pearls around the neck • 103
this trip was filled with tears of joy but also tears of sadness. With a heavy pounding heart, I walked with my
parents toward the plane that was patiently waiting for us on the runway. From my window seat I looked
toward the airport terminal of Havana’s International Airport where our family was standing, gazing at the
plane, crying, and waving their hands as if saying farewell forever. At that moment, I cried the first tears of
sadness. At that moment, sadness took over the joy and excitement of my first plane ride.
Mexico City, Mexico
April 1, 1968
After a long and silent flight, at nightfall, we arrived at the airport in Mexico City. We got off the plane,
elegant but still sad and silent. While proceeding outside where the other passengers hugged friends or drivers
who were waiting, I asked Dad, “Who is waiting for us at the airport in Mexico City?” He replied, “No one
is waiting for us. We do not know anyone in Mexico.” With my heavy heart, sad and with fear, I asked,” Are
we taking a taxi?” He replied, “We don’t even have a penny to pay for a taxi ride. The Cuban government
official took all the money I had in my pocket.” With my heart now even heavier and pounding stronger and
feeling insecure and vulnerable, I asked,” So what are we going to do?” He replied, “I do not know my darling
daughter, but this I promise you... your mother and I will protect you even if we have to sleep at the airport
tonight. Do not worry. With God’s help everything will work out and we will continue our journey to the
United States at some point in the near future.” At that moment, I realized that I had probably said goodbye
to my family in Cuba for the last time.
My father disappeared from my sight while at the airport and I nervously asked Mom where he was. She
didn’t know exactly but she assured me he would return soon. Well, that is exactly what happened! Dad came
back and as friendly as always, he approached a gentleman who was waiting for other families who traveled
on our plane to speak to him about our situation. The man turned out to be a kind and generous person,
and our savior that night. As the owner of a boarding house, he offered us a room that night. He required no
payment in advance, with only a promise and good faith, he lent my father 25 Mexican pesos so we would not
be penniless and transported us in his truck to his boarding house as his guests. Upon arrival at the boarding
house, late at night, what impressed me most was the women’s clothing and accessories store for women by
the entrance to the house. I asked Mom, “Can anyone buy things in the store? Even us? “My mother replied,
“Sure we can! We have arrived in a free country.” Ironically, in a foreign land but free, a foreign gentleman
and his wife turned out to be our new family and our bridge to freedom in the United States. At the age of
seven, with a heavy and sad heart, but feeling safe and protected, I cried tears of joy once again.
Page of a diary.
Author: Sylvia Amarilis, La Habana, Cuba, 1968
English translator: Silvia Amarilis
Illustration: a picture of Sylvia in La Havana the day before her family left Cuba in 1968.