Cuando Sali de Cuba - Stories of Courage and Hope

Cuando sali

My family moved to the U.S. reluctantly. 

When we left Cuba, we didn't know we were coming here for good. I think that's a part of our story as Cuban refugees that doesn't get much play. 

When we left our beloved homeland, we (when I say "we," I mean, my parents) thought it was only a temporary stay until that whole pesky revolution thing blew over. Obviously, it has not. 

The Verdes sisters circa 1961

The Verdés Sisters, circa 1961. Our 1st photo here in the U.S.

We began our life here in the U.S. based on the premise that it was going to be sort of a long vacation. Then we began calling it exile. Then there came a point when we knew for certain that there was no going back. 

It's Hispanic Heritage Month. From the 15th of September to the 15th of October, we, here in the U.S. celebrate the contributions of Hispanics to the fabric and culture of America.

For the past few years, here on my blog, I have celebrated the stories of Cuban families who came here and built beautiful lives as proud Americans. I call that series, "Cuando Sali de Cuba - stories of courage and hope."

Here's a link to all of the stories. Cuando Sali de Cuba.

Here's a video of my family in Cuba "back in the day" and in the here and now. Set to the beautiful song by Celia Cruz that inspired this series. The lyrics are especially poignant to me as well as to most Cuban refugees. 

That's right: Refugees. Not Immigrants.

Cuando salí de Cuba
dejé mi vida, dejé mi amor
Cuando salí de Cuba
dejé enterrado mi corazón.


When I left Cuba
I left behind my life, I left behind my love
When I left Cuba
I left my heart forever buried in the ground.

That just about sums it up. 

Cuando Sali de Cuba - Lillian's Story

 Marta here. I started collecting stories from other Cuban Americans to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. I realize now that our stories will take much longer than just a month to tell, so I'm expanding this series for as long as I have contributed stories to share. Thank you, my friends, for the privilege of letting me tell about your lives. 

Cuando Sali de Cuba, stories of courage and hope.

Today, Lillian shares about how even as she came here to the U.S. as a baby, she still feels the music of her Cuban heritage beating strongly in her heart. Enjoy.


I don’t remember when I left Cuba. I was only 6 months old. Most of what I will share is what I was told about the adventure of leaving the land of sugar cane fields, warm sultry beaches and amazing nightclubs for a land to the north, so different culturally.  I was to learn that being Cuban American meant to embrace this special place, my homeland.  The song of the Cuban soul runs through my heart as I share this account with you.

My father was a teacher and my mom was a pharmacist.   My older sister, Amy, was about 2 years old. I was only a baby.   My parents could not get a visa to the United States. They could get one for Spain. However, they really wanted to come to the United States.  There was a stopover in Haiti, and my parents simply didn’t answer the door when the knock on the door came to report to the airport to fly to Spain.

Lillian and her mother

We lived in Haiti a short time while my parents applied there to go to the United States. TWA Airlines flew us from Haiti to the United States.  My mom tells me that the airline stewardess gave my older sister a candy bar.

We arrived in Miami, but stayed there briefly.   Our family was sponsored by a group of Cubans who had a church in Northern California.  From there, my dad got a teaching job teaching ESL Math. He would continue to be a teacher in this for most of my childhood.  My younger sister Jackie was born in Northern Califonria.  We moved to the Los Angeles area, where I spent the rest of my childhood.

Being Cuban is drenched into my soul and I feel inseparable from it. My married name is not Hispanic, but there is no taking the Cuban out of my soul.

My father’s brother, Guillermo, lived in San Francisco.  Every Thanksgiving, they would come to see us. Every Christmas, they would come to see us.  It was so amazing to experience those American holidays intermingled so intimately with Cuban tradition.   Aunt Olga used to make large pots of carne con papa for us to have before Noche Buena arrived. Then it would be the traditional lechon asado, black beans and rice, those scents savored by me while my uncle and godfather, Guillermo, played his nostalgic Cuban music on his large reel to reel tape player.

My memory of arriving in this country is not a memory I vividly remember because I came here as a baby. However, my parents, my aunts, my uncles and my cousins, kept the Cuban spirit alive.  The frosting on the Cuban cake of my memories was trying guarapo for the first time in Miami and also introducing the Cuban culture to my half Americano children during their childhoods.

It’s been 50 years since I was born, and at least 30 years since the frequent visits of my family would melt Cuban ambiance into my  soul.   Receiving the rich feelings of the Cuban culture was better than having the world’s finest chocolate. They are both sweet, but my memories will always drift home, to the fast talking Cuban dialect, the scent of just brewed Cuban espresso, and the joyful expression of our music, our heart, and our soul. 



Marta here: I'm so grateful to Lillian and all those of you who have contributed stories. I feel it's important for all of us to tell our stories. I will keep posting them as long as you keep sending them in. 

Please send me an email to mdarby(at)cox(dot)net with Cuando Sali de Cuba in the Subject line along with a few photos to illustrate. 

Thank you again, my friends.