Today is the last day of the 2016 April A to Z Blogging Challenge. Writing has always been my most effective way to process events, curiosities, life questions. Sometimes small and easily overlooked, sometimes too big and scary to look at directly.
Today is Z and today's piece is not a story or an essay or any other organized piece of literature. It's just an exploration without making a point or even identifying the point. Maybe some day one or more of these people will become a character I can get inside of and write a story. Or maybe I can do enough research to craft an essay with a point.
Until then let's just wander through my memories and ancillary thoughts, keeping in mind that they are my memories and thoughts and, as such, are flawed.
With the plight of the refugees trying to get out of the middle east, I think of the only refugees that I've known very well.
When I was in high school, Maria, one of my best friends, was a Cuban refugee. (I'll use a fictitious surname for the family.) I don't know exactly when Maria and her family left Cuba or how they ended up in Oklahoma. Maybe she said, but I don't remember.
What I do remember is the story about Zory. Maria, who had two younger sisters, was a year ahead of me in school. Luly was my age, and Zory was the youngest.
When the family left Cuba, they were allowed to bring only the clothes they wore.
While fairly rare in Oklahoma to have girls younger than our mothers' age with pierced ears, it was not uncommon for baby girls in Cuba to. And Zory did. Mrs. Sanchez put her ruby earrings in Zory's ears. They were her engagement gift from Mr. Sanchez and she hoped to be able to keep them.
Officers at the airport took their money. They took Mrs. Sanchez's jewelry including her diamond wedding rings, but did not question the ruby earrings in the baby's ears. They let Maria's mother keep her fur coat, too. I guess the coat wouldn't have been very valuable in Cuba's tropical climate or the new communist mode.
It's the ruby earrings smuggled out in Zory's ears that I most remember about their refugee story. How scary it must have been getting the baby through the officials onto the plane that would take them to the United States and freedom. Even now, just thinking about it conjures fear in my heart.
When I heard the story, my drama-teen mind imagined communist police ripping the earrings out of baby Zory's ears. Maybe that is exactly the thought that sits in my chest today making my breath shallow as I write this.
My today's mind knows that would likely not have happened. A more frightening thought now is that smuggling ruby earrings would have been sufficient cause to stop them getting onto the plane.
Maria's family owned a school in Cuba. I don't know where exactly, but her father ran the school and taught there.
Maria told us that her father originally supported Castro against the dictator Batista. Because her father supported the rebels, the Batista people had him on a list for execution. So they were happy when Castro won. But then Castro turned communist. (That's how we American's saw the events in the early sixties.)
The Sanchezes owned two houses, one in the mountains where they spent the summers because it was cool. Then Castro closed all the private schools. He took the school property and their home in the mountains and began rounding up the country's educated and upper class people. Mr. Sanchez began working against Castro.
Maria told stories about the anti-Castro young people roaming the city at night spray painting anti-communist slogans on walls. She told us about being chased by the police.
When the Sanchezes heard that Mr. Sanchez was on a list to be arrested by the Castro regime, they decided to leave Cuba.
In Oklahoma, the Sanchezes lived in a small frame, two-bedroom, one bath house. Mr. Sanchez, who spoke English, worked in a factory until he was able to get a job teaching at a Black university. Mrs. Sanchez, who did not speak English, did alterations for a department store.
By the time I knew them, which was maybe three years after they left Cuba, the girls spoke English, their only accent -- Oklahoman. I knew they lived differently from most of us. They ate avocados with olive oil. They put beans and rice on to cook for supper every evening after school, because their mother didn't get home from work until after six. (Most of our mothers didn't work.) They weren't allowed to date. Not even after they were sixteen. They only had one car.
Back then I never thought about how different it must have been for the three girls. The Sanchezes were white upper-class Cubans. In Cuba, they had two homes, servants. Their father was a recognized intellectual. They enjoyed status. They had extended family and family friends they'd known all their lives. They celebrated holidays and birthdays with Cuban music and Cuban food and Cuban games. And attended church where they had been christened. All in Spanish.
In Oklahoma, they spoke Spanish only in their home with their family and their little dog Dukey. The Cuban exile community in Oklahoma did come together for celebrations and partied in Cuban style. But then they would all go away again, to their adopted Anglo-Oklahoma lives.
I lost track of them when Luly and I graduated high school, but I know the Sanchezes sent Maria and Luly to college. Maria even joined a sorority, which must have been sort of like the social groups she would have enjoyed in Cuba -- but still no dating.
It's not until now as an adult that I think how lonely Mrs. Sanchez must have been. To work all day, when she'd never worked before. To hear nothing but an alien language from the time she left home in the morning until she came home at night. To know what a privileged life her children could have had, had things not gone so badly wrong in the land of her birth.
If I were writing her story, that coat and the Zory earrings would be declarations of defiance and perseverance and, in the end, victory.