Knowing that all they needed to do was touch American soil, in this case, the Naval Base in Guantánamo, and they would be free was enough to keep them on course and focused.
This is Part 4. Read the series here.
They knew that there was a light at the Base that lit up when anyone arrived, alerting the officers that someone was approaching. They were expecting it. But when they arrived they heard a truck full of screaming guards roll by with the sound of rattling guns. Had they missed the base? They feared the worst – they had been caught.
They were prepared for everything but not that the light would be broken that night.
“The fearful mind is a funny thing,” my mom says when she tells me this part of the story, “It sees and hears what it wants.”
What they actually heard was a truck full of loud talking Cubans roll by with drums. In my father’s groups’ scared shitless defense, too many Cubans in one place usually sound like an argument.
They arrived to the base, all of them, and were taken in by the U.S. officers to eat and sleep for the night. Tomorrow the next step of his journey to the United States would continue…
Sometimes I think he doesn’t want to remember. Or maybe he just thinks that it was something he had to do, not a choice. Or maybe, he doesn’t understand the depth of his bravery, like this was something anyone would have done if they were in his shoes.
My dad’s decision trickled down years later. He declared his mother once he was in New York City but it would take a while before she came.
“That’s the problem with small towns,” my mom says. “Everyone knew what had happened, so they made it impossible for your grandmother to leave. They punished her. They didn’t say it but everyone knew she was denied because he Rafi left the way he did.”
Eventually she moved to the big city of Havana, where no one knew their story. She got the green light to leave and reunited with my dad in the U.S.. My dad would go on to declare his father and half siblings.
My Uncle Joe, not a man of little words, at almost every family party, will have a few drinks and rave about his brother, the hero, with excessive pride.
He’ll retell the story and – with his drink held high in my dad’s direction – add “None of this would be possible without Rafelito. If he hadn’t jumped into that ocean, none of us would be here.” And because Uncle Joe is an eloquent speaker he ends his salute with, “That takes balls, man.”
I look at my father in these moments.
Humble. Very little words. Still not knowing what the rest of us know. Or maybe he just doesn’t have the words to say it. But I do (and so does Uncle Joe)
… not everyone is capable of that kind of courage. And that is what makes him a hero.
P.S. Returning to Cuba
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