Emma Aracely (Emy) Botet Zuloaga
Emma Aracely (Emy)'s Story
My brother and I were supposed to leave Cuba together;however, we were separated and in August 1961 he left alone, at 9 years of age.
I was finally able to leave on Dec 7, 1961. I looked forward to being reunited with him as well as guide him, since I was 14 and my mother told me, that I was the oldest and in charge.
I stayed until George Guarsch asked me, as well as a few other kids in the flight, if we were alone...we all were, and he loaded us into his station wagon and took us to FL City.
At the camp I ran into old friends from Cuba, which made me very happy. I was scared, but trusted that in the United States of America I would be safe.
Shortly after I was called by the sisters, who asked me after 2 weeks in the camp, if I would be interested in "experiencing a white Christmas in Chicago"...they said a family was looking for a 14 yr old girl. I said "yes". So a few days later I was sent to Chicago, in the first group of children going in that direction. We were 40 or so... kids in the plane...we were all "silent"...I guess worried about our destinies. Who would take care of us? Nice people...we hoped.
When we got to Chicago, pictures were taken of us....I realized my feet were cold, it was snowing and we did not have boots on...but we would survive.
I ended up in a suburb near downtown Chicago with 2 other girls. The Henneseys had several children...they kept us until our foster parents could pick us up the following weekend, since they all lived in the suburbs, 2 or 3 hrs from Chicago. I bonded with my 2 Pedro Pan sisters...and teary eyed we parted, as our foster parents picked us up, one by one, the following weekend.
The Brennans came to get me. Katie McNaulty Brennan wore a pill box hat, and had the most beautiful big blue eyes....Mr. John Brennan, looked like Gregory Peck and he seemed like a gentleman. Outside in the station wagon, my 4 foster brothers and sisters waited for me...greeting me with "big smiles" and saying "hi Emy...welcome to our family"...tears rolled down my eyes...happiness and fear..all bundled up.
I understood what they were saying in English, in Cuba, at Merici Academy we spoke English half of the day; however, I could not speak to them fluently then...I had to think in Spanish and translate into English. When we got home, they had a big banner in their dining room that said: "Emy, Welcome to the Fiesta"...they had mexican food, which I had never eaten in my life...but I knew, they meant well and in my heart I felt I was safe with them.
I missed my family for a few days...I only wanted to sleep and hardly ate, but with the help of both my social worker, Ms. Templeton, who looked like Jackie Kennedy, and checked on me frequently, as well as Katie Brennan, my foster mom who had a lot of love and compassion in her heart, I rapidly adjusted to my new surroundings. I was very happy that my mother taught me to believe in God giving me inspiration and hope to move forward and count my blessings.
The Brennans insisted I must go shopping for skating gear....that motivated me, and I actually learned to skate on ice...the problem was I couldn't "stop"...so I had to walk into the snow..but I learned pretty well. When my feet froze I would go to the cabin near the fireplace to "thaw out".
I went to Catholic School, initially Faith, Hope and Charity, where I met the most wonderful nun...Sister Bernardette, who guided and protected me so. I was accepted by all the kids and mingled well. Then, Mary Beth and I went on to Marywood Highschool, all girls' school, where Katie Brennan had herself attended.
I also negotiated a foster home for my brother, who was living with relatives but so wanted to be near me. Ms Templeton and the Brennans got the message through their parish and on that same Sunday a very nice catholic family came to meet me and said they wanted Fredy to live with them. We would be only 7 blocks apart and would see each other frequently. Fredy, came to Chicago and this family welcomed him. They were wonderful foster parents. He was happy and fitted nicely in their home.
About 2 1/2 yrs later, my mother and my aunt Chata were allowed to leave Cuba and we were reunited and moved to an apartment in Chicago,in the area where most cuban exiles lived at the time.
The Brennans and I have been close to this very day. I talk and meet my foster brothers and sisters and I love them dearly, just as they love me. We bonded through our journey as children.
I'm most grateful to all the men and women that contributed to Operation Pedro Pan. Monsignor Walsh and all the daring pioneers of the program, like Mr. Baker,the Finlays, Paulita Grau, who helped the children get out.
God bless all the good men and women that contributed to our future as citizens of the United States of America, one nation, under God, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for All.
This is what happened to our family.
It was a beautiful sunny morning in Santa Fe Beach. The sounds of the waves and the moving water could be heard through the open windows of our home.
The news was that we had electricity therefore the Invasion had failed, my father announced. There had been a leak…anyone considered a “gusano”, was at risk. A general feeling of uneasiness permeated the island and no one felt safe. My mother had been trying to exchange our house for a house in the province of Pinar del Rio. The laws had changed and houses could no longer be sold, but they could be traded for houses of the same value. Her efforts to convince my father to leave Cuba had failed and she thought a move would keep him safe until she could persuade him to change his mind. Many believed the Castro government would be over in a few months. The US would not allow such neighbor for too long, my parents thought.
I heard Waldo, our cook, gently knock at my parents’ bedroom door. Carrying two cups of espresso on a small tray he announced “Café”. When my father opened the door to take the tray he became immediately aware of the militiamen behind Waldo. “Dr, they come for you”. My father pulled out a pistol and pointed it at the militiamen. Unprepared for his swift reaction they had no time to take out their guns and ran out of the house and down the stairs, hiding behind the front walls of the house where they joined a whole army of them maybe 35 or 40 then who were already congregated in front of our house armed with guns and small machine guns.
Inside the house my father quickly told my mother: “ Take the children downstairs."
My mother obeyed him without question and we hurried down the winding staircase that connected our living space to the first floor where my maternal grandmother and my aunts Anita and Chata lived. We all lay down on the bedroom floor …my brother and I went under my grandmother’s bed.
My father had several guns, and he started shooting at the militiamen from different windows. He had a good reputation as a “marksman” in shooting competitions in his youth and he managed to, some say kill, but at least wound militiamen. The gunfire shattered the glass windows in my gandmother’s room which made us scream.
I remember thinking how little time my brother and I were able to live. I was sure we would be killed. I started to pray so I would die praying….
Outside the militia kept getting re-inforcements and by now they had brought a bazooka/machine gun on a truck and with a loud speaker they said “Botet! give yourself up or we’ll kill your kids too” and as they said that, they increased the shooting against the front walls of the house which broke some more glass windows…..we all screamed again…
My father came to the entry of the stairs and said to my mother: “Are all of you alright? Is anyone hurt?” My mother answered: “We’re alright” and he said to her: “This is over!”
My father screamed at the militiamen from his front bedroom window: “Alto el Fuego! Cowards que vienen a atacar a una familia con un batallon milicianos”…suban a buscar a un macho, pero muerto porque vivo no se lo llevan”. (“Halt your fire you cowards, you come to attack a family with a batallion of militiamen! Come up here to get this man dead, not alive." Then there was silence and we heard the sound of “one bullet” coming from the upstairs of the house.
Our mom said: “el se mato”….ya acabó….it’s over, he shot himself…
The autopsy would later reveal that he died “instantly”. He was such a good shot that he hit the center of his aorta. This was confirmed by his brother who performed the autopsy, Dr. Jose Francisco Botet also present was his son who is a doctor in New York, Dr. Jose Francisco Botet II.
The militia then ran like a herd of savage bulls into the house. They started opening drawers and stealing our possessions, putting my mother’s jewelry in their pockets and my father’s belongings as well, and taking anything they liked in the way of clothes, etc.
A group of them came to where we were and said: “Maten a la mujer y a los hijos” “kill the wife and the kids”. But in the knick of time amongst all the chaos of the moment a young tall officer with an olive green uniform and a green beret pushed his way through the crowd, and jumped in front of us screaming with authority to the mob: “ Paren!” Stop! Leave the family alone!!! He put his arm around our mother and us and led us to the 2nd floor away from the group and said. Señora please, get these kids out of the country immediately….We don’t have any control in this country now. Sell your cars…sell as much as you have left of value.
My mother told me to call my father’s family from the neighbor’s house, since our phone lines were cut off. I remember walking in a daze to tell the story to my father’s family so we could prepare the funeral and burial. My mother counted on me as of now to act like an adult. My childhood had ended.
As of that day, our house became an outpost for the militia,for quite a while.
My mother sold the cars and started to research through friends the way of getting us out of the country through the Pedro Pan flights.
My brother and I could not leave together. As he walked up the stairs of the plane alone, in Aug 1961, he waved good-bye and turned his back to us because he did not want us to see him crying. I’ll never forget that scene.
I was allowed to leave on Dec 7/61 and was happy to leave Cuba with the limitations of living in fear. But it still stings my heart remembering my grandmother Mercedes and my Tia Anita waiving good bye as I entered the taxi that would take me to the airport.
I remember feeling that I was in a dream or in a nightmare because events were happening too fast for my 14 years of peaceful existence.
I have never been back to Cuba. I hope some day I can walk in my homeland again. Many friends in my beach community still recall that event.
But after 50 plus years Cuba is still under the Castro dictatorship,and nobody seems to care anymore what a beautiful place it once was. They have managed to sustain the longest tyranny and are still in power with the consent of the world.
As we speak, the Castro supporters walk among us in the USA and are now bad mouthing the exile community and our parents for sending us out through Operation Pedro Pan. Well, this is my brother's and my witness report of our particular experience.
God Bless America. May the Lord Deliver us from Evil. Amen.
PS "Foto Impresiones", May 15, 1965, pages 28 - 30, had a report of the attack on our house as well, by our neighbor Mr. Gonzalez Escarpeta a news reporter for the magazine, published by Jose Ignacio Rivero in exile.