A family chooses uncertainty over Castro’s Cuba

A family chooses uncertainty over Castro’s Cuba


Walking up the back steps of this red and white house, opening the door and stepping into the kitchen, one notices the framed message on the wall, to the left of the dinner table: “Christ is the head of this house. The unseen guest at every meal. The silent listener to every conversation.”

As long as I can remember coming here, be it for Christmas dinner, a wedding reception, or Sunday pancakes after church, that sign has been on the wall, a reminder of who has guided, and will continue to guide, my family.

In June 1963, my grandparents, with their nine children (the oldest one, my father), finally found this stable dwelling in North Jersey, after almost half a decade of uncertainty following turbulent times in their native country of Cuba.

My family’s journey to this security was not an easy one. My father, grandparents, aunts and uncles told me of that journey, and the faith, love and sacrifices ever-present.

When Fidel Castro and his revolutionaries overthrew Fulgencio Batista’s leadership on Jan. 1, 1959, many residents of the Caribbean country, including my grandparents at first, held out hope that this new leader would change their lives for the better, displacing an individual whose reign was marked by government corruption, social and economic neglect, and rigged elections.

They soon realized, however, their new leader was not interested in ensuring anyone’s freedom.

The Castro government suppressed and intimidated the opposition, and established neighborhood committees to report on those who could be deemed defiant of the new regime. Schools were closed, and after the first years of the revolution, nuns and priests were forced out of Catholic churches and schools, thousands of Catholic priests were either jailed or forced into exile, and church property was seized by the government.

As well, private property was nationalized by the government. My grandmother’s family farm, along with cattle and other farm animals, was taken by the government without any reimbursement.

My grandparents, therefore, made the decision to leave Cuba and find a home where their children could live their lives the way they chose to, with the values and beliefs they held on to. This choice was not an easy one to make; their departure meant my grandparents would be saying goodbye to family, friends. Their law degrees would now be useless wherever they settled.

But, my grandparents knew they would not be alone in these times.

“I was raised in an environment that had a deep Catholic faith in Christ,” my father recalls, when speaking about his exit from Cuba. “My father trusted in God to allow him to raise his children free.”

With the four oldest children in tow, my grandfather, in June 1960, departed for the United States, telling the government that he was taking his children to summer camp but never intending to return to Castro’s Cuba. Once he found a stable job, my grandmother, with the five other children, was then expected to join him.

From Miami to Washington D.C., to New York to Ottawa, Canada, my grandfather looked for work and stable income for his family. In August, my grandmother and the five youngest children reunited with him and the four oldest in New York.

A job in Saks Fifth Avenue’s pets department gave way to inventory work at Macy’s and, finally, to a position at Seton Hall University teaching Spanish. In 1963, 52 years ago, he moved his family into a red-and-white, three-story dwelling. Eventually, he opened his home to other family members he had helped out of Cuba.

Never shy about testifying to his Catholic faith, my grandfather was wont to proclaim “Dios Proveera,” “God will provide,” at any occasion. “Encantando de la Vida,” the enjoyment of life, was also a household utterance; he believed that every moment of one’s life, no matter the circumstance but keeping constant faith and trust in the Lord, could be joy-filled if one so chose.

In September 2003, my grandfather passed away at 89, leaving behind a legacy of faith, love and sacrifice to his wife, his nine children, 30 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren, with another on the way.

After his death, among the remnants of what he left behind, was a diary he had been keeping the last months of his life, in his native Spanish, testifying to the hand of God that had always guided him, especially during those tumultuous years before and after leaving Cuba. At the beginning of his writings, he expresses the hope that his words will inspire his children and grandchildren to “live in accordance with the virtue of faith.”

Recently, my father’s side of the family enjoyed a week-long excursion at the Jersey shore. My 102-year-old grandmother also joined us. With an ever-present smile on her face and rosary in her hand, she carries the same faith and joy that led her and her family to the United States.

Last October, Pope Francis mentioned this joy of faith, saying the family that experiences this “communicates in naturally. That family is the salt of the earth and the light of the world; it is the leaven of society.”

As we prepare for the upcoming World Meeting of Families, let us remember these words, and the faith that can free us all.


Peter G. Sánchez is a staff writer for the Catholic Star Herald.

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