Why did I write a memoir?
At 18, my life took an unexpected turn. Up to that point, I had aspired to become a pianist, a dream my family and friends had helped me shape since I was a child. “You’ll be like your Abuelo Clemente,” mamá’s father, a respected musician who died before I was born. I was a believer of the dream and worked hard to make it come true. Of course there had been moments when I wanted to break away from the rigors of a musical life. But it never took long before I was back in its thrall, flying on the wings of the dream again.
On April 1962, three months after my 18th birthday, I was a politically naive young man with my head so far above the clouds that I could not see the atrocities, nor smell the bloodshed happening literally under my nose. But then the unimaginable happened. I had to choose between my musical dreams and the politically safety of my parents. At the time I didn’t realize I was also securing my own safety. So, I came to this country. With a younger brother. My parents and two sisters left behind. Under the auspices of a program known as Operación Pedro Pan, my brother and I, among 14,000 other Cuban children, crawled our way through the American Dream.
Over the years when people learned where I was from, they wanted to know my story, and I’d tell them a truncated version of it. “I came with my brother and without my parents.” The responses were often similar. “How did you survive the separation?”
I would keep my answer simple: “Children are resilient. I thought of it as an adventure.”
It was easier to attribute my survival to resiliency than the truth, which was far more complicated. It was best to pretend I was made of stronger fabric. Then one day I felt compelled to understand a political history I had been part of and a program that had served as my “Welcome Wagon” to America. I had to write about it. Difficult or not, I would peel the layers of my experience as a young refugee, how those years impacted on my relationship with my parents and how it influenced the man I am today.
I also wanted to understand what my parents had gone through. Why would they take such risk and send us away? Protecting their young is a basic instinct parents possess. They want to keep their children out of harm’s way. When a small child starts school or the teenage son or daughter goes off to college, parents suffer the same separation anxiety as their children. In those cases, parents can ease their fears by building relationships with a child’s teacher or visiting the college campus. When separation from their offspring has a political root, and children are sent off to exile, anxiety can be crushing. Letting go of their children in those instances is the ultimate sacrifice parents can make. Parents can’t build relationships with teachers or visit the dorm as part of a school tour to ensure the environment is one they think is suitable for their sons or daughters. Children and parents on opposite sides of the exile shoreline are stuck in a gulf of shark-infested waters that eat at and transform them forever.
My parents were. And so was I.
That transformation is at the core of my memoir.
Writing it helped me understand the person I am today. And the sacrifice my parents made in order to provide a life for us free of communism.
How about you? Did you ever as a young child have to say good bye to your parents or a dream you held dear? How did you survive?
Did you have other types of experiences you’ve always wanted to write down? Have you written them? If not, why?
To learn more about children who participated in Operación Pedro Pan, read my interview with Fernando Hernández on The Cubans: Our Footprints Across America. His book is available on www.amazon.com. Hernández will be honored with the Premio Nacional (National Prize) at the XI Festival Hispano Del Libro in Houston, TX on October 6th, 2013. The event will take place at the Houston Hilton, SW.
If you’re interested in learning even more about the Cuban experience in this country, check out www.cubamericanthemovie.com. The film, written, produced and directed by José Enrique Pardo, is playing to sold-out houses in Los Angeles, CA. Previously shown in Miami, the film will also be shown in Chicago from the 19th to the 21st of October. It centers on the heart-wrenching decision of leaving one native’s land and assimilating into the United States as a CUBAMERICAN.
20 thoughts on “Why a Memoir?”
Gracias por mandarme tu blog. I really will like t oread the book……..
Lorenzo, yours is a fascinating, passionate story. I can’t wait for your memoir to come out, for all to see.
Thank you, Susan. I appreciate your support. I too wait eagerly for it to come out.
Loren,leyendo detenidamente lo que hicieron y lo que pasaron como familia.lacera el corazon. Porque es la historia de tantos cubanos que fueron dejando huellas en el camino y haciendo historia cruda en esa cruel inmigracion.Sin embargo creo y estoy convencidad que Uds. fueron de esas familias que salieron ilesas ante la tempestad. Y fue por los grandes valores y el privilegio de tener los padres que tuvieron. Otras familias se quedaron frustradas en el camino y llenas dedolor. Tu estas ahora contandonos a groso modo lo que fue de Uds. Tus amigos se sienten muy orgullosos de ti, los de aqui y los de alla. Por eso siempre le hare honor a todo lo que dices y escribes. No soy yo eres tu el que me inspiras.
Marielena, se un placer para mi el compartir mis experiencias con todos ustedes. Estoy muy orgulloso no solamente de ser Cubano sino Antillano y de tener a todos ustedes como amigos. A pesar de todo el tiempo que ha pasado el lazo que nos une ese bello pueblito se mantiene tan fuerte como siempre. Besos y abrazos, Loren.
Loren, thank you to send me
your blog. Gyse Pou
Thank you Gyse. Fue un placer verte en la reunion de Antillanos todos.
Dear Lorenzo, You have such a heart wrenching and important story to tell. What you have written here captures the essence of the healing and transformational power of writing memoir. I am very much looking forward to reading yours.
Kathy, thanks for your constant support. It feels good to know you’re there during this journey of uncertainty while my manuscript makes the rounds of traditional Publshers.
As soon as the memoir is available, I will like a signed copy please. Your story is worthy and inspirational, should be read by all.
Thanks, Fernando. You will have a signed copy. You know I’m a great fan of yours. I’m looking forward to witnessing your receiving your prize from the Council of Hispanic Books in Houston on Oct. 6th. See you then.
Lorenzo, I would be so interested in reading and learning about you and your families experience of coming to America. I would love to learn more about your life in Cuba before you came over here. Kudos to your mom in getting you and your brother here to America. I can’t imagine how she felt in letting you both go into the unknown new world that we take so much for granted. Please keep me updated when more of your memoirs are in print.
Carolyn, Thank you for your comments. I will let you know as soon as it is all in ring. Please share this with others in the family. I would love to hear from them,
Carolyn, I meant print not ring. The auto correct changed it for me.
Just read your latest blog and again your amazing story is so compelling that we can hardly wait for your book to be published. You are truly a remarkable man and we are so proud to know and love you.
Mary & Don
Thank you, Mary. It’s encouraging to get support from special people like you and Don.
Amazing story, waiting for your book.
Thank you,Ahmed. I’m glad you enjoyed the blog
Please let me know when your memoir is out. Love your writing. Amarilys
Thank you Amarilys. My agent in New York has been submitting the manuscript to different publishers since September. If nothing happens by next spring I will consider self-publishing.