| Originally published in the Spring 2020 Edition of OurSeniors.net Magazine |
Mirta Ramos has experienced love, pain, fear, separation and a reunion.
She grew up as an only child in Havana, a vibrant city filled with culture, music, nightlife and tight-knit neighborhoods, one that went from a democracy to communism in her lifetime. Her father traveled to the United States regularly for business and came home with stories about the country located just 90 miles across the Florida straits. Although she had never been there, it was a place she wanted to see.
She deeply loved her homeland. But that changed dramatically in 1959, when Mirta was only 23 years old. Fidel Castro took power after a military coup, and life was never the same.
Her father lost his restaurant to the regime. Mirta’s closest friendship ended when her best friend became a government “snitch.” Food dwindled. Meat became a rare commodity and life as she knew it was lost forever.
“The first year Fidel Castro was in power, he denied he was a communist,” the now 84-year-old Floridian said. “The first thing he did was get rid of Christmas. He said it was the era of America. Americans were bad.”
It was not long until businesses and homes were taken, banks were guarded by the military and people’s funds were confiscated, all for the so-called good of the government. Mirta saw grocery stores disappear, replaced strict food rationing. Basic toiletries were non-existent. Waiting in line for life’s necessities were the new normal. Things became even more tense in 1962, when the Russians came to build missile bases.
Her family, like hundreds of others in Cuba, lived in constant fear as Castro’s power as a dictator grew unchecked. At night, with the curtains drawn, Mirta’s father would turn on the radio to hear Voice of America. The family huddled around the speaker; the volume had to be kept as low as possible because if anyone knew, Mirta and her family would be thrown in jail.
Families began to be separated, a memory that still sparks anger in Mirta. That, she says, was the tipping point—she knew her family, which now included her husband and two daughters, had to get out of Cuba.
Getting out took eight years, even with visas from several countries. Mirta vividly remembers the day they left. She had one outfit in a bag as she boarded the plane. She told her mother to look down at Cuba as they took off, “because she would never see it again.”
“My husband and two daughters, nine and 11, went to Miami, and my mother, Maria, and I went to Spain,” she says. “We had no money, no food, no freedom and no future. I told him to take the girls with him for a better life.”
Mirta and her mother spent eight months living in a single room in Madrid. Mirta had a Cuban visa and could not work in Spain, so they depended on money sent by her husband. Finally, Mirta and her mother made it to the United States and were reunited with the rest of the family.
Four years after arriving in America, Mirta was a divorced single mother working as a maid in a hotel in Miami Beach. But her strength and determination never diminished. In 1978, she took the oath to become an American citizen. She finally found a place she could call home.
Today, Mirta lives in Ormond Beach with her eldest daughter, Ileana Cantillo. She has four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, and she enjoys reading and keeping up with current events.
“She is truly a role model,” says Ileana. “She’s so brave. She let us go with my father not knowing if she would ever see us again. That’s unbelievable. I don’t know if I could have done that.”
Mirta also works to educate others on the dangers of socialism and communism, including making sure her family never forgets what happened to their homeland. She has never returned to Havana. “I miss my country,” she admits. But she does not miss the regime or the people who created it. “Once I left Cuba that day on my way to Spain, I knew [my Cuba] was gone forever.”
To those who are lucky to know Mirta, she is an amazing woman. She is strong, focused on making a better life for those she loves. She did not allow the actions of a dictator change her. She is a proud Cuban American, a mother and mother-in-law, grandmother and great-grandmother, and a true friend to many. Mirta Ramos is not just an Amazing Senior—she is truly an amazing human being!
OurSeniors.net Magazine would like to thank Sandra Bush for her assistance with this article.