Memories of fleeing Fidel

Fidel Castro’s death has stirred the memories of many Cuban-Americans.  The following share their experiences in leaving Castro’s Cuba:

My mother and I alternated eight-hour shifts in line to apply for my visa in 1960, keeping a place 24/7 for days. Castro’s militiamen would pelt us with rotten eggs and fruit and curse us through a megaphone. Sixteen years old, I stood with the stench and mess of smashed eggs on me until my mother would arrive.

Abe Presser,  Santa Barbara, Calif.

Presser, who received a bachelor’s in engineering from the University of Illinois and a master of business administration from the University of Southern California, was a principal in a computer software company.

I had obtained an American green card in 1957, after a New York friend of my mother heard how Batista was targeting even nonpolitical students and helped me get to America. I returned to Cuba in 1959 to find life a worse horror under Castro. Resisting my classmates’ pressure to join the militia, I left Cuba forever in 1960.

Dr. Joseph Shuman, North Miami Beach, Fla.

Shuman became a U.S. citizen, raised a family in America, and now resides in North Miami Beach, Fla., where he is an endocrinologist.

What comes to mind whenever I hear the word “revolution” is Fidel’s men taking over the best houses in Havana, enjoying the lifestyle of the elites they displaced. That image is inseparable from another: my brother and I stripped down to our underwear at the airport, being searched by militiamen to make sure we could not take anything with us as we left our home and parents.

Carlos Eire, Guilford, Conn.

Eire is a historian at Yale University, where he received a doctorate in 1979.

When Castro confiscated my store and my uncle’s factory, we thought the situation would be temporary, that Castro wouldn’t succeed. I moved into my uncle’s house, and my wife, children and aunt went to Miami. Then Castro started persecuting perceived opponents. In the middle of the night, after hearing my uncle would be arrested, we fled. We lost everything.

Hyman Klocman, Miami Beach, Fla.

Klocman became an independent businessman in Miami Beach, Fla., where together with his wife, Mary, he owned and operated a general merchandise store and raised two children.

When the revolution against Batista won, I wanted to place a flag in the window, but my mother said to wait until it was certain he had fled. The next day, I, then 15, was among the boy scouts called to direct traffic in downtown Havana. Everyone was exuberant, believing Cuba finally would have decent government. Then everything changed. Castro closed newspapers and began executing people. When my teachers were replaced, I fled to Miami, where I waited for my family to join me.

Frank Calzon, Arlington, Va.

Calzon is executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba, a human rights and pro-democracy organization.

The military took inventory at our home, putting us on notice that our possessions belonged to the state and not even to give anything away.  Within two weeks, we were on a plane to America. Ten years old at the time, in 1967, I still remember that until the last second, my parents feared they would not be allowed to leave with all six children.

Silverio A. Vega, West New York, N.J.

Vega was mayor of West New York, N.J., from November 2006 until May 2011.

Fidel Castro’s death has stirred the memories of many Cuban-Americans.  The following share their experiences in leaving Castro’s Cuba:

My mother and I alternated eight-hour shifts in line to apply for my visa in 1960, keeping a place 24/7 for days. Castro’s militiamen would pelt us with rotten eggs and fruit and curse us through a megaphone. Sixteen years old, I stood with the stench and mess of smashed eggs on me until my mother would arrive.

Abe Presser,  Santa Barbara, Calif.

Presser, who received a bachelor’s in engineering from the University of Illinois and a master of business administration from the University of Southern California, was a principal in a computer software company.

I had obtained an American green card in 1957, after a New York friend of my mother heard how Batista was targeting even nonpolitical students and helped me get to America. I returned to Cuba in 1959 to find life a worse horror under Castro. Resisting my classmates’ pressure to join the militia, I left Cuba forever in 1960.

Dr. Joseph Shuman, North Miami Beach, Fla.

Shuman became a U.S. citizen, raised a family in America, and now resides in North Miami Beach, Fla., where he is an endocrinologist.

What comes to mind whenever I hear the word “revolution” is Fidel’s men taking over the best houses in Havana, enjoying the lifestyle of the elites they displaced. That image is inseparable from another: my brother and I stripped down to our underwear at the airport, being searched by militiamen to make sure we could not take anything with us as we left our home and parents.

Carlos Eire, Guilford, Conn.

Eire is a historian at Yale University, where he received a doctorate in 1979.

When Castro confiscated my store and my uncle’s factory, we thought the situation would be temporary, that Castro wouldn’t succeed. I moved into my uncle’s house, and my wife, children and aunt went to Miami. Then Castro started persecuting perceived opponents. In the middle of the night, after hearing my uncle would be arrested, we fled. We lost everything.

Hyman Klocman, Miami Beach, Fla.

Klocman became an independent businessman in Miami Beach, Fla., where together with his wife, Mary, he owned and operated a general merchandise store and raised two children.

When the revolution against Batista won, I wanted to place a flag in the window, but my mother said to wait until it was certain he had fled. The next day, I, then 15, was among the boy scouts called to direct traffic in downtown Havana. Everyone was exuberant, believing Cuba finally would have decent government. Then everything changed. Castro closed newspapers and began executing people. When my teachers were replaced, I fled to Miami, where I waited for my family to join me.

Frank Calzon, Arlington, Va.

Calzon is executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba, a human rights and pro-democracy organization.

The military took inventory at our home, putting us on notice that our possessions belonged to the state and not even to give anything away.  Within two weeks, we were on a plane to America. Ten years old at the time, in 1967, I still remember that until the last second, my parents feared they would not be allowed to leave with all six children.

Silverio A. Vega, West New York, N.J.

Vega was mayor of West New York, N.J., from November 2006 until May 2011.