Authors: Eduardo F. Calcines
One Boy's Struggle Under Castro
Eduardo F. Calcines
Farrar Straus Giroux Â· New York
Copyright Â© 2009 by Eduardo F. Calcines
All rights reserved
Distributed in Canada by Douglas & McIntyre Ltd.
Printed in the United States of America
Designed by Irene Metaxatos
First edition, 2009
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Calcines, Eduardo F.
Leaving Glorytown : one boy's struggle under Castro / Eduardo F. Calcines.â 1st ed.
1. Calcines, Eduardo F. 2. CubaâHistoryâ1959â1990. 3. CubansâBiography.4. RefugeesâUnited StatesâBiography. I. Title.
“Dos Gardenias” by Isolina Carrillo Â© 1948 by Peer International Corporation. Copyright renewed. International Copyright secured. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
In loving memory of
my father, Rafael, of TÃo William,
and of my grandparents,
Ana and Julian
was a child of Communism. This means I was raised in two worldsâone a world of ideals, the other the real world. The world of ideals was full of Fidel Castro's lying propaganda and empty promises of a better tomorrow. The real world was even worse: a world of oppression, hunger, fear, poverty, and violence.
To an outsider visiting Cuba, there would have been nothing special about my family. We were not rich, famous, or politically well-connected. We suffered neither more nor less than any other family of dissidents who were frantic to get out of what had become a living nightmare. What made us remarkable is that we survived and escaped.
Everything in this book is true in its depiction of Cuban life. Although I have now lived in the United States for forty years, I decided that it is time to let the world know not only what happened to my family, but also what happenedâand continues to happen todayâto all the people of Cuba, from whom Fidel Castro has taken everything, including hope itself.
Felo and Conchita Calcines
Esther and Eduardo Calcines
Abuela and Abuelo Espinosa
od made everything and everyone. He even made Fidel Castro. That's what my
, or grandparents, Ana and Julian Espinosa, always taught me. That meant the Revolution was God's doing, too. At the very least, He allowed it to happen.
When I was a boy, that made no sense to me. I wanted to know if we were being punished or tested. Nobody could tell me for sure. Abuela Ana wasn't complainingâshe never complained about anything. She merely observed that God didn't miss a beat. We Cubans might have felt that He had abandoned us, but that wasn't true.
It was the rest of the world that had forgotten about the people of Cuba.
That's what Abuela Ana said. And she should know, because even before Castro came to power when he overthrew the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, life had been hard for my family.
Maybe Cuba's problemsâand oursâstarted with sugarcane. Sugar is the lifeblood of Cuba, and the central province of Las Villas, where my people came from, is the heart of sugarcane country.
But farming sugarcane is brutally hard work. Both of my grandfathers had begun toiling under the Caribbean sun before they hit puberty: hacking at the tough canes with machetes, slapping insects, watching out for snakes, and hoping their exhausted neighbor's aim didn't go awry. In the old days, this was slave work. Each of my grandfathers dreamed of leaving as soon as he could, in search of a better life. Only my maternal grandfather, Abuelo Julian, managed to do that when he put down his machete and left the cane fields in the farming town of Rodas in Las Villas in 1918.
My other abuelo, Alfonso Calcines, was a sharecropper in the town of Cumanayagua. He and my abuela Petra had seventeen children, twelve of whom survived childhood. My father, Rafael, whom everyone called Felo, was their youngest son. They rented a small house on land owned by a wealthy Spaniard. In return for their labor, they were allowed to keep part of the sugar crop. This provided them with their basic needs for food, clothing, and shelterâbut nothing else.
When my father was eight, one of his brothers was killed in a shooting accident, and my grandfather died suddenly of “grief “âprobably either a heart attack or an aneurysm. He left his family nothing but the clothes on his back and a few pieces of furniture. The wealthy Spaniard had no use for the rest of the family, so he told them to get off his land and make sure they didn't take anything that didn't belong to them. Even the machete was his.
Abuela Petra had a brother in the city of Cienfuegos. He offered to take in the family until they could get back on their feet. So one day
Abuela Petra and her remaining childrenâin addition to the one who was shot, four others had died of childhood maladiesâwalked thirty miles along the dusty roads of rural Cuba until they arrived at their new home.
Cienfuegos was called Cacicazgo de Jagua in the eighteenth century, when it was founded, then Fernandina de Jagua in the nineteenth century, and finally, Cienfuegos, after a Spanish
. But its nickname has always been La Perla del Sur, the Pearl of the South. The buildings are well-constructed and elegant. Cienfuegos boasts the most geometrically perfect street plan in Cuba, perhaps in all of the Caribbean. It's said that one can shoot an arrow through the heart of town without ever striking a building. Before Castro came to power, the port bustled with ships sailing under every kind of flag. A majestic Spanish fort, El Castillo de Jagua, still dominates the turquoise waters of the bay.
Some members of both the Calcines and Espinosa tribes eventually ended up in the
, or neighborhood, of Glorytown. My parents met when my mother was fourteen, my father twenty-one. One of my mother's sisters, Violeta, was my father's neighbor. It was during one of my mother's frequent visits to see her sister that my father noticed her and began to think about settling down.