A memoir of childhood by a Cuban exile.
Martínez (The Ballerina and the Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich, 2014, etc.) recounts his experiences as part of Operación Pedro Pan, a secretive program in the early 1960s that brought 14,000 Cuban minors to the United States. Martínez begins with vivid memories of landing in Miami on April 23, 1962, when he was 18, and being held for hours in a glass immigration waiting room. He recounts the moment that he realized that his “world had changed”—when his family received a telegram informing them that American visas had been approved for him and his 14-year-old brother, Beni. What others saw as a blessing, a young Martínez saw as a sort of death sentence, stripping him of a bright future as a pianist. Now he was saddled with the responsibility of caring for his brother, and with the expectation that he would secure visas for his parents and sisters, as well. Martínez describes his life in a refugee camp for Cuban youth, his experiences with several foster families, and instances of sexual abuse by adults. He also expresses his exasperation as he witnessed frequent shifts in American relations with Cuba, which threatened to upend his familial duty. Martínez’s prose is accented by creative metaphors, although readers will likely find a few of them offensive, such as his description of “a Haitian woman of undetermined age” who “sported a nose that spanned two continents.” Overall, the text effectively underscores the author’s love of music, as it starts with a turbulent movement of upheaval, crescendos as he took control of his own future, and ends with a coda of self-reflection. Along the way, Martínez’s writing earnestly explores many aspects of coming of age; this includes his sexuality, which plays a central part in his narrative. Over the course of the book, he describes his struggles to understand his feelings of same-sex attraction in an atmosphere of cultural and religious intolerance.
A heartfelt chronicle of a young Cuban refugee’s experiences in the United States.