Herminio Cuervo Delgado
My mother took me to Jose Marti Airport at 07:00 on Sunday, 20 Aug 1961. We waited all day to get on the PAA flight to Miami ($25.00 one way). Finally the DC7B took off, flew over the Green Spot soft drink factory after crossing Ave. Rancho Boyeros, I saw the Feria Ganadera go by, then some chicken farm (I was on a window seat on the R, in front of the wing). The last things I saw of Cuba was the distillery of Ron Sta. Cruz (name on white chimney), the town, then it all faded away. I had no clue what it would be like to live in the USA. We landed in Miami, everybody was clapping. The airport was much smaller. We walked to the terminal and there were people there to welcome some. After most of the travellers had departed, I got in touch with a skinny cura with a barbita, named Padre Pala. He offered to help me. I went with him and his group and we all went in to a new Ford, light green minivan. We drove for awhile and got to this place they called Kendall. I had nothing to eat all day, so I was hungry. They offered us ham and cheese sandwiches (I ate 4) and drank one quart of Foremost milk. I had no clothes to change, because my bag "missed" the flight. They loaned me some and I slept on a catre. Next day, they took the boys to another location, which was in the middle of a pine forest,called Camp Matecumbe. They got me swimming trunks. It had a great swimming pool. I met one of my dad's cousins who was a coach there (Arturo Sordo, cuban champion in backstroke). The food was geat. I ate tons of Wheaties for breakfast. In one month I gained 20 lbs. My nickname was "Marino". It was lonely for many of us, but we all hung together and made the best of it. Then one day, they called me and told me I was going to Jacksonville FL. It looked really far up on the map, but at least it was not in some real scary places like Omaha, Nebraska. My brother, who came first ended up in a orphanage in Norfolk, VA.
I flew National Airlines to Jacksonville. We walked to the terminal and I had a tag on my shirt explaining who I was and where I was going. The stewardesses were very nice. In the airport I met a really nice Irish guy named Patrick, who took me in a Chevrolet dark green pick-up truck to the camp: St. John. It was in a citrus grove (grapefruits, oranges, many trees filled with squirrels, Spanish moss, right on the St John River, which was huge: bigger than anything I had seen in Cuba.
The water in the campamento stunk to high hell, because it was full of sulfur. We had these huge "sinks", which were round and had a round metal pedal type device, so you could press on it and step on the pedal and get sulfur water to wash your face, brush your teeh and then stink like rotten eggs.
The duchas were the same water. We slept in bunk beds. I slept on the bottom and on top there was a kid named Cancio, nicknamed Boca de Trucha. Other interesting characers were El Negro, Bilongo, El Coqueto (EPD), El Bruja, C... de Goma and El Enano. A kid named Esteban Capote knew how to play soccer. There were some Cuban teachers there: Bravo (who taught math), del Pino (taught English). We had an American coach, who had a really neat Ford with a retractable hard roof.
We wore uniforms to Bishop Kenney HS: black pants, white socks and shirts, black ties. Laundry was done commercial, so we had to put our names on everything. When it got cold they took me to J.C. Penney and got me a blue jacket. I still have it, with a fake fleece interior, it still is a great jacket.
In the mornings they would ring a large bell and wake everybody up to go to school. It made a hell of a rattle.
We would pile into a surplus USAF flight line bus with signs not to smoke in 4 languages (NATO surplus) and we would ride for 45 minutes to the school. At the end of the day, they would drive us back. Wash up, get ready for supper, study hall (in the dining room) and then bed. I became a kitchen helper to a large Negra named Violet, who taught me how to make Southern rolls in the oven and hot chocolate: mix 4 gallons of leche (glass one gallon containers in metal caddies or 4 jugs, with a # 10 can of Hershey chocolate sirope. It was great.
We got a Spanish cura (cant remember name) who used to call us "chavales" and taught Latin and he had very bad milk ("mala leche"), so we played all sorts of annoying tricks on, so we could hear him curse in gallego.
We celebrated our first Thanksgiving there and believe it or not, we got our first cerveza in the US: Busch Bavaria. Each one of us had one can with supper. I thought it was cool.
It started to get very cold (I thought) and then my mother and sister were able to get out of Cuba and they started looking for me. I had never been able to communicate with any of them: no telephone call, no letters, no nothing.
One day, they came and told me I could leave and go to Miami. I packed my things and Patrick took me to the Greyhound It was an interesting ride with many stops along the way. Then Miami and my mother and a cousin were there to receive me.
I will never forget all the poeple who helped me when I needed it the most.