Saturday, August 12, 2006

Bicho malo nunca muere

Part Two of mi Cubana's story follows. Part One is here.


My family left Brooklyn for Hopewell, Virginia in 1963, after my father was hired by the Allied Chemical Co. as a mid-level engineer at a plant in Chesterfield, VA. We lived in a small frame house, but as my father was able to save a little, we moved to a larger home after the birth of my sister, who was named after my mother Nilda (and called Nildita). My brother Johnny had entered college, and my aunt Delia had remained in New York with her new husband Luis Quintero. She held a doctorate in pedagogy from the University of Havana, but she worked as a seamstress and attended night school to get her teaching certification here. My aunt taught in the New York public school system until she retired in 1984. She had met Uncle Luis in Cuba, and they were married in New York in 1963. He was a pharmaceutical sales rep and a Teamster.

Though I was only a first-grader, I can recall the heated discussions my family would have about the developments in Cuba. They were all incensed about President Kennedy's failure to support the soldiers at the Bay of Pigs in '61, and they really never got over it. (Most Cubans of my parents' generation have always voted Republican, and this is the primary reason.)

My dad was promoted to plant management with Allied and we moved to New Jersey in 1970. Sadly, my brother Johnny passed away in 1976, at the age of 28, the day before my sixteenth birthday. I spent my formative years in Freehold Township (Springsteen country!) and my father continued rising through the ranks at Allied-Signal, receiving a promotion to manage a chemical facility in Orange, Texas, where we moved in 1980.

That's where in the winter of 1981, at a fraternity party, I met the man who became my husband. Perry and I married in September of 1986, my father retired from Honeywell in 1988, and my parents moved to Miami to join my aunt and uncle and many of our relatives in Little Havana. They later moved back to Texas, joining my sister and I in Houston after my nephews joined the family in the mid- to late '90s.

My mother, who had long suffered from a defective heart valve, had an operation in 1994 to replace it but suffered several small strokes as a complication of the surgery. She recovered most functionality, but her mental condition has generally declined over the years since to the point where she now has severe dementia and must be cared for around the clock. My father was diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2003, and has sent it into remission four times with a battery of chemotherapy treatments administered by the fine doctors at Baylor and Methodist Hospital, in the Texas Medical Center.

My uncle Luis passed away in 1990, and my dear aunt Delia, who was like my second mother, lost her battle with cancer in May of this year.

My parents and I had become United States citizens in 1967. Though their parents had always spoken of someday returning to Cuba, my mother and father had made a new life for themselves and were happy and comfortable here. They never spoke seriously of returning, though they both had many relatives on the island whom they would never see or speak to again. My mother, who is only a few months older than Fidel, often said of him: “Bicho malo nunca muere”, which translates to “A bad bug never dies.” She couldn't have guessed how prophetic that would turn out to be.

I have some interest in visiting Cuba, but as a naturalized Cuban-American it would not be possible until the Communist regime is done away with. I hope one day in the not-too-distant future that my husband and I can visit the land of my birth, perhaps see some of my distant relatives and complete the circle of discovery that my family began so many years ago.

No comments: