office I felt very lost; there were so many people. Then I heard this woman's voice call our last names, Amézaga Wolf, and I responded 'aqui, aqui.' I had no idea who she was, but she grabbed my shoulders and asked me whose children we were. When I told her that we were Clemente's and Lulu's, she started crying, saying that she couldn't believe it. Then she said: "muchachita, I am your mother's best friend; I even got married with her wedding gown." I didn't recall meeting her, but later found out that she was from la Habana and we mostly lived in Las Villas and Oriente. Right away she grabbed our hands and went to a nun and told her that I was going to her home and Pepe would be placed at a friend's house. That was the beginning of our time in Florida City.
We had a chance to be with Clemen and my Madrina (Godmother) Lily; we cried a lot, hugged a lot, and kissed a lot. Clemen promised that he would come and visit anytime he could, and Madrina would come and get us on the weekend. Pepe was placed at a house in camp, and I went to the Aguirregaviria home, where Ignacio and Silvia were the foster parents. Pepe can't remember the name of his foster parents. My time there was pleasant and loving. The other girls, who we called 'hermanitas' started to teach me the do's and don'ts of the house. Silvia had already told me that each of us had 'chores; ' what? what was that?? I had no idea what they were talking about. When I was told I would have to clean our bathroom for that week, I started to cry. I had no idea how to hold a broom, or how to scrub floors. Then another one gave me as a present a blouse, but it was all wrinkled, and she told me that she would teach me how to iron. Oh, Lord, I didn't know how to do any of these chores. Of course, I burned the sleeve, and it smelled awful. I had a hard time waking up in the morning because I had been awake and crying silently all night. To this day, 47 years later, I still remember a song that one of my 'hermanitas' used to sing at night time; let's call it "En Un Libro Viejo" for I still don't know its true name.
Silvia and Ignacio were very kind; they had two boys and a girl, but only the girl, 'Luly' was in the house; the boys lived in another house with the boys in the camp. They passed away many years ago, and so did their two sons. Clemen worked on the weekends cutting lawn, and would manage to come and see Pepe and me. It was pure happiness every time we saw him; he would assure us that Papi and Mami were doing all possible to come. He would give us each a $2 allowance to buy goodies at the Eagle Army Navy store in Florida City; Clemen was very good and loving to us. He was very mature to sacrifice his 'teen' years to look out for his younger siblings, as well as projecting for the day our parents would arrive. Clemen had originally gone to Matecumbe, but by now he was living at White Hall, with the Jesuit priests. As soon as there was an opening, Pepe left Florida City and was taken there. I was giving a scholarship to Villa Maria, San Antonio, Texas. I had no idea where this was, and I told Silvia I would run away. When Clemen and Madrina found out, they started to run to get the paperwork ready for me to go and live with Madrina; we could not be separated!! And that is what happened, I believe sometime in August; I had just turned fourteen. Clemen and Pepe started saving money for our parents, and would manage to give me some on the weekends. Madrina lived with so many people; a three-story home her in-laws had bought when they came from Cuba. Everyone lived together; they had been very rich and brought lots of household items on a commercial ship. I would help in the kitchen after doing my homework, preparing for dinner time. I learned how to wash and make the rice; learned how to iron properly; learned how to do groceries. My bedroom was the 'penthouse' on the third floor; I had windows all around, and I could hear the birds sing in the early morning. Madrina's family was very affectionate, and every weekend we even had a fuller house. We would go to the 'beach' at Crandon Park, right off the causeway by 'los pinitos,' and spend the whole day on a Sunday picnic.
All this time, and unbeknown to Pepe and me, our parents were going through horrible times in Cuba. Our mom had two nervous break-downs; the cook, who had been in our home for over ten years, refused to leave the house because she wanted it for herself and her militia boyfriend; this prevented our parents from releasing the house to the government. They got their permits three times, and when they would see my mom's last name of 'Wolf' that was it…..they would make them go back calling them all kinds of names. Thanks to the good actions of a neighbor, a Noregian lady, a communist from the old times, then married to a high-ranking officer in the Castro government, ex-wife of Romulo Betancourt, one of Venezuela's ex-Prime Ministers, who convinced the cook to go with her, and she would find her a comparable home. She begged 'Iraida' to allow our parents to reunite with their children again; afterall, they had been like family to her. That was another miracle; she believed the story.
After many attempts, and our mom's two nervous break-downs, they were able to leave Cuba on an American Red Cross ship called "Morning Light." Our mom's name was "Luz Marina," pretty close!! We picked them up at the port, and as they walked through the huge warehouse, my God, they were so skinny. My Dad's suit looked like three sizes larger; my Mom was skin and bones! We all cried so much. With the money saved by Clemen and Pepe from their weekend jobs, the five of us moved into an efficiency in Miami Beach, where rents were very cheap during off-season; and there began our wonderful life in this great United States.
To end this long passage through time, I would like to honor and express gratitude to our parents, and all other parents, who made so many sacrifices to give us a chance to grow in freedom, and a better future in this wonderful Country, away from Castro's tyrannical hands that had already began to destroy our native Cuba. My thanks in memory to Monsignor Walsh, who gave us so much love and made it possible for us to have a home away from home; to all of the foster parents who embraced each of us with a loving and kind environment in all the Florida camps; in memory to Elly Chovel, who dedicated her life to make the Pedro Pan name known throughout the world, and who sacrificed her personal time in a commitment to our "Pledge of Thanksgiving;" and finally, to all who have given their time unconditionally to this wonderful Pedro Pan Database.