I was a student at Meredith College, perhaps a sophomore, and my sociology professor introduced us to a fellow student, a girl that spoke the whole of a class about her former life in Cuba. For me, a sheltered girl from an affluent family and raised in a small town in Eastern NC, it was powerfully enlightening. I sat frozen and listened to the quiet words of truth that poured from the earnest face, from the slight girl my own age, as dark haired as I was blond and perched on the teacher's desk. I will share what I remember.
Her family was quite affluent in Cuba. Her father was a scientist and her mother was a well-respected physician. I believe she had just one sister, but I can't be sure. I wish i knew her name. Their life was as perfect as it could possibly be under a dictator but her parents wanted more. They longed for their daughters to have freedom and so, they left.
You just left? They allowed that? We fired questions throughout her talk and she paused and listened and allowed them to guide her memories revealed to the group of girls who had known nothing but freedom. Yes, her family was allowed to leave and go to the United States, but there was a contingency. They could take nothing, one suitcase for the whole family and all items approved that were packed inside.
They left quite a grand house there. They left a lifetime of possessions, many belonging to the prior generations in her family, silver and valuable jewels that had been inherited by her mother. A collection of artwork from the most well-known painters in Cuban history and a portrait of she and her sister, commissioned by her parents. Her mother adored that painting, she shared. Of course it was, any mother would love a painting of her offspring and this mother was no different except she had to choose. She chose wisely but it was not an easy path.
They left their belongings, their lucrative careers and their many family members. That was the hardest, elderly grandparents and cousins, many tears wept as they said goodbye. And then what? Where would they go?
Raleigh, NC. Meredith College. The girl that spoke was offered a scholarship to the women's school I adored and her parents? They were there too. Her father worked on the grounds crew and her mother was on staff too, cleaning the dorms, thankful for the work. They were studying English carefully as her mother longed to return to the practice of medicine and so, she must be able to take the exams written in English necessary to receive her medical license in this new country. Freedom had not come easily, many tears, and a leap of faith and yet, the girl on the desk at the front of the room convinced me it was my most precious gift.
I wonder where they are now. Does she have a family of her own? Did her mother become a doctor in her country of freedom? I hope they are well and today, I think of them and wish I could hear their thoughts of the family that taught my sheltered self a lesson that has remained imprinted on my heart.