Latino History in Rhode Island | Cubans

Miriam (Salabert) Gorriaran

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This all happened in 1960-1961 – almost eight months after Fidel Castro came into power in Cuba.
Miriam [Salabert] Gorriaran
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We left in April of 1961, and by that time, Castro had done a lot. He had already declared himself a socialist. And then a little bit later, he declared himself a communist. First, he broke off relations with the U.S., then he changed the currency and he closed schools.

Most of the religious people who worked in Catholic schools were gone by 1961. Even if the schools stayed open, the religious people were gone. Why? Well, because Castro at one point talked about taking over the Catholic schools, and so many nuns and priests began to leave Cuba. He wanted to close all private schools, get rid of private education so that the government would be the one educating the children. Everyone knew that Castro wanted to indoctrinate the children, and that’s just what he did.

Castro forced many of the religious education teachers to leave on their own accord because once the schools were closed, the nuns and priests did not have a place to live. The nuns lived in the convents that were part of the schools, so once they closed the schools they had no choice but to leave Cuba. Because they belonged to a larger order, they were told: “Ok, get out, come on, let’s go!” And this created a large exodus of religious people that left Cuba. Eventually, Castro also closed the churches, and that forced many priests to leave as well.

One day in April of 1961 my mother told me, “Ok, well, I’m going to be calling you around lunchtime, and I will then let you know whether or not you’re going back to school the following day.”

So we were all standing around waiting next to the phone when she called me, and she said, “You’re not going back tomorrow, but do not say anything. That’s it. You’re not going back.”

Many children had already left [Cuba] by the time my parents decided it was time to send us to the U.S. My parents had it all planned out…
Miriam (Salabert) Gorriaran
Once my parents decided we were leaving Cuba, we left two days later, and we had only one day to get everything together. Just one day.

But the plan all along was that this would be temporary, that we would be back in Cuba within a month or so. As a result, I came to this country with only one piece of luggage.

Why did we expect to come back in 30 days? Because we knew about The Bay of Pigs… everybody [in Cuba] knew about the impending invasion of the Bay of Pigs [on April 17, 1961], it was no secret! And we, along with everyone else, were convinced that it would be successful and that we could return to Cuba when it was all over.

What my parents and many other parents did then was to make a very hard decision, and I don’t think I could do that today, if I had to make a choice like they did. But they were forced to do it because but there was a threat by Castro. There were strong rumors that the state was going to take children from their parents and send them to the countryside of Cuba to cut sugar cane. Later on we heard that this actually did happen.

In Cuba at the time, there were families that are raising their children as best as they could, giving them all that they could. And it was hard for parents to imagine that they were going to allow their children to be sent to work in the fields! Everybody had to go, boys and girls. Let me tell you, there were a lot of rumors about was a lot going on in those fields! So my parents said NO to that. My parents, like all other parents, felt that the government was going to take over the children completely and parents were not going to have any say in their upbringing.

We also heard rumors that boys, like my brother, who was only 8 years old at the time, were going to be put in the army. So, all those things forced my parents to make the decision that brought us here.

We really didn’t know where we were going, but we were very excited! Because, you know, we were so young and this was an adventure. And, we felt we would be back in a month anyway. And, and so, so many of my friends had already left Cuba and I felt it was all going to be fun. We also knew that we were all going together, my brother and sister and I. My mother told us: “Stay together. Stay together. You always have to stay together!” And we have always stayed together, to this day.

At the time, the United States had already broken relations with Cuba. Now, Jamaica still belonged to England, to Great Britain, so the visa that we were given was an English visa and we were told that we were going to Jamaica.

When we got to the airport in Havana, we had to wait almost all day before our plane left. We traveled with other children, and as I said before, we were supposed to go to Jamaica. But then, there was a question whether the plane was going to stop in the United States first and then go to Jamaica, or whether it would go directly to Jamaica. If the plane went to Jamaica directly, that’s where we would stay. If the plane stopped in Miami, this is where we get off. And of course the plane stopped in Miami, where people were there waiting for us.