Meet the Humans of the Keys

Meet the Humans of the Keys

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Carmen Kelley, Key Largo -- Part 1

"Only Oppression should fear the full exercise of Freedom"
- Jose Marti

"Freedom: we take it for granted until we lose it.

I have lived two lives. My life changed forever the last week in October 1961 when I boarded a cargo boat packed with strangers. We were like cattle being herded into a holding pen. That was the day I said good bye to familiar faces behind guarded gates by the docks in Havana Harbor. My parents were searched, our luggage was picked over, the guards chose what they wanted; if they found jewelry they would take it and there was nothing we could do. I was only six and had already experienced the beginnings of a Revolution, the Invasion of the Bay of Pigs, the intrusion of strange men dressed in military gear with machine guns who forcefully converted our home into a school which would now be owned by the government. Names like Castro and Che could only be whispered in our home, and conversations between my parents became very private, the walls had ears. The confusion of leaving my home, family, and friends forever did not set in until I found myself at sea among strangers. For close to a week, I slept with my mom in a bunk with 6 more people in our cabin. My father had my brother in the men’s section of the ship and we met every day early in the morning to find that there was not enough food to feed the passengers onboard headed for Caracas, Venezuela. I was hungry, I was scared, and from now on, I had just changed my status from a child who descended from one of the first families to settle in the Island of Cuba in 1519 to forever leaving my homeland behind and being labeled a refugee. 

My grandparents were at the Dock!!!!!!!!! We finally docked in Maracaibo Harbor after a long week at sea. It had been a year since I had tasted bubble gum or drank a soda. That’s what I remember the most about that day as I sat next to my Grand mom, my Nena, who had left a month earlier, a lifetime in a child’s memory. We seem to travel for hours, and when we finally reached where my grandparents were staying, it was so different from the home they had in Havana by the water, where we swam and played and had family gatherings. This place was empty except for 5 little cots pushed together, a couple of chairs and lights and had many lights coming into the efficiency from outside the windows. This apartment was in a sky rise next to the American Embassy. You could hear echoes in the room when we talked. I can’t describe all the feelings I felt, happiness to be with my family, strange feelings of separation in my stomach because of the unfamiliar surroundings, a desire to explore where I was and so my new adventure began."

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