We help because it’s the right thing to do.
We help because we believe in the humanity of all people.
We help because there’s a need and we happened upon a workable plan to address it.
We help because we know our family wouldn’t exist without those who came before us.
1960. Havana, Cuba.
A banker walked out of work and into a car that whisked him away to the airport. He boarded a plane to New York City. When he arrived, he called his wife and told her he’d left and she needed to find a way for her and their ten children to join him.
Earlier, in the bank, he’d once again refused to work for the communist regime that was quickly converting his –and all- banks to state-controlled entities. Decades later, family lore claims he declared he’d sell his soul to the devil before he’d work for Castro. In the car, his driver proved to be a loyal friend, tipping him off to the fact that an execution order had been placed on him.
While he toiled in New York, his wife took action back home in Havana. She joined the counter-revolution and made plans for her family’s escape. She successfully avoided raising suspicions among the spies and newly-stationed soldiers who lived down the block. She acquired the necessary paperwork to leave the country. When the rules changed between the time she first acquired the documents and when they received permission to leave, she started the process anew. And when the United States refused her and their ten children visas, she sought another country’s assistance.
Months after receiving the phone call from her husband, with the blessing and assistance of the British Embassy, the family boarded a plane to Jamaica. They’d packed only the essentials. Still, when they arrived at the airport, soldiers inspected their luggage and removed items with any monetary value. These eleven people boarded a plane to begin a new life with two suitcases containing a small number of clothes, a few paper records, and two photo albums. Once on the plane, they sat on the tarmac in fear until takeoff. They’d heard the stories about soldiers boarding planes full of those leaving their country and forcibly removing a handful of children, pulling them away from their families to work in camps, and then sending the plane off with the remaining family members still on board. They knew it was possible they wouldn’t all be leaving the island; they knew it was possible they might not all remain together.
This time, the plane took off with all of the passengers who’d boarded. This time, none of the passengers would pay a bodily price for their decision to leave. Instead, back on the island, the man’s brother paid the price with two years of imprisonment and torture.
The wife and children found a warm welcome in Jamaica, but it wasn’t their final destination. They intended to reunite the family in the United States, so she set to work on yet more documentation. The man moved to Miami, and soon the eight oldest children joined him. Months later, his wife and their two youngest flew over their beloved Cuba to reach the rest of their family. Even still, it wasn’t the final leg of their journey. Many Cubans were settling in Miami, but not all. An influx of people meant there wasn’t enough work for everyone, and wages that could support a family of twelve proved elusive. So by March 1961, the family boarded one more plane to Portland, where they were resettled as refugees by an organization that would come to be called Catholic Charities of Oregon.
That man was my grandfather, his wife my grandmother, and the fifth of their children my father. The journey wasn’t without struggle, and their acclimation to Portland wasn’t always easy. But ultimately those ten children grew up, found success in careers, and started families of their own. And they taught their children and grandchildren that none of that would have been possible without the help of those who cared about doing right for humanity, from the driver who saved my grandfather’s life to those who welcomed them on each leg of their journey.
We help because we believe in paying forward the generosity of those who helped our family survive.
Adrienne & Alysson
Adrienne has been sharing brief vignettes of our family’s life in post-revolutionary Cuba in public Facebook posts. If you’re interested in reading the stories of children living under a dictatorial regime that ultimately forced their parents to flee for their safety, find a directory here.