A slim debut memoir paints a portrait of one family’s escape from their Cuban home after Fidel Castro’s overthrow of the Batista government.
From the moment Castro “came down from the hills” in 1959 and took over Havana, middle-class Cubans began talking about fleeing. The brutality of the military’s systematic execution of anyone suspected of being a capitalist enemy of the new government created a climate of constant fear. In 1961, at the age of 7, Isidro was aware of some of the changes—“school had become less about learning and more about political indoctrination. There were no more songs and stories and childlike drawings filled with bright colors.” But beautiful, tropical Cuba was still her home. In September of that year, she and her parents stepped aboard a plane whisking them to Jamaica and a boardinghouse that would serve as a waystation before their trip to Miami. It was exciting and terrifying for the little girl, who would become a full-fledged American living in Stamford, Connecticut, never forgetting her Cuban roots. Her maternal grandparents would follow several months later and lived with them for the rest of their lives, re-creating a Cuban home in the cold North that brought the author comfort and some conflicts. The book opens in 2016, with Isidro looking back at her childhood, as she is about to visit Cuba for the first time in more than half a century. Through evocative prose, she captures the general immigrant experience of navigating a new country and culture as well as the tightrope she walked between acclimating to American life and trying to adhere to the traditions maintained at home. Most of all, she communicates in this tender, vibrant account the enduring love for her parents and grandparents and her appreciation of the hardships they endured to provide her with a safer life. Thinking of warm family celebrations, she writes: “I play some of them over in my mind, like vintage films, and watch the faces and smiles of those now long departed fade softly, like still frames in an aging reel.”
A heartfelt and intriguing story that offers readers a window into the Cuban diaspora.