“When you die, others who think they know you, will concoct things about you… Better pick up a pen and write it yourself, for you know yourself best.” Sholom Aleichem
Since the Castro regime came into power in Cuba, thousands upon thousands of its citizens decamped the island. It is no secret why so many people left: within weeks of assuming power, the new government embarked on a course destined to control every aspect of life in the island. By doing so, the regime made life in Cuba intolerable.
I was one of those who managed to leave. This is the story of the circuitous way in which I made my departure to join the ranks of the Cuban expatriate community.
On April 17, 1961, an anti-Castro Cuban assault force that called itself the “2506 Brigade” landed on the southern coast of the island at a beachhead known as Playa Girón, in the swampy Bay of Pigs area. Within seventy-two hours Cuban armed forces decisively defeated the invaders, killing several and capturing the rest. The prisoners were jailed and held for ransom by the government. At the time of the failed invasion, I was eighteen, a freshman studying on a scholarship at a private university. Students and faculty at that university and in other private schools were looked upon with suspicion by the government as wealthy “counter-revolutionaries” and risked imprisonment at any time.
We were hardly typical of the rich and middle-class families that had been streaming out of Cuba since the Revolution came into power. We were blue collar, living hand to mouth in a modest home in one of the poor neighborhoods that ring the center of Havana. My father drove an ancient Chevy taxicab and worked sixteen hours a day to support us. My brother was fourteen and a high school sophomore. My mother was a typical Cuban housewife, devoted to her family and having no significant outside interests.
We were politically inert and under normal circumstances we would never have considered leaving Cuba. However, after the defeat of the 2506 Brigade an atmosphere of near panic surrounded those not belonging to the ranks of the government. There was a rumor that the Government would round up all underage children and move them to internment camps, where they would be re-educated and molded into the Marxist system. It was also rumored that the Government would institute a compulsory military system and keep young men like me from leaving the country. It was a maelstrom of fears that added to the day to day struggle to survive in the increasing penury of the government-controlled economy.