Casandra Montero Santana
Without a doubt it is our parents who deserve a lot of credit for their courageous and unselfish decision to let us part in an effort to allow us the opportunity of a more promising future, and for that I will forever be grateful to them. It was not until after I became a mother and my children were 10 years old (my age when I left Cuba), that I realized how difficult the decision must have been for our parents to let us leave the country alone, not knowing if they would ever see us again. In all honesty, I do not know if I would have had the courage to do the same with my own children in a similar scenario, and I am grateful to God that I was never faced with such a predicament.
My father who had been a "primer teniente" under Batista's regime was in jail awaiting a hearing in January 1961 to determine if he would face "el paredon". It was then that my mother opted to take me (age 10)and my two brothers ages 12 and 15 out of the country. We flew to Miami via Kingston on January 18, 1961.
My mother was 5 months pregnant at the time, with a husband in jail who stood a big chance of getting executed, yet she separated from her three kids not knowing if she would ever see us again. She was less than 5 feet tall and approximately 100 pounds but she had the courage and determination of a giant! There is no doubt in my mind that God is now looking after her in heaven.
After a short stay with a friend of the family (Ruben Alvarez who graciously took us in while we were in Miami)my brothers and I were relocated to an orphanage in New York "The John F. Kennedy Home", and needless to say we struggled. There was no one there who spoke a word of Spanish, and the separation was brutal because I was sent to the girl's home and my brothers were separated as well, due to their age difference.
We were very fortunate that a few months after we arrived in New York our father was released from jail in Cuba and he immediately flew to New York. He went to live with an elderly aunt and uncle to try to find a job and await Mom's arrival (with our little brother who was born in Cuba in May), while we stayed in the orphanage.
While at the orphanage, a girl by the name of Diana (do not recall her last name but I would love to connect with her) arrived from Cuba and soon we became very close. It was a blessing to have someone to communicate with. Diana also had two brothers who were approximately the same age as my brothers so they also got company. I recall that my Dad would pick us up (all six of us) every Saturday and Sunday during the day and the evening return to the orphanage was anything but pleasant. To say the least it was a "tearful event" and an experience that I will never forget. I can imagine how hard it must have been for Dad!
My Mom arrived from Cuba approximately 7 months later with my baby brother. My Dad had just found a very low paying job, and he soon took us out of the orphanage and rented an apartment in Harlem (East 125 St) to reunite the family. That was also an unforgettable experience.
A few months later after my father gathered enough money, we moved to New Jersey where we later lived for 13 years. I got married in New Jersey and started my own family. My son Omar was born in October 1971 and the cold weather did not agree with him and he was often sick, so in March of 1973 we moved to sunny Miami. Our daughter Kristina was born in October 1979 and we have been very fortunate that the hard times are behind us.
Our children are now grown and have their own lives here in Miami (no grandchildren yet - I am still waiting) and my husband Omar and I live in Surfside, Florida.
My parents lived a full life. My mom died
April of 2008 and Dad died 9 months later, but we were able to share many happy moments and for that I am grateful.
I am happy to report that this story had a happy ending, and we thank God daily for our many blessings!
Monsignor Walsh, Penny Powell, and all who contributed to make this operation possible for us, deserve our gratitude! Pedro Pan could have never happened without them. I thank them for their love and dedication to all of us whose lives they have touched.