RIP Jose Fernandez

The shocking news came on while we were watching the Mets game last night. Cuban-American Jose Fernandez, who we feared as a competitor for the Miami Marlins, was dead at 24 in a boating accident.

Yoenis Cespedes, a fellow Cuban and Mets outfielder, hung up a Mets jersey with Fernandez’s name and number in tribute. Others followed suit all around the league.

Fernandez was voted the 2013 National League Rookie of the Year award. His was a promising life cut short, but it was a life of inspiration and as a fellow Cuban-American, it pained me to hear of his loss.

A Cuban-American sportscaster from Miami spoke about what Fernandez meant to the Cuban community, much like each and every successful Cuban resonates with Cubans all across the U.S.

We came here for freedom and to live the American dream. Fernandez embodied that spirit and attaining the dream.

At 14 he attempted to defect, but was caught and sent to prison. He tried again three other times and for each failure, he went to prison. During the successful attempt, Fernandez’s mother fell overboard and Fernandez had to rescue her, risking his own life to do so.

While Fernandez, his mother, and sister attained freedom here in the U.S. in 2007, his grandmother was left behind and it took six years before she could join her family in 2013. In 2015, Fernandez became a U.S. citizen.

Freedom was that important to Fernandez as it is to so many Cuban refugees who risked so much to get here. I understand. I lived it and have had the ability to attain the American Dream.

It’s why I stand and place my hand over my heart for the national anthem even when I’m at home and watching a game.

RIP Jose Fernandez. My sympathies to his family on their loss and to the families of the two other men killed in the boating accident.

José Fernández on April 12, 2016

#ThrowbackThursday Me and My Curls

I think this photo was taken in Cuba before we escaped to the U.S. Those years in Cuba were tough times for my family. My parents and brother were already in America, my brother to avoid being conscripted into the militia and my parents to avoid jail for turning against Castro. It took my parents nearly two years to get us out of Cuba. During that time, Castro’s men would regularly come by the house and toss it. My grandmother would hide us under the bed while that happened.

I’m told that for years I was afraid of anyone in a uniform, but I don’t really remember much about those years. My first memories are of being in the United States, my new home. Of being both sad, but happy to finally be with my family.

When you think of booking a trip to Cuba, please think about the decades of misery heaped on others by the Castros who will be the ones benefiting from your trip.

My hair was a lot lighter in this photo and I only have a little bit of blonde left in the front. The curls are gone, although I still have wavy hair when it’s a little longer.
CpsBaby

#ThrowbackThursday My Mom and Brother in Cuba

Cuba has been in the news a lot lately and for many of us who left, it’s been an emotional upheaval. People ask me all the time if I will go back and I have to explain how difficult the Cuban government makes it for us to visit. Besides, the Castros made my family’s life miserable, so why would I go back so long as they’re alive?

But, I thought I’d share this photo of my mom and brother in Cuba before the Castro dictatorship took hold and created the diasporo that exiled so many Cubans all around the world and in the United States.
MomandDuke

#ThrowbackThursday My Mom & Old Time Grace

Whenever I see this picture, I think of how more formal people used to be and how the photos they took were filled with what I call “old time grace.” Of course, you didn’t just snap off a selfie back then. I’m sure having a photograph taken was expensive and quite an event, so you wanted to look your best.

This is a photo taken of my mom in Spain, I think. My grandparents had gone back to visit family before they returned to Cuba. My grandparents had plans to return to Spain to live, but the Spanish Civil War broke out and my grandparents just never got back there.

Many many years later, we would all have to flee Cuba and come to the U.S. and my grandfather would never see his native land again. My family finally visited Spain in 1973 to see where my grandparents had come from in Galicia and to find the family that had gotten lost over the years.

Anyway, my beautiful and adorable mother! Isn’t she lovely?
Carmen Pineiro Gonzalez

My Writer’s Journey Part 2 #amwriting

A few weeks ago I shared with you the start of my writer’s journey and although I got the writing bug in the fifth grade, it wasn’t until high school that I once again sat down to think about writing something longer than a short story or class assignment.

As some of you may know, I was born in Cuba and left when I was quite young. That story is a long one and filled with adventure in many ways, but the story of what came before was what inspired my first book.

Throughout my life I’d heard bits and pieces about how my parents had worked with the Civic Resistance in Havana to help bring about change on the island. I’d also heard how they realized that the change they had wrought, namely putting Fidel Castro in power, was totally not what they had expected. Because of that, they had started working with many of the same people to bring about change again. Of course, that’s what prompted my parents’ precipitous escape from Cuba and started a nearly two year struggle to get the rest of the family out of the country.

But the “after” part is for another time. It’s the “before” part that inspired the first novel I wanted to write, a romantic adventure about a wealthy Philadelphia Main Line woman who goes down to Cuba and falls in love with a handsome doctor who is involved in the rebellion. In real life, it was my mother who was the rebel and briefly engaged to a rich Main Line man. His family didn’t approve and so that romance ended not-so-happily, but in my books there is always a happily-ever-after.

I gleaned what info I could from family and friends and books so I could write that romance set during the Cuban revolution. Off and on during my high school days, I did that work and built the story in my head. I asked for a typewriter (no computers in my day!) and desk for high school graduation and pictured myself slaving away to write that novel.

I’m not sure my mom approved on many levels. For starters, she rarely talked about Cuba and what had happened. I know it had hurt her deeply to be so wrong and bring about such horrific change to the country she loved. Once we came here, we became American and moved away from all that, I think in part because remembering was too painful for her.

I’m not sure she approved of my thinking of writing as a possible career choice. I’d already been accepted to a few colleges and in her mind there were only a few professions that would allow her daughters to prosper, law and medicine being at the top of the list. Writer, not so much.

I didn’t get that typewriter or desk for high school graduation, but that didn’t stop me from collecting all my notes and research so I could start writing my novel during the summer before college. That decision shocked my mother I’m sure, but she went along with it.

Her office was getting rid of this awful pink paper and so she brought some home for me to type my first draft on. We weren’t well off so things like reams of paper were not in the budget.

Somehow the pink fit the romantic undertones in the novel. LOL!

I didn’t finish that novel that summer, but I got at least a hundred or more pages done. I kept at it during free time in college while I was a Science Major with my eye set on a career as a doctor. That’s my hubby and I in the summer after our freshman year of college.

I figured, doctors read and doctors write. I could always do the writing in my spare time and finish my novel.

By the time college was done, I was a little closer to having a finished work, but life has a funny way of throwing a curve your way just when you think you know where you are going.

I graduated magna cum laude, but I didn’t get into medical school. My mom had left her job to join a new law firm and I went to work with her while I decided what to do. But even though there was some hesitation about my future as a doctor, I was sure of one thing: I was going to finish my novel.

My First Christmas in America

My nephew is getting married in September which is very exciting! As part of the preparations for the wedding, my sister has been rounding up some family photos. She shared this one with me. It was one I don’t ever recall seeing and yet it’s a special one.

This is my sister and me on our first Christmas in America.
First Christmas in America

That’s me in the back, closest to the tree, a Charlie Brown one if ever I saw one and yet you can see how happy we were.

We were somewhere safe. We were with my parents again. It had been nearly a year and a half since my parents had been forced to flee Cuba and came to the United States to request political asylum. My sister and I had remained with my maternal grandparents in Cuba, expecting that all of us would soon leave shortly to join my parents in the United States.

It didn’t happen that way. Not with Castro.

It’s a long story, but seeing this picture and our joy, I know that things worked out as they should have even if the road to get here was difficult.

Seeing where I’ve gone in all those years, how our family has prospered thanks to this Nation, I know the sacrifice and journey was worth it.

Thanks for coming by today! I hope you all have a lovely Tuesday.

On Being American…

Coat of Arms of CubaSometimes it’s hard to think about what to write on Thoughtful Thursdays. It’s such a mixed bag of info on days like today. But so many of you commented on my background the other day and expressed an interest in hearing more, that it occurred to me that I should share a little bit more about myself.

Maybe by doing so we’ll get to know each other better and you’ll understand the things about which I am passionate (LOL! as if you don’t know some of those already.)

For starters, I am an American born in Cuba.

I’m sure that’s raising eyebrows, but that’s the way I feel. I had the chance to hear Marco Rubio talk the other day on the radio and he mentioned being an American of Cuban descent. Of how grateful he was about all this Nation had given him and I realized that he was speaking much as my mother had spoken to me for all of my life.

That we were Americans now. That being American was a great gift. That we should not take that gift lightly and always honor it. In my mother’s mind that meant getting good grades, obeying the law, standing up for ourselves and those that were weaker and most of all, standing up for America.

So I can’t call myself an American of Cuban descent because I wasn’t born here, but I will call myself an American born in Cuba.

You might wonder why my mother was so vehement on that topic and the story is a long one which I’ll abbreviate into one word — Liberty.

My mom and dad on their wedding dayWhen my mother lived in Cuba under Batista, life was good for her, but not for others. But even as good as it was for her, she lacked the ability to speak out about wrongdoing or what she thought needed change in the government. It’s why she worked with Castro during the Revolution. Not that she ever really told us much about that as kids. It came in snippets at unexpected times. In reality, I learned more about my mother after her death than I had known throughout my life.

Of course the change that Castro had promised for Cuba turned out to be nothing like what my mother and father had expected or for which they had worked. Instead of a free republic, they soon came under the control of a government that was slowly robbing them of their short-lived Liberty as the government nationalized businesses and plantations they felt were necessary for the public good. Newspapers and individuals who spoke out against the government were either demonized or shut down. The government fomented class warfare as a way of justifying taking the labors of individuals for the good of all.

Just as my parents fought against Batista, they now decided to fight against Castro. Unfortunately those plans placed them in peril of imprisonment (or death) necessitating my parents’ hasty retreat from Cuba. In their minds there was only one Nation that could provide them the Liberty they sought – the United States.

But Castro wasn’t done with them. My parents had been forced to leave my sister and I behind along with my maternal grandparents. My parents thought we would join them shortly after their abrupt departure. I’m told that our Cuban passports were taken to prevent us from leaving Cuba. That for over a year my parents sought every way they could think of to get us out with no success while Castro would send his men to roust our house and threaten my grandparents to get my parents to return. Possibly he feared they would work against him in the United States. Who knows?

My sister was six months old when my mother left. I was three. Imagine leaving children that young behind, but they had no choice.

Eventually we got out and spent another six months wandering through Central America and Mexico until the immigration laws changed and my parents were able to get us into this country.

During that year and a half, my parents had not only been trying to get us out, they had been building a life here. Getting jobs and finding a home. It wasn’t necessarily easy. People didn’t want to rent to Cubans.

That never diminished my mother’s appreciation for the one gift that made all that hardship worthwhile – Liberty.

Her one response to all that negativity was simple — Succeed.

Succeed because to not do so was to dishonor the gift we had been given. Succeed because we did not want to shame other Cubans. Succeed because we wanted to prove that anything was possible in America. Succeed because success is the best revenge.

So why am I telling you all this today?

I guess because I want you to understand why I am passionate about America. Why my heart beats faster and emotion chokes me every time I hear the national anthem or see the flag. Why I take so seriously the gift of Liberty and why I honor it by reaching forward with one hand while reaching back with the other to help someone else.

So those are my thoughts on this Thoughtful Thursday. I hope you understand a little bit more about me. I’d like to get to know more about you if you care to leave a comment.