These men are ‘Cuban to the end’

The Daily Herald, a newspaper published in a suburb of Chicago, has a great article on their website today about three men who left Cuba for freedom decades ago. This article is particularly near and dear to me, as I was born in a suburb of Chicago myself and I lived there until I was seven. Because these gentlemen are from the Chicago area, my parents might know at least one of them (I’ll have to ask).

Anyway, here is the sad story of one of the men, Alberto Guerra, and how his family left Cuba with him at an early age:

When Christmas ended

Alberto Guerra knew little of the turmoil sweeping Cuba as Castro’s band of soldiers inched toward Havana.

He was just 4 years old.

His first brush with Castro’s authoritarianism came in 1962, the year Castro ended Christmas.

Presents would not be exchanged — a difficult declaration for a 7-year-old to accept. School would not recess. December 25th would be a day like any other.

So the shaping of a new generation of Cubans began.

“We drank Coca-Cola. We ate ham and cheese. All the sudden, there’s no ham, no cheese and no Coca-Cola. And they tell us everything is OK,” Guerra, now a pastor with the Wheaton Bible Church, recalls 45 years later.

In the end, it wasn’t ham or cheese that drove Guerra from Cuba. It was freedom.

Guerra’s father — a shopkeeper who was alone among his dozen siblings in not enlisting with the Communist Party — was arrested in 1966. Accused of working for the CIA, Arístides Guerra was locked in a Havana prison, tried, convicted and sentenced to six years in a work camp. His shop had been seized by the government four years earlier.

Friends suspected the arrest was triggered by Arístides Guerra dispatching abroad his eldest son who, at 14, was on the cusp of military conscription.

The ensuing months blur in Guerra’s memory: early mornings traveling to see his father, assigned to a new sugar field or construction job every few months; dinners of warmed bread sprinkled with sugar; hawking his mother’s homemade popsicles for pesos; attending Mass despite government censure; and living with a suitcase always packed.

In 1968, Guerra used it.

The emigration request his family lodged in 1960 came up. A week after a man knocked on their door to say the family’s time had come, Guerra, then 13, and his mother boarded a one-way flight to Miami. There, they reunited with Guerra’s older brother, now 17.

It would be four years before Arístides Guerra joined them.

“Our lives had been filled with the expectation of the day we would leave. When I was in the plane, there was something pulling away, like hands letting me go. It was a spiritual thing, I believe,” Guerra recalls. “There’s something about the country where you are born. It was almost like the country is saying, ‘You are one of us.’”

Guerra today is a U.S. citizen. This is the land where he joined the evangelical movement, met his wife, raised his son and saw his family reunited. Yet Guerra remains, to his core, Cuban.

As such, he struggles with the repression that has been a cornerstone of Castro’s rule. The successful push toward universal literacy and health care cannot mitigate that, Guerra said. Reconciling such national allegiances with his belief in forgiveness isn’t easy, even for a man who devotes his days to God.

“I don’t want to wish bad on him, but if (Castro) does die, I’d rather he die before my parents die so my parents could say, ‘I saw this. It came and it went just like any other empire,’” Guerra said. “Nothing is steady.”

The reporter, Tara Malone, gets it. I urge you to read this story, it’s that good.