As part of the series “What They Took with Them,” Jose Linares tells of a crucifix that reminds him of his childhood flight from Castro’s Cuba to the U.S.
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, HOST:
Jose Linares left Cuba as a child after Fidel Castro took power. His parents feared the new regime and risked everything to get their sons out.
JOSE LINARES: There was a program created by Catholic Charities by which children could be sent to the United States unaccompanied. My parents took us aside and told us what was going to happen and that we needed not to worry because, in their opinion, the Castro regime wasn’t going to last, and we will be brought back.
We drove to the airport. My brother and I – who was 15 at the time – was sent behind this big glass enclosure which the Cubans had dubbed the fishbowl. And I remember sitting there and watching my parents. And looking back on it now, I can tell you that my mom was just dying and my dad was just beside himself.
LINARES: So we landed. None of us spoke English at all – not even a word. We had no family, no relatives, no friends. We had no one.
Because my brother was 15 and I was 11, we got sent to two different places. Now I was really alone until we wound up going to this temporary housing, if you will. There were bunk beds everywhere – 50, a hundred – I don’t know. And so I threw my duffel bag underneath the bunk bed and just climbed on top and covered and just laid there. The next morning, I woke up and my duffel bag had been ransacked. I remember my mom had given me this mask – this little, like, Zorro mask, if you will. That was gone.
We were there for a few months. This car pulls up, and my brother jumps out, along with this man that I had never laid eyes on before. Later, I found out that this particular man had robbed my father of quite a lot of money in their desperate attempt to get us out of Cuba.
LINARES: Sometime around June of 1962, we had noticed that my parents were coming, along with my sister. My sister was the oldest. She stayed behind. Now that was the happiest day.
LINARES: Summer came, and there was no work for my father and my brother, so we decided, all of us, to collect recyclable newspapers. I’m going from house to house, and I knock on this door, and this very elderly woman comes up. And I tell her in my broken English that this is what I’m looking for. And she looked at me, and she said, I don’t have any, but wait just a second.
So I waited. She comes back with this little stand and a crucifix on it, full of shells and coral on it. And the crucifix would light up in the dark. She said, here, I hope this helps you and your family. That lady was just trying to be welcoming – generosity of the Americans.
LINARES: I took it home, gave it to my mom. I was a child, you know. Here, Mom, here’s a crucifix. But she kept it all those years.
They both passed away in 2001, and my sister got the crucifix. And at some point in time – I don’t remember exactly when – she asked me if I wanted it. I said, of course. So I keep it with me. It always reminds me of my mom and my dad and the incredible sacrifice made to free their children.