IPFS Mike Renzulli

More About: Immigration

Closure in Miami - A Personal Essay

     During November 2001 I had the opportunity to spend time with a newfound friend in Miami. She is originally from Cuba and was among the first batch of Cubans to migrate to the US to escape Castro.

     I had a great time! She took me to Miami Beach. I hung out with her very attractive daughter as well. We went to downtown Miami, had cocoanut drinks at the Bayside Mall and got to see the Tower of Freedom where many of the first Cubans who migrated here were housed until they were able to find work and housing. She drove me around Little Havana showing me the highlights. We went down to Monkey Jungle with her daughter and grandson; visited the Vizcaya (an Italian Castle taken piece by piece during the early 1920s from Italy and reassembled here in the US for a wealthy industrialist); we visited the Coral Castle; went dancing non stop at a Latin Club until 1 in the morning and, of course, had some of the best Cuban food in the city at local restaurants. Miami is a great city. I encourage everyone who can to go there on vacation.

     But the highlight of the trip, was the opportunity for me to visit the former home of the Gonzalez family. I had stayed very close to the story of Elian Gonzalez and was a staunch supporter of him staying in the United States. Where I am coming from with this is that my family on my dad's side is originally from Italy and lived there when Benito Mussolini and the Fascists took power. While things were bad under the Fascists because of the corruption that occurred when they were in charge, things got even worse when Hitler moved troops in to back up Mussolini's collapsing regime.
     My dad and grandmother saw numerous atrocities committed by the Nazis. People in my dad's hometown were tortured and jailed (some were murdered), in most cases, for no reason at all. My grandmother saved a small convent of nuns from being raped by Nazi soldiers whose battalion were soon pulling out to fight on the front lines due to the allied invasion of Europe.

     When the Elian controversy broke out, I wrote to newspapers and called in to radio talk shows expressing my views as to why Elian should stay and associating it with the experience my family had under a totalitarian government. Sending Elian back to Cuba, I argued, would be just as bad (if not worse) as sending an Italian child back to live under Mussolini. I also sent a letter to the Gonzalez's telling them not to give up. They weren’t fighting for just Elian, I said in the letter; they were fighting for all of us.

     Elian's uncle, Lazaro, was there. I got to meet him briefly but he had to leave. As it turns out, he works for Dade County and had to go back to work. His brother showed us around the home. He talked about the different parts of the house. It’s was very small and many of Elian's toys and clothes are still there. The house has numerous pictures of Elian in photos with all of his Miami relatives and some of the house where he is in now with his father under the watchful eye of two armed guards.

     We eventually ended up in Elian's room. When we ended up in Elian's bedroom, my friend cried. She understood why Elian's mother made the sacrifice she did to bring Elian here. She also made a very large, personal sacrifice so she could escape Cuba. She knew of the brutality that Elian's mother experienced when she was in Cuba with Castro in power. Unfortunately Elian's mother was not so lucky. She did not live so she and Elian could bask in the sunlight of freedom we enjoy here. Sadly, Elian was forced to go back.

     My friend went on to explain to the brother one of the reasons why I was there. I understood what they went through because of my family's experience with a repressive regime. The brother smiled and I could tell from his expression he understood where I was coming from. As we left the brother patted me on the back and said: "Anytime you want to come here, you come."

     The Gonzalez family is doing fine. Maryselsis is married and living away from home. Elian's uncles are also doing well too. After Elian was sent back to Cuba, a wealthy Cuban woman bought the Gonzalez home and it is now a museum. Open to the public and free of charge.

This was one of the most satisfying experiences I had in quite sometime. I was able to bring closure because now the Gonzalez family understands they are not alone and someone else stood and would stand beside them. I was able to clear my conscience.

     An author wrote a book one time that demonstrated in our daily lives, we have certain rituals we perform to get us through the day. It could be prayer, talking back to a person we think is wrong who calls in on talk radio, running in the morning, shaving or sleeping a certain way, etc. I am told; we cannot get through the day or life, unless we perform our little personal rituals. Despite my rejection of mysticism, I don’t think I could have gotten through life unless I performed this ‘ritual’ of reaching out and touching my friend and opening up to the Cuban community through this wonderful family.
     April 22nd was  the 7th anniversary of the unconstitutional and immoral raid on the Gonzalez family’s home in which Elian was illegally taken from the Gonzalez family in order to satisfy the evil political agenda of the Clinton Administration’s efforts to appease Fidel Castro.   
     Elian may be living under a repressive communist regime, but the reasons why people, like myself, fought for him to stay will never die and continue on. That reason is for all people who come to America can be free.