Ramon I Reina Bordallo
Ramon I's Story
The challenge is to uncork feelings and memories distilled by a 16-year-old mind and taste them as a 63-year-old man!
On Thursday July 12, 1962, my mother woke me up early in the morning. The PAA flight was scheduled to depart mid morning but I had to be in the airport quite early. Passengers were the only ones allowed in the airport; the goodbyes had to be said inside the car. Rumors were that if anyone cried the child leaving would be denied exit. It was my second time at Rancho Boyeros. An earlier attempt to leave was thwarted, because the WAIVER visa had my age as 15, and I had turned 16. There was a contingency in case that it would happen again but I have no memory of what I needed to do in that event. Mother and I rode to the airport in silence. She held my hand. The morning sky and landscape melted into each other, until the airport’s lights began to break the grey. Excited for my first airplane ride, and the anticipation of seeing family already in Miami, my mind centered on the established plan I would leave first, and my mother would follow in a couple of months. The stay as an – internado - in the fabulous Miami school described to me in Cuba would be short lived.
The aircraft, small by today’s planes, appeared large. The sun had come out and the early morning grey was mimicked inside the cabin by the air heavy with cigarette smoke. As the PAA flight took to the sky, I managed to see out of a window the Royal Palms waving goodbye. The moment was interrupted by the loud cheers and feelings of relief from the other passengers. I have no memory of the 45 minutes in the air. The aircraft landed and it came for my turn to leave. I stood by the plane’s open door taking in the Miami Airport people coming and going in different directions and an infernal loud noise. I was not sure where to go or what to do apprehension seized me, and I froze at the top of the stairs. A man standing behind me shouted ‘muevete’ and I descended the stairs. I approached a man, standing next to a luggage carrier and asked him: “where do I go” he smiled and pointed towards the building.
I remember being in a large room filled with Cuban men speaking in loud voices. A uniformed custom agent asking me in a heavy accented Spanish if I had been a member of the Young Pioneers. Offended by the question, I answered NO I WAS NOT in English. He smiled and continued his line of inquiry in his accented Spanish.
Family members were at the exit door to greet me, after a quick embrace a man, am now guessing was George, moved me towards a group of other kids. If there were questions, I do not recall. We were told that Matecumbe (which turned out to be the fabulous Miami School) had been quarantine because of a Meningitis outbreak. We were taken to Florida City the home for girls under 18-years old and boys under 15-years old. That night 4 of us boys were put in a room with four beds it did not take long for a pillow fight to start. After a few minutes, I disengaged from the melee, laid down on my bed and began to cry silently. A former English teacher from Cuba interviewed me the following day it was a relief to see a familiar face, and the feel of a warm embrace to quiet the sense of loss.
The Meningitis scared lasted 2 days and Camp Matecumbe became my home. La Crisis de los Cohetes, the cancelation of flights between Cuba and the United States - it would be four more years before my mother arrived - La Beca to Lincoln, Nebraska, college, marriage, graduate school, children and now retirement are easy to tick off now, but unfathomed at the time we had the pillow fight.
These memories are a small part of the last 47 years. With this website, memories will flow and new chapters written. My recollection is that the term used to describe the sheltering of Cuban children arriving in Miami, was the “Unaccompanied Cuban Children Program” I did not hear of Pedro Pan until the mid to late 1980. Our arrival and survival is due to the generosity of the Miami Catholic Social Services, the United States government, the people who took us into their homes, created group homes and other settings for us, gave us a community, and insured the continuity of our Cuban traditions.