Jose L Oroza Ruilopez
Jose L's Story
My story is not much different than most of the other stories of children that left Cuba under the same circumstances as I did. It still upsets me after these many years to remember and tell my story. I left Cuba on March 24th, 1962 at the age of 9 and even though it was one of the most traumatic experiences that I have endured in my life, I am very grateful to my Mother and Father, Rosalina Ruilopez and Jose Luis Oroza. Needless to say it was devastating as well as for my parents. My father was extremely fearful and concerned for my future and my mother knew that as much as it ripped her heart out, it was the only option. We were an upper middle class family and I am an only child. I was raised very sheltered and in a way spoiled, being an only child. I was extremely close to my mother who adored me and was extremely demonstrative and even though my father was quite an introverted man, he loved me very much. My aunt and uncle were my godparents Olga Ruilopez and Pablo Gasso. They did not have any children and I also had two spinster aunts Antonia Rosas and Elisa Rodriguez that loved me very much and I was the only child around them. I went to school in the HSS Maristas and was an A grade student and a very well behaved and polite child. When my mother first told me about leaving Cuba without them, I was horrified, the thought of leaving my parents and family, my home, my school, my lifestyle and everything that I was used to, was devastating. But my parents made me understand that it had to be done otherwise it was possible that we would all have been left back there. My parents hired two English tutors for me, so by the time I left Cuba, I spoke fairly good English. I was so frightened and uncertain of what leaving Cuba alone would mean to my future. I would cry myself to sleep quietly so that my parents wouldn't hear me as I knew that they were going through the same anguish. The time finally came and my mother dressed me up, packed my luggage and took me to the airport. They held it together and waved goodbye as I boarded a PanAm flight with a whole group of other children. When we arrived in Florida City, the staff was very welcoming and they treated us very nicely. About a week after being there, they gave us the news that we would be transferred to other cities in the USA and asked us who had family in other states. I had a first cousin, Manuel Mendez that lived in a small apartment in Union City, NJ so I told the people in charge that I preferred to stay in Florida until my parents arrived, but that obviously was not an option. So I was shipped up to an orphanage in Patterson, NJ that was horrendous. It was a gloomy, scary place filled with mean hard core orphans. They were not very welcoming and I hated being there. The nuns were horrible and cruel. They made me do all these chores like clean toilets and the floors on our hands and knees. The food was disgusting. In the meantime with all the bureaucracy, it took forever to get in touch with my relatives and to inform my parents where I was and the possibility that if my cousin Manuel, his wife Martha Terceno and their three children Manolo, Jorge and Martica would not be able to take me in, I could be adopted by a strange family. I wanted to die. I wrote letters to my parents that I wanted to go back to Cuba. In the meantime, I became really sick, they rushed me to the hospital and I had contracted scarlet fever. It was a blessing in disguise. I was in the hospital for weeks and finally when I returned the orphanage, where many personal belongings had been stolen from me, a few days later, I was rescued by my cousin. I lived with them for about a month in very crampted quarters and then my godparents who worked for the UN, came to pick me up and took me to NY, showed me the sights, bought me beautiful clothes, but all I wanted was to be reunited with my parents. A few days later we flew to Miami and shortly after my parents arrived. It was the happiest day in my life. We lived for a year in Miami and then moved to Puerto Rico where I attended the Academia San Jose, the Academia Sagrado Corazon and the University of Puerto Rico. I moved to New York to work for American Airlines and I took early retirement about 10 years ago.
I went back to school at the Parsons School of Design in New York and the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. All my relatives are deceased now but I've shared my life for 29 1/2 years with the kindest, most loving, caring man...my domestic partner, Jim. We live between Miami, NYC and San Francisco. I am a very successful Interior Designer and my partner is a top executive in an AD agency. I have very negative feelings toward the Catholic church as I know how they feel about gay people and I frankly don't care. Hypocrisy doesn't sit well with me. I no longer consider myself a Catholic, I believe in a Higher Power. My reason to want to become involved with the Haitian Pierre Pan program is to help these poor orphan children that never had the opportunities that I have been offered by God.