Between 1959 and 1960 over 220,000 Cubans arrived in Florida. They expected to soon return to their homeland. Many of these refugees had been hopeful when Cuba's corrupt self serving dictator Fulgencio Batista was overthrown by a band of revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro. Castro traveled to the United States and declared, “I know what the world thinks of us, that we are communists. But I am telling you very clearly that we are not, we are not communists.” Then Castro returned to Cuba and created the Ministry of the Misappropriation of Assets. Almost immediately people lost everything. All that had been theirs was confiscated and nationalized. Enrique’s grandparents were vacationing in Mexico at the time. They never returned to Cuba. Under danger of imprisonment Enrique’s father had to flee to the United States and soon the rest of the family followed.
Their world turned up-side-down when they came to Miami. They came with nothing except an overwhelming desire to return to Cuba. But while waiting for this to happen, Enrique’s parents were determined to pull the family out of their new found poverty.
His parents enrolled Enrique and his younger brother into William Jennings Bryant Elementary School. It was less than a month since they had come from Cuba. In this new school, the two boys were surrounded by English which they could barely understand; and when they spoke English, they could only be understood by those who took the care to listen carefully to them. It all seemed so surreal to Enrique.
Bullying was common, and not just by the kids. One teacher insisted on demand that Enrique put his hand on his heart and say the Pledge of Allegiance. One morning this teacher gave him a shaking. In this strange new language the teacher said to him, “Let me tell you what I’m going to do to you if you don't say the Pledge of Allegiance.” When Enrique told his father, he came to the school and spoke to the teacher and to the principal, "There will be consequences," he said, "if ever again any man here touches one of my sons." His English was good for in 1938 he had graduated from prep school in Tarrytown, New York. Despite the hardships and prejudices of this country, he would do whatever he could to see that his sons were treated with dignity.
Nevertheless when each school day ended, Enrique would look for his younger brother Septimio and race home, sneaking behind buildings so as not to get beat up. “I’ll tell you what put anger in me,” said Enrique. "It was coming upon a scene where my little brother was getting bullied. Rage would well up in me. I may have only been an eight years old child, but I could have killed at that age.”
At age 17, Enrique’s brother Juan Alberto volunteered to fight for the overthrow of Castro in a plan designed during the Eisenhower and administered by the CIA. He was one of the approximate 1300 Cubans from America who took part in the infamous Bay of Pigs invasion.* Castro’s army captured this invasion force and for nearly two years, Juan Alberto was a POW in Cuba. He had been sentenced to 30 years of incarceration. This was especially troubling Enrique and his family. Some mornings Enrique knew his mother was hiding her crying from him.
His maternal grandmother "Mima" was preparing to reunite with the family in Florida, when she read in the newspaper the names of the young men captured in the invasion. When she saw the name of her grandson, she wrote the family in America, “I will never leave this island while Juan Alberto is still here.”
After much negotiating, a ransom was paid and the captives were released. On December 24, 1962, Enrique’s brother Juan Alberto arrived at the Homestead Air Force Base in Florida. He was bussed to the awaiting family at the Dinner Key Auditorium in Miami. “Malnourishment had made him so skinny,” said Enrique, “But we all wept for joy. This was our first real sense of happiness since we had left Cuba. Everybody wanted to see Juan Alberto and everybody put their arms around him”. Enrique just held onto his leg. Finally Juan Alberto noticed Enrique and picked him up. “He was like an idol to me,” said Enrique, "I had almost forgotten what it was to be happy. I hadn't experienced happiness like that since we left Cuba."
When his grandmother Mima finally joined them, Enrique’s life took a dramatic turn for the better. His grandma had more than just time for him. “She gave us a sense of being part of the grown up's world. She would explain grown up things to us as she talked to us as real people and not just children,” said Enrique. As an example, in Enrique's childish mind all the beautiful girls were at least 10 years older than he was. They were part of Juan Alberto's circle of friends. None of the girls his age remotely possessed the beauty of those older girls. So he was terrified that none of the beautiful girls would be around when he was ready to marry. He told Grandma one day, "I must marry one of these girls now." Grandma matter of factly explained to him, "Do you understand how you will grow up into a man one day? Those ugly little girls you see all around you will grow up too. Then they will also change. When you see them then, they'll be just as beautiful for you to marry as these older ones are now." It made sense. And what a relief to Enrique!
When they had been back in Cuba, every night after work Mima would come over to their house to tuck Enrique and his siblings into bed. Now she was here in the U.S. to do it again! And even better, now she lived with them. So Enrique would now awake each day to Mima getting him ready to go off to school.
“If it hadn’t been for my grandmother’s wisdom and love,” said Enrique, “I don’t know if I would have survived.”
President Eisenhower was concerned with the direction the Cuban government had taken causing an exodus of Cubans to the United States. Monies were allocated and by June 1960 the CIA began secretly training Cuban counter revolutionary volunteer recruits in Ussepa (Island), Florida under the plan to overthrow Castro’s communist government. Following President Kennedy's election in November 1960 he agreed to proceed with the plan. In January 1961 the training moved to Guatemala and continued there after Kennedy's inauguration into April 1961. On April 17, 1961, about 1300 Cuban men in amphibious boats landed on Cuba's shore and launched the infamous Bay of Pigs Invasion. The Russians responded with accusatory and threatening rhetoric. United States Ambassador to the United Nations Adlai Stevenson's deceptive expression of moral outrage that any nation would accuse the US of involvement in the invasion denied US complicity in his speech to the UN. Kennedy had decided to forgo further US military involvement. In his lack of moral fiber he recalled the needed US air support and abandoned the defenseless volunteer invaders to dictator Castro's slaughter on their very homeland's shore. Juan Alberto survived and was captured on April 25, 1961. The now declassified archives on the Bay of Pigs Invasion can be further researched on the CIA's web sight: