Freedom Flight Memories

Nelly Rubio

We arrived from Cuba on October 14, 1962, only one week before the direct Pan Am flights between Cuba & MIA stopped. I have two experiences that I would like to share. Our family of five was my father Eleuterio Rubio, mother Nereyda, my older sister Mayda, younger sister Lilly and myself.

First, as in the case of all Cubans who left around that time, all of our property was confiscated, in fact they almost kept my father from leaving when they couldn’t find an item on the infamous “inventorio”. At the Rancho Boyero airport in Habana, we had a very bad experience. During that time, the Cuban government only allowed us to take 3 items of clothing with us, no jewelry, no money, nothing of value. In spite of the fact that we had almost no luggage, they did a major search of everything we brought and wore. They ripped shoulder pads, hems, fabric-covered buttons, shoe heels, we were left in rags and shoes with no heels. It seems that the family that they had searched before us had hidden jewelry and US currency hidden within their clothes, so they gave us the super search treatment. When we arrived in Miami, my uncle who lived here since the early 50’s had to take us shopping immediately because we had nothing to wear. I was a young girl, but felt great sense of humiliation and rage because it seemed so unfair. I had nightmares for days after arriving—it was very frightening and traumatic.

The other experience was a bit less traumatic and rather humorous. It happened at the Freedom Tower (El Refugio.) Our family had gone for processing a few days after we arrived. The lines were long and so was the wait so they told my uncle who drove us there that we could leave and asked that only my father stay behind to complete the paperwork. My uncle gave my father coins for the public phone and asked that he call him when he was ready to be picked up. Hours went by and we didn’t hear from my father. My uncle decided to drive to the Freedom Tower and they told him that my father was long gone.

Well, my father was too proud to call for a ride home and instead decided to walk home from the Freedom Tower to my uncle’s house in East Hialeah (by the high school) How he managed to find his way and the house after only 3 days in the U.S. has always puzzled us? But I think that it’s indicative of the self-reliance and motivation that Cubans brought with them into exile. My father (Eleuterio Rubio born in April 1919 and deceased since Dec. 2000) had his own nursery and flower shop in Guines, Cuba but he immediately went to work at my uncle’s kitchen cabinet factory and that’s how he made his living in the US until he stopped working at the age of 74.