Winner of the 2005 Fiction Contest

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  • 2005 Fiction Contest, First Prize

    Han Transcurrido Los Aos . . .

    MARISABEL ALMERDepartment of AnthropologyUniversity of MichiganAnn Arbor, MI 48109-1092

    My father was the most beautiful man in all of Matanzas,Cuba.1 I say this because everybody says so. By everybody, I meaneveryone who saw him in his youth, and everyone who has seenthe black-and-white photo that sits atop the piano in the livingroom of my parents home in Los Angeles. Everyone alwayslooks at that picture and asks:

    Is that your father? To which I always reply, Uh huh. Towhich everyone always replies, Oh wow. Not Oh wow!! OrOh, wow? but Oh wow. And then they always add, Helooks like a movie star.

    My father was six feet tall, and had dark brown, almost black,hair, with green almond-shaped eyes that gave him the appear-ance of always being a little sleepy or a little in love. In that pic-ture on the piano, he has a thin mustache, like Errol Flynn, andhis head is tilted a little to the right. All that is needed is, To myfans, with all my love, Carlitos at the bottom of the photo.

    Even my mothers family, who met him only once duringDecember of 1967 when he went to Colombia for their wedding,still remembers the way he looked then. There is even a picture,and a story to go along with it, in which my mothers family, allof whom are shorter than my father, are standing at the airportsurrounding my mother. In the back, towering over everybodyelse is my father, looking a little shy, a little uncomfortable, a lit-tle out of place, as he always does whenever he is not at home. Hehas never gone back to Colombia. He says it is because he doesnot like staying in anyone elses house. I think it is because hedoes not want to betray their perfect memory of him.

    When I am in Matanzas, I am always introduced to anyonewho would remember, as the daughter of Carlitos, the son ofCarlos the baker.2

    At which point everyone who remembers always says, Oh!Yes! Your father was so good-looking. Even men say this, butthey always add, All the girls were crazy for Carlitos.

    Anthropology and Humanism, Vol. 30, Issue 2, pp 208217, ISSN 0193-5615, electronic ISSN 1548-1409. 2005 by the American Anthropological Association. All rights reserved. Direct all requests forpermission to photocopy or reproduce article content through the University of California PresssRights and Permissions website, http://www.ucpress.edu/journals/rights.htm.

    Han transcurridomuchos aos y an

    vienen a mi memorialos aos felices de mi

    niez, aunque nofueron los de una

    nia rica, criada en laopulencia como

    disfrutan en estosdas en este pas hasta

    los ms pobres.Nuestra niez se

    prolongaba ms queahora. Tenamos

    tiempo para soar ydar rienda suelta a

    nuestra imaginacin.Bastaba contemplar la

    naturaleza, mirarhacia arriba y

    deleitarnos viendo esainmensidad celesteque errneamentellambamos cielo.

    Que misterio era parami, como para mis

    hermanas mspequeas, ver los

    aviones cruzar unespacio interminable

    el cual noentendamos dondeempezaba y menosdonde terminaba.

    Escuchbamos decir aalgunos que en esosaparatos con alas sepoda viajar como ir

    uno sentado en la salade una casa. Que

    haban baos, queservan comida, queuno poda caminar,etc. Qu cosa ms

    extraordinaria! Quin pudiese

    experimentarlo? As,y escuchando decir a

    mi madre que elmundo no debera

    tener fronteras porqueDios lo cre para que

    todos los sereshumanos lo

    disfrutsemosponiendo cada cual sutalento individual, al

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  • Almer Han Transcurrido Los Aos . . . 209

    servicio de unos paracon los otros y aspudisemosexperimentar yconocer susmaravillas taninalcanzables paraalguien como yo. Sinembargo, a medidaque creca me fuidando cuenta que siuno lucha y seprepara puede hacerlos sueosrealidad. Dios nosdej libres para tomarnuestras propiasdecisiones, si nosequivocamos nadamalo hay con volver aempezar. Mi padre noera muy amigo degastar dineroeducando a sus hijasmujeres. Lainstruccin acadmicaera para los hijosvarones. Mi madresin embargo, an enaquellos aos pensabacon una sabiduraextraordinaria y nosaconsejaba a todos sushijos queaprovechsemos todaslas oportunidades deaprender algo mejor,algo diferente a lo quea ellos les habatocado aprender. As,naci dentro de m undeseo de superacincada da mayor y miautoestima creca amedida que yo crecatambin. Aprend atravs de la lectura,de profesoras y maestros, que la persona no vale porlas cosas materialesque posee sino por susvalores morales.Entend que comoseres humanos todosestamos llenos dedefectos y virtudes yque cada quien es loque es, porque as loquiere cada cual.Comprend que mispadres tambin tenandefectos y virtudescomo cualquier otro

    Carlitos is my father. Not to me. To me, Carlitos is my oldestbrother. But to everybody else, Carlitos is my father. To me, myfather is not my father, nor is he my dadhe is Papi. Sometimesmy father is also Faf, which I think comes from a failed attemptat saying father. He is also Papi to my brothers, and to my mother,who is also not my mother, nor my mom, but is Mami.

    My aunt says that many of her friends were her friends justto be near Carlitos. She never knew who her real friends werebecause she suspected they loved him more than her. One of herlittle friends finally asked her to put in a good word on herbehalf. But my aunt told her she never got involved in his lovelife. She never spoke to my aunt again.

    My father says that once while walking around the ParqueLibertad in Matanzas a girl came up to him with a handkerchiefand wiped his face because she wanted to see if he had on anymakeup. She could not believe how perfect his skin was. He hadon no makeup and the girl went away jealous and upset. Jealousbecause she wanted his skin, and upset because she wanted him.

    My father remembers all this. He remembers how beautiful hewas; he remembers his sisters friends and my mothers family.

    He remembers how beautiful he was so well, that now some-times he does not even recognize himself in the mirror. When hesaw my brothers wedding picture, he asked who the old manwas dancing with my mother before realizing he was pointing athimself.

    My fathers departure from Cuba was very anticlimactic. Hewas not fleeing anything, nor did he have anything taken awayfrom him. In fact he went back and forth between the U.S. andCuba before he finally, or rather, before my grandfather, finallydecided that he should stay in the United States with my grand-mother and my aunt. My grandmother lived in Los Angeles withmy aunt because she had left my grandfather a few years earlier.

    I only met my grandfather once, when I was seven years old. Wehit it off. Apparently he was very mean, very strict, and did not likeanybody except my aunt. Apparently he was also hard to live with.He expected complete silence while he slept, complete order whileawake, and total discipline at all times. I didnt experience any ofthis, because he adored me, and I adored him back, and for thosefew days he stayed at our house we were inseparable.

    My grandmother did not want him to come visit. She said thatunder no conditions would she let that man step foot in thehouse. My grandmother had left him in Matanzas twenty-twoyears earlier because he brought another woman home and shegot tired of cooking for three. On the eve of her departure for theU.S., my grandfather took her a chicken and asked her to cook itfor him because nobody cooked like she did. And so she did. Andwhile she did she told him that she would stay and forget every-thing if he left the other woman. He told her he couldnt. And shetold him she wouldnt. And they ate.

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  • 210 Anthropology and Humanism Volume 30, Number 2

    All my lifeseven years at the timeI had heard about thisawful, shameless man who had brought this other woman home.You could maybe understand why he had if she had been pretty,but she wasnt. She had long teeth, like a rabbit, and when shelaughed, she looked and sounded like a witch. And she didnteven know how to cook.

    Some mornings my grandmother would wake up to find littledolls of herself hanging from the window. And occasionally theother woman would throw a bucket of water with chopped upflowers on my grandmother.

    Seven years of stories, and fifteen more before those, of insultsagainst his mother, of cursing the day he was born, and of curs-ing his looks that had made her act so stupidly in the first place.Why did she ever leave her other boyfriend, the one who hadbeen so good to her, for this guy who she knew all along was nogood? Even her mother had told her that. Even his first wifewould have told her that if she had ever spoken to her. But goddamn he was so good-looking.

    At so it was, I was prepared for the showdown, the fight ofa lifetime, the Thrilla in Manila between my divorced grand-parents. I couldnt wait. My grandmother was going to showhim, she was going to show him what he had missed out on, howmuch better her life had turned out because she was over hereand he had stayed behind. And when he walked through thosedoorsafter complaining the whole ride home that my fatherwas cheap, that he didnt even have a decent car that worked,that he couldnt believe we all had to take a taxi home becausethe car had broken down, but if only he had known that myfather had bought that new used car exclusively for his visitnofight, no insults. Only smiles and pleasantries.

    Every night my grandfather asked my grandmother to makehim toast for his coffee and milk before going to bed, and everynight she complied. Every night he told her how much he hadmissed her cooking because nobody cooked like she did. Andevery night they sat across the table from each other and didntsay much to each other out loud. As I watched them interact witheach other, I felt the same tingling feeling in my stomach andlight-headedness that I felt when I watched a love scene on a soapopera where the protagonists shared silent glances.

    All my memories of my grandfather are good ones because I did not really know him. From what everybody else tells me, hecould be a very mean person. He made my grandmother worklike a mule in the bakery. She had to be awake before dawnand would not stop until late at night. And of course she wasexpected to raise a family, keep house, and keep husband all atthe same time. She was so sick of making desserts and cakes,especially cakes, that I never tasted one of her cakes. After she lefthim she said she never wanted to make another cake again. Andshe didnt.

    ser humano y que enm estaba el aceptar o

    rechazar lo que msconveniente fuera

    para m. Finalmentelleg el ao 1964,

    cuando despus dehaber batallado

    duramente durantedos aos por adquiriruna visa de residente

    y de tener unaoportunidad de ir a

    los EE.UU. deNorteamrica por un

    lapso de dos aosnicamente, para

    estudiar un poco deingls y regresar a

    mi patria con la posibilidad de

    adquirir un buenempleo que me

    permitira ganar unbuen sueldo y en cada

    vacacin, viajar aEuropa y otros

    continentes para verde cerca esas

    maravillas inal-canzables en los

    sueos de mi niez.Las cosas no salen

    siempre como uno lassuea. Sinceramente

    lo confieso, nuncahubiese salido de mi

    patria con elconvencimiento

    absoluto de que nuncams regresara a vivirah por el resto de mi

    vida. Ah se quedaban toda mi

    familia, mis amistadesy los aos

    inolvidables de unaniez y adolescencia

    llenas de felicidad.Ahora, llevo en mi

    corazn el dolor y latristeza de una Patria

    lacerada y destruidapor el crimen, la

    violencia y la diariapreocupacin por la

    suerte de tantos seres queridos ah

    dejados pero, nuncasin perder la fe y la

    confianza en El TodoPoderoso quien ha

    sido siempre mi norteen mi diario vivir. Un

    22 de mayo del 64,

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  • Almer Han Transcurrido Los Aos . . . 211

    sbado, llegamos porprimera vez mi amigay yo al aeropuerto deMiami, en unaaerolnea cuyonombre eraEcuatoriana. Antes debajarnos del avin enque venamos, paratremenda sorpresanuestra, nos vimosfumigadas porque de acuerdo a lasreglas de aquelentonces, no sepermita dejar entraral pas gente quepodra tener ciertosvirus contagiosostrados de nuestroslugares de origen, quepudiesen contaminara su puebloamericano. Quironas tiene la vida!verdad?. . . Al salirde Colombia, patriaamada, nuestrosfamiliares, amistades,etc. nos despidieronno sin antesadvertirnos una y milveces ms que noscuidramos mucho delos cubanos quienesestaban invadiendo elestado de La Floridapor razonesconocidas, y serumoraba quealgunos de ellos eransumamentepeligrosos. Porsupuesto quedesembarcamos concierto recelo e bamosa la defensiva. Nostocaba pasar la nocheen el HotelInternacional paracontinuar al dasiguient a nuestrodestino Los ngeles,California. Por temora los cubanos ocualquiera otrapersona extraa,decidimos encerrarnosrpido en nuestrocuarto y trancamosfuertemente nuestrapuerta. Dormimostranquilamente y sesupona quedeberamos estar al

    The day my grandfather left I was devastated. My grand-mother had even bought him a boom box, paid from her socialsecurity checks, for him to take back to Cuba. As soon as the doorclosed behind him, my grandmother asked us if we had seen howshamelessly he had acted, and insulted his mother and cursed theday he was born. She no longer cursed his good looks, because hewas no longer good-looking. He was an old man. That was notthe man I married, she told my mother in disbelief.

    As before, the insults continued and her words seemed as fullof anger, hurt, and hatred as before. But unlike before, I couldnow recognize love, or maybe it was pity, in her voice. I think shefelt betrayed by him, not because he had betrayed her with otherwomen, but because he had aged.

    Many years later I decided to write to my grandfather. Mymother was actually the one in our family who wrote to him overthe years, instead of my father. They had a long correspondencevia letters. Mostly mundane lettersthat my brothers and I weredoing well in school, that my father was fine, the occasionalscholastic or athletic award, and every once in a while with aneedle or two woven into the paper for the other womantheone he never leftto mend his shirts.

    One day, for some reason I now cannot remember, I decided towrite to him. He wrote me back. I wrote him. He wrote me back.He told me that I was the only one of all his grandchildren thatwrote to him. I knew he was sick. I wanted to tell him that despiteall the bad things I had always heard about him at home, thatdespite the fact that he had been cruel to my grandmotherbecause he really had beenand that despite the fact that we hadonly met on that one occasion when he stayed with us, I wantedto tell him that I loved him. I wanted him to know that he neverdid anything mean to me, even though he had to other people,but that still I loved him because he was my grandfather. I feltstupid saying all that, so I didnt. Instead I decided to wait untilhis next letter to tell him. He died. And I never told him I lovedhim despite, or because of, who he was.

    When I started planning my first trip to Cuba, my grandfathercame to me in a dream. At first he wouldnt talk to me, he justlooked at me and smiled from afar. I realized he couldnt talk tome because my grandmother, who by this point had also passedaway, was there and wouldnt let him come near me. Finally shecame up to me and told me that she would let him talk to me butwarned me to be careful because he was not to be trusted. So mygrandfather showed me around Matanzas and took me to hisformer home on Zaragoza no. 49. We walked up and down thestreets and eventually we got to the Puente Snchez Figueras thatcrosses the Ro San Juan. He told me he used to dive from thebridge to get money from tourists. My grandmother followedus the entire time. She would sneak behind trees, behind cars,behind whatever she could find because she did not trust him.

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  • 212 Anthropology and Humanism Volume 30, Number 2

    The dead often come to me in my sleep. I met my Colombiangrandfather, who died three months before I was born, in a dream.He told me he wanted to meet me because he had heard so muchabout me.

    A warm breeze covered me like a familiar embrace when I gotoff the plane the first time I went to Cuba. Everything was just asI had remembered, just as I had left it that day when I went for awalk with my grandfather in a dream. Everything was exactlylike in the stories my father and grandmother told. I inheritedtheir memories.

    A couple of years ago my father had a stroke. The doctor saidit was a mild stroke, and that it would not affect anything, excepthis memory.

    My father and I went to the Galapagos Islands this summer.The local crew on board loved my father because he was Cuban,and Ecuadorians, it seems, love everything Cuban. The shipsdoctor even had a Cuban wife and a Cuban son. He also had aRussian ex-wife and a Russian sonremnants of the Cold Warand the time he spent in the Soviet Union as a medical student.

    There was a Cuban lady onboarda Cuban-American fromNew York. Her husband was a gringo who cut his leg whiletransferring from the dingy to the main boat. As a result, hewas in his room for most of the trip. They were very rich, andvery snooty, and they had a daughter who was very rich and verysnooty. She was young, probably around 18, and still at that stagein life where you do anything to try to draw attention to yourselfeven if that means making a fool out of yourself.

    The Cuban-American lady and I actually had a little exchangeon the plane from Guayaquil to Baltra. She claimed that myfathers aisle seat was hers. She was wrong. She didnt under-stand the difference between fila and pasillo, and in any case, shedidnt understand the little figure drawing that clearly indicatedthat she had the window seat.3 It was a common mistake really,nothing out of the ordinary. Except that she addressed us withsuch arrogance, an arrogance of someone who is rarely wrong, orat least rarely thinks, or is rarely told, that she is wrong.

    This all happened before we knew she was Cuban. If we hadknown that she was Cuban, my father might have felt more comfortable to kindly ask her to go to hell. Instead he let me doitsometimes things are better handled between women.

    I sat between the Cuban-American lady on my left and myCuban father on my right for the two-hour flight. She obviouslyfelt stupid, or silly, or maybe she just didnt have an appetite, butshe gave my father her dessert as a peace offering. Not worththe calories, she said.

    One of the nature guides, Sergio, was obsessed with Cuba andwent there regularly. He was a singer and a musician and told ushe had gotten many Cuban musicians and singers to Canada orMexico. He loved everything Cubanthe music, the women, and

    da siguiente a eso delas siete de la maana en la

    seccin nacional para abordar el

    avin de AmericanAirlines. Como era la

    primera vez quesalamos de nuestro

    pas, no tenamossuficiente experienciapara desenvolvernos

    como veteranas,estbamos tmidas y

    los letreros todoseran en ingls.

    Entendamos algunospero otros no muy

    bien. Nosconfundimos y nossentamos a esperar

    que nos llamaranpara abordar nuestroavin pero estbamos

    en la seccin deEcuatoriana deAviacin. Nos

    admirbamos de queno llegaban los

    empleados temprano aabrir el servicio para

    el pblico y perdimosprecioso tiempo en

    ello. Cuandorealizamos que las

    equivocadas ramosnosotras, corrimos

    a la seccin deAmerican Airlinespero, con tan mala

    suerte porque noalcanzamos a salir atiempo. Perdimos el

    vuelo. Nos asignaronpara otro siguiente y

    llegamos con treshoras de retrazo a Los

    ngeles. Entonces,llamamos una amiga

    nuestra quien porcarta nos haba

    ofrecido ayuda encaso de necesitarla.

    Esta familia eranconocidos mos.

    Vivan en la calleAlvarado muy

    cerca de la Beverly ypor ende nos quedaba

    cerca la escuelaBelmont donde

    podamos ir a recibirclases de ingls, todas

    las noches.Casualmente nuestro

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  • Almer Han Transcurrido Los Aos . . . 213

    arribo a Los ngelesfue un da domingo,fiesta de La SantsimaTrinidad, mi devocinpor excelencia, ynuestros ruegosfueron escuchados. Laprimera iglesia quevisitamos fue la deLoreto que queda enla Union St. El damircoles siguiente yaestbamos asistiendoa la escuela porprimera vez, y al serentrevistadas por elPrincipal de laescuela para adultos,nos envi a un salndonde asista nadams ni nada menosque el cubanoquien hoy es miesposo y padre de mistres maravillososhijos: dos varones yuna mujer. Lodivertido de estahistoria es quesalimos de Colombiacon una psicosis detemor y desconfianzahacia los cubanos ycuando yo vi porprimera vez a estehombre, quedmaravillada y de ahen adelante no tuveojos para nadie ms.Transcurrieron tresaos y mipermanencia en estepas, segn mi padre,no era sino por dosaos y se prolongabaya a tres cuando unpoco desanimada sinmucha esperanza deconquistarrotundamente alcubano resbaladizopoco dispuesto acomprometerseseriamente, decidregresar a casa. Unavez que se locomuniqu al cubanoparece que por fin sedecidi a no perdertan valiosa joya y fueentonces cuando porprimera vez despusde haber pasado todaslas pruebas habidas ypor haber, me dijo

    especially my father, at least on that trip. The crew joked with usthat he was more Cuban than Ecuadorian. I told them that he wasmore Cuban than my father.

    Sergio liked to sing to us because he said Cuban music waslike poetry:

    EnvidiaTengo envidia de los vallesDe los montes y los rosDe los pueblos y las calles que has cruzado t sin miEnvidiaTengo envidia de tus cosasTengo envidia de tu sombraDe tu casa y de tu raza, porque estn cerca de tiY mira si es grande mi amorque cuando digo tu nombretengo envidia de mi voz4

    My father smiled as he listened to him. He told Sergio that hewas very goodthat anyone would think he was Cuban. Sergioasked me to take a picture of him with my father because henever wanted to forget him.

    A couple of weeks after we came back from the trip I asked myfather if he remembered the trip. He said he did. I asked him if heremembered the waiters, Gonzalo, Juan, Pedro, Carlos, and theother Carlos that liked to be called Erik. He said yes.

    How about the guides, Sergio, Jos, Miguel, and Betty? Yes. How about the Captain and the Doctor? Yes.

    A couple of months after we came back from the trip, I askedmy father if he remembered the trip. He said he did.

    What do you remember? Everything. Do you remember Sergiothe one that thought he was

    Cuban? Sergio?? Oh, yes, yes, of course I remember Sergio. And

    what was the name of the boat again, it was somethingpretty?

    They called it the Eclypse, but its official name was theCarmela.

    Yes, of course I remember.

    But he doesnt. I know he doesnt. He might remember bitsand pieces here and there, but he doesnt remember. Just like hedoesnt always remember the trip my parents took to the HolyLand, or that my brother is married. Pictures help. Pictures helpto jar his memory.

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  • 214 Anthropology and Humanism Volume 30, Number 2

    Before leaving on our trip to Ecuador, I went to visit my auntwho lives in Virginia with her American husband. She showedme a photo album full of pictures from her youth. She told methat she had asked her daughters if they wanted the pictures andthey had said yes. She said they only had said yes because theyknew the pictures meant so much to her. But she knew the pic-tures, and the memories that accompanied them, meant nothingto her daughters.

    They are Virginians, and know nothing of Cuba, not the music,or the women, or the men.

    They will not know the people in these pictures, she told me. They wont know their names, or who they were.

    She said I would know, and gave them to me.Included with the pictures are my grandfathers handwritten

    dessert recipes. There are old advertisements for the bakery andpictures of sample wedding cakes he and my grandmother made.

    My favorite picture is one taken inside my grandfathers bak-ery. There are pieces of dough shaped like fat rolls lined up onthe counter. My grandmother is smiling but she looks tired. Mygrandfather is sweaty, but he looks happy. A nameless neighborholds my cousin Lus as a baby, and next to the neighbor areClaudia, Mara, and ngela, Luss aunts and mother. Toward theend of the counter are my father and my aunt, looking as beauti-ful as everyone rememberslike two perfect dolls atop one ofmy grandfathers wedding cakes.

    Notes

    1. Title: Years Have Passed . . . All translations by author.2. Dulcero; dulcera.3. Fila: row. Pasillo: aisle.4. Vicentico Valds: Envidia (Hnos. Garcia Segura).

    EnvyI am envious of the valleysOf the mountains and the riversOf the towns and the streets that you have crossed without meEnvyI am envious of your thingsI am envious of your shadowOf your house and your race, because they are near youAnd look how great my love isthat when I say your nameI am envious of my voice

    5. Written by Mara Isabel Almer, authors mother, during02/24/0203/01/02.

    Many years have passed and yet the happy years of my childhoodstill come to my mind, even though they were not those of a rich girl,raised in the opulence that in these days in this country even the poorest

    seriamente que lquera casarse

    conmigo. Eso eraexactamente lo que yo

    estaba esperandoescuchar desde mucho

    tiempo atrs y lanoticia sin embargo,me cayo como baldede agua fra. Ahora

    era yo quien tena queaceptar o dejar pasar

    el tren. Ya seriamentehablando, decidimos

    que nuestromatrimonio sera en

    Colombia encompaa de toda mi

    familia y seresqueridos. En el fondo

    de mi corazn yodudaba como cuandoera nia si ese sueose hara realidad. Al

    igual que los cuentosde hadas, regres a

    Colombia y dije paramis adentros que si elcubano no cumpla su

    palabra, jamsregresara yo a

    EE.UU. a vivir. Mipadre, incrdulo hastacierto punto, no vea la

    hora de conocer esesujeto desconocido

    para l y el resto de lafamilia y medio

    dudoso me acompaal aeropuerto pararecibirlo cinco das

    antes de nuestra boda.Llegara o no

    llegara? Finalmentelo vimos descender

    por la escalinata delavin y cul no sera

    nuestra alegresorpresa. Cumpla su

    palabra. Desde esemismo instante le

    empez a caer bien ami padre porque miviejo era un hombrede una sola palabra

    cuyo valor no sepagaba con todo el oro

    del mundo. Sinhabrmelo propuesto,

    result que despus decasados empec a

    descubrir en miesposo muchsimas

    cualidades de mipadre que antes

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  • Almer Han Transcurrido Los Aos . . . 215

    haban pasadoinadvertidas para m.A pesar de que mipadre le dijo a miesposo que yo eraentre sus hijas la msindependiente,corajuda y de msfuerte carcter, suspalabras resonaronsiempre en mi interiory me ayudaron anunca darme porvencida ante ningunaadversidad. Hoy,bendigo a Dios porhaberme dado lospadres que tuve, portodas las personas quecon sus consejos,enseanzas, amistad,ejemplos, amor,paciencia etc. me hanpermitido realizarmecomo mujer, hija,hermana, amiga.Sobretodo, ser esposa,amiga y compaerade ese cubano quienme dio el tesoro msvalioso que hayapodido obtener. Mistres hijos que sonnuestro orgullo y eltesoro ms valioso quenos haya dado la vida.Hoy, estamossaboreando la dulzura de serabuelos de unprecioso retoo, hijode nuestro segundohijo y all, muyadentro, muyescondido, en lo msprofundo de micorazn para noofender a nadie y paraque yo no les caigamal y me deseenmales, tengo querepetir algo quesiempre he escuchado:cada pueblo tiene elgobierno que semerece. Sin esarevolucin cubana nohubiese conocido alcubano que un darob mi corazn.Gracias tambin aeste maravilloso pasque nos abri suspuertas, nos acogi yes la patria que vio

    enjoy. Our childhood was more prolonged than childhood is nowadays.We had time to dream and let our imagination run wild. It was enoughto contemplate nature, to look upwards and find pleasure in gazing atthat celestial enormity we mistakenly called the sky. What a mystery itwas for me, as it was for my younger sisters, to see airplanes cross anendless space, whose beginning and ending we could not comprehend.We heard some say that in those winged machines, one could travel as ifone were sitting in the living room of a house; that there were bath-rooms, that food was served, that one could walk about, etc. What anextraordinary thing! If one could only experience it!

    I always heard my mother say that the world should be borderlessbecause God created it for all human beings to enjoy, with everyone put-ting their individual talent at the service of each other, so that someonelike me might know and experience all its unattainable wonders. All thesame, as I grew up I started to understand that if one works hard andstudies, dreams can become reality. God gave us the freedom to make ourown decisions, and if we err, there is nothing wrong with starting over.

    My father was not inclined to spend money educating his daughters.Academic learning was for his sons. My mother, however, who even inthose years had extraordinary wisdom, advised all her children to takeadvantage of every opportunity to learn something better, somethingdifferent from what they had been made to learn. As such, the desire tobetter myself was born inside of me, increasing everyday, and my self-esteem grew as I grew. I learned through reading, from professors andteachers, that a persons worth is not measured by belongings, butinstead by their moral values. I understood how human beings, all of us,are full of faults and virtues, and we are who we are because of what wechoose. I realized that my parents also had faults and virtues like anyother human being, and that it was up to me to accept what was mostuseful.

    Nineteen sixty-four finally came, after I had struggled for two years toacquire my residents visa to have the opportunity to go to the UnitedStates of America for a period of only two years, to study some Englishand return to my homeland with the possibility of gaining good employ-ment that would permit me to earn good pay and to travel to Europe andother continents, to see up close all those unattainable wonders from mychildhood dreams. But things dont always turn out how we dream them.

    I sincerely confess that I would have never left my homeland had Iknown with absolute certainty that I would never again for the rest ofmy life return to live there. Over there, all my family, my friends, and theunforgettable years of a childhood and adolescence full of happinesshave stayed. Nowadays, I carry in my heart the pain and sadness of ahomeland destroyed by crime, violence, and the daily concern for thefate of so many loved ones left behind, but I have never lost faith andconfidence in the Almighty, who has always been the North Star of myday-to-day life.

    One fine Saturday on the 22nd of May, my friend and I arrived for thefirst time at the Miami airport on an airline named Ecuatoriana. To oursurprise, before getting off the plane, we found ourselves being fumi-gated. According to the rules at the time, persons who might be carriersof certain contagious viruses from their place of origin were not allowedinto the country so as to not contaminate the American people.

    Life is full of ironies, isnt it? Upon leaving Colombia, beloved home-land, our families, friends, etc., said goodbye to us by first warning us athousand and one times to be careful of the Cubans who were invadingthe state of Florida for known reasons, some of whom were rumored tobe extremely dangerous. Understandably, we disembarked with certainmisgivings and were on the defensive. We had to spend the night at the

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    Hotel International in order to continue the following day to our desti-nation of Los Angeles, California. Out of fear of the Cubans or any otherunknown person, we decided to quickly shut ourselves in our room andfirmly locked the door. We slept peacefully, and we were supposed to beat the domestic flight section the following day at around seven in themorning to board the plane from American Airlines. Since it was the firsttime we had left the country, we did not have sufficient experience tohandle ourselves like old veterans. We were shy and all the signs were inEnglish, we understood some but not others. Confused, we sat down towait for our flight to be announced for boarding but we were in the wait-ing area for Ecuatoriana airlines. We were surprised that the employeesdid not arrive early to open service to the public and we wasted precioustime in doing so. When we realized that we were in the wrong, we ranto the boarding area for American Airlines, but we were already out ofluck since we did not make it on time. We missed the flight. We were puton the next flight and we arrived three hours late to Los Angeles.

    We called a mutual friend who had previously written to us to offerany help if needed. This family were friends of mine. They lived onAlvarado Street, close to Beverly, which coincidently was near BelmontSchool where we could take English classes at night. By chance, ourarrival to Los Angeles was on a Sunday, feast of the Holy Trinity, my veneration par excellence: our prayers were heard. The first church wevisited was Loreto, on Union Street.

    The following Wednesday we were attending class for the first time,and after being interviewed by the principal of the adult night school, wewere sent to a class attended by none other than the Cuban who todayis my husband and the father of my three wonderful children: two sonsand a daughter. The funny thing about this story is that we left Colombiawith a psychosis of fear and mistrust toward Cubans, but when I sawthat man for the first time, I was in awe and from then on I only had eyesfor him.

    Three years passed and my stay in this country, which according tomy father was only to be for two years, was now going on three. A littlediscouraged and without much hope of winning over the evasive Cubanwho was little willing to seriously commit, I decided to return home.Once I communicated my plans to the Cuban, it seems he finally madeup his mind to not lose such a precious jewel and it was then, for the firsttime after having passed so many tests, that he told me that he sincerelywanted to marry me. This was exactly what I had been waiting to hearfor a long time. However, the pronouncement hit me like a bucket of coldwater. Now it was I who had to accept or let the opportunity pass.

    After talking it over, we decided that our marriage ceremony wouldtake place in Colombia in the company of all my family and loved ones.Deep inside my heart, just like when I was a little girl, I doubted thisdream would become a reality. Like in fairy tales, I returned to Colombiaand told myself that if the Cuban did not keep his word I would neverreturn to live in the United States. My father, incredulous up to a point,could not wait to meet this man, unknown to him and the rest of the fam-ily, and with some uncertainty accompanied me to the airport to wel-come him five days before our wedding. Would he come, or would henot? Finally, pleasantly surprised, we saw him descend the steps of theplane! He had kept his word. From that very moment my father beganto like him since my old man was a man of his word, which was worthmore than all the gold in the world. It turned out after being married Idiscovered very many of my fathers qualities in my husband that I hadpreviously not noticed. My father had told my husband that of all hisdaughters I was the most independent, quick-tempered, with thestrongest character, and those words always resonated inside me andhelped me to never give up in the face of adversity.

    nacer a nuestros hijosy un da a nosotrosnos adopt. Gracias

    Dios mo porqueaunque muchos dicen

    que T escribes conrenglones torcidos, yo

    siempre digo quesomos nosotros

    quienes torcemos losrenglones derechos

    con los que T trazasnuestro camino

    hacia Ti.5

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  • Almer Han Transcurrido Los Aos . . . 217

    Now, I thank God for giving me the parents I had and for all the people who, through their advice, teachings, friendship, example, love,patience, etc., have allowed me to realize myself as a woman, daughter,sister, and friend. And above all, to be the wife, friend, and companionof that Cuban who gave me the most valuable treasure that I could have.My three children are our pride and the most valuable treasure that lifehas given us. These days, we are tasting the sweetness of being grand-parents to a precious child, the son of our second son.

    Deep down, very hidden, in the depths of my heart, in order not tooffend anybody, and so that no one dislikes me or wishes me ill will, Ihave to repeat something that I have always heard: Every country hasthe government it deserves. Without that Cuban Revolution I wouldnever have met the Cuban who one day stole my heart. And I am grate-ful also to this wonderful country that opened its doors to us, took us in,and is the homeland that saw the birth of our children, and one daywould adopt us. Thank you my God because even though many say thatyou write in twisted lines, I always say that it is we who twist thestraight lines with which you trace our path toward you.

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