On my first trip to Cuba, in 1999, I was pregnant and meeting my in-laws for the first time. Normally, I would recommend a complete background check on potential in-laws before getting involved too deeply with anyone, but it was not possible for me. Anyway, when you’re really in love, you won’t care who they are.
You know I’m right.
Luckily, my mother-in-law, Edilia, was a lovely person. She lived in Playa, Havana, with Salva, her partner of two decades, in the tiny starter apartment she’d moved into with her first husband, Amaro. This is Edilia and Amaro on their wedding day below.
I love the flowers at this wedding.
By the time I got to Cuba, Amaro had passed away. But the pile of photos Edilia had saved in a flimsy plastic bag gave me an incredible look at what their lives had been like. She had some great shots like this one from 1952 at El Club Militar y Naval in Nautico.
This one of her and her friends during Carnaval.
And this one from her own quincenera.
But when I started asking about all the people in these photos, I learned they had all left Cuba. The only people remaining from the photo above were Edilia and her sister, Bertha, who is at her right. It was incredible. Ruly and Chuchi, her brothers, both left Cuba in 1959 after the family’s electronics business was “nationalized.”
They hadn’t seen Chuchi for 40 years.
Edilia and Bertha also wanted to leave, but their husbands didn’t and they wouldn’t allow them to leave the country with their children.
This had been a very close-knit family that clearly loved each other a lot. Learning of their situation was upsetting. So I asked Edilia if I could take some photos home with me. We copied a beautiful photo of the four children and their parents, their parents’ wedding photos and some others. Then we mailed them off to Puerto Rico and Illinois.
The response was overwhelming. Both men called my husband, crying and thanking us for the photos. They framed them and hung them on the walls. Chuchi said he knew he would meet his parents again in heaven.
Two years later, when Edilia came to stay with us in Halifax, she was reunited with her brothers and one of her nephews! They laughed and cried together for a whole week, telling stories and reliving their happy childhoods.
Every one of them is gone now. And I am so happy I was able to play a little part in this reunion. I believe the separation and destruction of families is one of Fidel Castro’s crimes. Unfortunately, it’s one he will never answer for.