God’s Mercy: The Shrimp Boat


5 de Junio 1980
Port of Mariel, Cuba
———-
Many waited in the large room. Among them, my parents and sister—only 10 months old at the time—my aunt, uncle and cousin.

Like pupils, they listened intently for their names, not just to indicate that they were present, but because it meant they were a few steps closer to freedom.

The summer heat only added to the bubbling tension. As each name was called, uneasy looks turned into smiles. Families, couples, men & women headed into another room. Sometimes one after the other, but more often than not, the order didn’t seem to have any rhyme or reason. 

The room grew empty as people rejoined each other in the other room that may as well have already been called America. 

After some time, my father found himself alone; only a few others whom he didn’t know remained.

He waited, conjectured, speculated, imagined the worst; he prayed; and then he saw my mother and sister returning with a guard. 

They hadn’t called his name. He would not be authorized to leave through the Mariel boatlift.

He had previously been imprisoned for attempting to leave the island, and now, years later despite a wife and infant, it seemed they weren’t going to let him go so easily.

My mother couldn’t speak as she approached him. Fear welled up in her eyes, and in his heart. 

He bit his bottom lip, opened his mouth, then hesitated. 

He told her to take my sister, and go ahead with my uncle.

“Tranquila,” he said and held them close as she sobbed. 

“Despidese ya, que usted no lo va a ver mas,” the guard sneered heartlessly. What joy could he find in separating a family?

She kissed him one last time. He cupped my sister’s face in his hands and kissed her forehead lightly, smelling her hair at the same time, hoping to remember her sweet face whenever he smelled the familiar baby cologne. 

My mother’s heart ached, but even at 19 she was obedient and loyal. 

My father watched them go, towards an uncertain future, but better nonetheless, even if the sea would forever lie between them.

My aunt held my sister for the majority of the trip, while my mother vomited over the edge of the boat that brought them to the United States. She was seasick the entire voyage, perhaps heartbroken and distraught by her decision as well. 

———-

Thankfully, with the help of God and the support of our families, my father was able to leave Cuba a few days later. The boat that brought my father to the United States on June 10, 1980, and would eventually reunite my father with his family, was named God’s Mercy; and so has it carried us ever since. 

———-

This is just a piece of the story of my parents exodus from Cuba; however, the sacrifice they were willing to make that day is not unlike those they have continued to make over the last 35 years. They always put their families’ needs first, above and before their own desires. My parents have been amazing examples and pillars of instruction my entire life. I am so grateful to have them both. More than anything though, I am grateful to God for his mercy and the blessings he has bestowed on our entire family.

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