102 • pearls around the neck
April 1, 1968
I am seven years old and I feel safe and secure. Mom woke me up early today. What a beautiful day! Typical
tropical weather ... blue sky, an occasional snow-white cloud, the sea breeze gently swaying the palms, and
a very pleasant temperature, as always, on the warm side. I’m a little confused because I am not sure what is
actually happening today. Of course, I know we are traveling and I am so excited because I have never traveled
by airplane before. Our luggage consisting of only one suitcase for the three of us, is packed, locked and placed
near the front door of our apartment. My green dress, elegant and perfectly pressed is lying on the bed, ready
to wear. My socks and shoes, shiny and spotless, are at the foot of the bed. My favorite doll, the only toy
carefully chosen to travel with me also rests on the bed. We have been visiting all our family and friends since
last week and I’m not sure why, but ever since, Mom has been inconsolable. Privately, she cries every day, all
day! I just cried when I visited my grandmother and Mom told her the news of our trip. As a result, the two
of them began to cry. My grandmother hugged me and I felt extreme sadness when I felt her cry in my arms.
I asked, “Why are you crying grandma?” I could not imagine why she was so sad. She told me she was crying
tears of joy. I had never seen her cry... So, I also cried with tears of joy.
We’re done bathing and dressing up as we would when attending an important family event, like a baptism
or wedding ceremony. I feel very pretty and sure of myself as if I was already fifteen years old. Mom looks
very elegant in her winter outfit and closed pointed high heel shoes... I think the outfit is a bit winter-like
for the weather today especially at noon but she said we would be traveling to a place with a cooler climate.
Dad, wearing his business suit and tie, also looks very elegant. I happily, and my parents quietly, proceeded to
descend the three flights of stairs of our apartment building, each carrying a coat, Dad carrying his briefcase
and suitcase, Mom carrying her black leather purse, and I tightly holding my doll. Sweating, we entered the
taxi that was waiting for us in front of the building.
We arrived at the Havana airport where our entire family was waiting for us; my grandparents and uncles on
both my mother’s and father’s side, ten people in total. We have a small family compared to my other friends.
As we exited the taxi, they embraced us, and began to cry... I guess with joy like my grandmother! We entered
the airport and when it was time to say goodbye, Dad became very serious and told us we had to get in the
international departure inspection line. While waiting in line, my mom and I continuously looked back at
our family but Dad sternly told us to stop looking back and to pay attention to what was happening in front
of us. Suddenly and for the first time today I started feeling a bit scared and nervous... and less cheerful as
if the joy was being sucked out of me. We put all our belongings on the table for inspection and the Cuban
government official proceeded to inspect our belongings and us. Suddenly, I saw my mother, once again,
crying and vigorously begging the officer for something. I now felt incontrollable fear! What was happening?
Instantaneously, I saw Dad take my mother by the arm and with a stern, decisive but loving look, he said,
“Please, stop crying at once, don’t worry, I’ll buy you another when we arrive in the United States and much
more beautiful than this one.” I realized at that moment that the officer had taken away her wedding ring.
Mom with pain in her soul stopped crying and moved on. I realized at that moment, at seven years old, that