From the earliest time I can remember, I had an intense longing for peace. Born in Havana, Cuba, in the early 1950s, I was aware from a young age that our country was in a constant state of violence. At night, it was common for our family to hear gunfire and bombs going off in the distance. These were the beginning years of Fidel Castro’s Cuban Revolution.

By the latter part of the 1950s, the sounds of war were getting closer to our neighborhood and louder by the day. On January 8, 1959, Castro marched into the streets of Havana, and I thought peace had finally been achieved. It wasn’t long, however, before ordinary Cubans began to grasp the true nature of the new communist regime. The government started taking over farmland and businesses, which roused a movement dedicated to overthrowing Castro.

In May of 1961, the government took control of all the island’s private schools, a move that hit close to home. My family had founded the Pitman Academy and operated it for decades, but the government takeover drove them out of business and stripped them of all their assets. Seeing no future on the island, we decided to make our escape later that year, boarding a commercial ship from Spain headed for Veracruz, Mexico. We left in the middle of the night, taking nothing but the clothes we were wearing.

Acts of Compassion

My grandfather had some distant cousins living in Mexico City. After we landed in Mexico, they took us into their home for a few months. Once my grandfather and my other aunts and uncles arrived, we were able to rent a one-bedroom apartment, where 15 of us lived for over six months. The refugee life didn’t bring anything like the peace for which I had hoped.

In April of 1962, members of my immediate ...

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