Freedom Flight Memories

Sandra M. Castillo-Donate

As as introduction to the poems I'm submitting about my experince as a child of the Freedom Flights, I would like to say that I was born knowing that we would be leave Cuba. Household conversations, particularly hush-toned ones, were always about our departure. It was always a question of the when. My Tia Velia, who had left the island prior to the triumph of the Cuban Revolution had arrived in Key West in the late 1950s. If you can believe it, she actually traded homes with an American who was traveling through Pinar del Rio and fell in love with an idea of himself in the Caribbean. He offered her his home in Miami in exchange for hers. Sight unseen, she accepted the offer and came on the ferry (Havana-Key West) with her husband, her children and all her possessions, including a Singer sewing machine. By the time I was born, she was sending my parents Gerber baby food and all things American.

By 1962, the year I was born, my parents had US entry visas, as did I. Basilio, my father's brother, who had came to the United States in 1960, had sent them in the hope that we would follow. He would later try to get us out of Cuba through Camarioca. My mother refused to leave her parents behind and those visas expired.

By 1965, when the Johnson administration announced what would become Los Vuelos de la Libertad, my Tia Velia claimed us all. This, of course, was not possible. My Tio Maurilio had two sons who were of military age. Hilda, my Tio Armando's wife, was reluctant to leave her own family behind in Artemisa to follow my uncle to Miami. She said she would never leave the island. By the time our number (160,633) came up, my grandparents, Abuelita Isabel and Abuelo Poldo had passed away.

Letters to and from Miami came and went. My Tio Berto, my mother's youngest brother who lived with us, was arrested in 1966, accused of being an anti-revolutionary, a spy, a member of the CIA. He was dragged from our house by el G-2 in the middle of the night because he had photographed a Russian ship at the Port of Havana. When we left Cuba on July 20, 1970, Tio Berto was still in prison, as was my Tio Camiro who was arrested, accused of conspiring against the Cuban government, of being a sospechoso, a member of La Rosa Blanca. When his wife, Tia Tere, and her daughters came to the United States on May 6, 1969, Tio Casimiro was still in prison.

So it would seem that we were a house of women. With the exception of my father who came to the US with us, my cousins were fatherless children, and we had no male cousins, none that we grew up with or knew as they stayed behind.

I did want to say that I appreciate what you are doing--it is terrific, and as a poem/writer/researcher and a Cuban immigrant, I am thankful for this project and the work that you and others have done).


Sandra M. Castillo-Donate

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