Jose Manuel Echandi Ruiz
Jose Manuel's Story
I grew up in Ampliacion Almendares in Havana, my home was located at 13 and 68. My brother and I left Cuba in April of 1961 at the ages of 9 and 7 years of age. I remember clearly the "interview" by the milicianos in La Pecera, where my brother would bump me with his elbow so that I would answer the miliciana's questions with short answers only. Not giving more information than what was necessary. As a 7 year old kid obviously I did not know better in providing family information during the interrogation that might compromise my parents in light of the repressions against persons that were not "integrated" to the revolutionary movement under way in Cuba.
Once we boarded the Pan American flight that was to take us to Miami the stewardess gave us a pin that we put on our shirts that identified us with a Catholic organization, one of the entities coordinating the arrivals of the Cuban children in Miami. A couple received us at the airport and drove us straight to Camp Kendall that day.
The first night in the large dormitory a pilloow fight broke out as soon as they turned off the lights, and a hard crash was heard, one of the kids had busted the closed door with a kick. I just huddled on my bunk and made it through the night. Life at Kendall was boaring, I remember one day a group of us kids got some shovels and a pick and started unburying a large rock in the ground, just to do something... Some days later another kid, my older brother and I decided to escape from Kendall. Back then the camp's surroundings were everglades. We walked out to a paved 2 lane road and ended up in a small strip mall out in the middle of nowhere, where we were picked up by the police who were searching for us, and returned us to the camp.
We also stayed for a couple of weeks(?) in an orphanage in Miami run by nuns, and we started to attend an elementary school in Miami which was called St. Joseph, I believe. There I heard and started to learn the pledge allegiance to the flag, etc. Shortly thereafter we were taken to the airport and sent to a foster home in Canton, Ohio, the Snyder family. We stayed with them for almost five years. My father was a politicla prisoner in Cuba, he was arrested shortly after my brother and I left, on the day of the invasion of Bay of Pigs.
We reunited after five years, in Venezuela, after my father had finished his prison term as a political prisinor of the castros, and my parents were able to leave Cuba through Spain.
That's all I have to say for now. But I would like to connect with any PPs that lived in Ampliacion Almendares or had experiences of Camp Kendall at that time. I would like to hear from them.
Viva Cuba Libre!!