A CUBAN-AMERICAN WOMAN WHO HAD A DREAM!

I saw two films this week on the platform TUBI that had contrasting and impacting messages – and that resonated deeply with me.

The first one was a French production – and most of you know the tendency of French film directors to have risqué plots.  The film “Desire” dealt with 25-year-old Cecille who tried to cope with the recent loss of her father by having casual sex with strangers and wrecking their lives.  I would say that this was not a very helpful way to deal with grief.  By relying on complete strangers and not on her own family, Cecille never found the support mechanism that relatives could have provided her. 

Sex is never the answer to one’s deepest personality problems.  Most people think that it is because it is sensationalized constantly by media outlets as the panacea to the world’s suffering. But remember that media outlets are more concerned with profit margins than with finding medical cures.

It was only after Cecille – with the help of a former boyfriend – took the decision regarding what to do with her late father’s ashes that she found redemption for herself and for all the people that she had previously victimized. It was a much more arduous path to follow, but at least she came to the right decision. Cecille had to learn on her own that when it comes to fixing yourself, it’s up to you to take the first step.

The next movie that I saw is called “Miss Angela” – an insignificant title for a masterpiece – released in 2021. 

Miss Angela is the story of Angela “Nana” Alvarez – a 91-year-old Cuban American woman who vividly narrated her story as a political refugee in the United States. 

Stories like Angela’s are like a dime in a dozen.  There are so many that have been written in the past that to find a good one you have to walk a mile in your shoes! It’s the same thing when trying to find a good Cuban-American restaurant – most are holes in the wall. 

Angela’s life story did resonate with me and I’m sure with many others.  For one, the Cuban-American actor Andy García supported the project.  Andy is one of those rare human beings who realizes that one of the best ways of finding a purpose in life is not by accruing accolades or augmenting your bank account.  It is by helping others less fortunate than you are reach their dreams.  In the past, he made this possible for Manbo King “Cachao” by introducing this talented, Cuban-American musician and composer to American audiences.  And now, he’s done it again with Miss Angela.

As a young girl, Angela’s passion was music.  When her father asked her what career she wanted to pursue at the university, she responded that she wanted to be a singer.  But those were different times where the father was usually the sole breadwinner of the family and his decisions always carried the day.  His response to Angela’s dream was: “No, no, no!”  Later in her life, when Angela won a singing contest on the radio and the prize was a singing debut at a nightclub, her husband also crushed her dream.  Women were not allowed to pursue such endeavors.  Nevertheless, Angela never lost her passion for music.  She composed myriads of songs for every occasion and to liven her up her spirit. 

Angela lived a very happy life in Cuba BC (Before Castro).  She had four children, and her husband had a good job as a mechanical engineer.  But all this came to an end when Fidel Castro and his communist rag-tag guerilla fighters seized power on January 1, 1959.  Secularism replaced religion.  Fidel took the place of God.  The Government became the sole employer.  Public schools displaced private and religious schools.  And the State took over the indoctrination and rearing of children into the Marxist ideology, and relegated the parents to mere bystanders in their children’s education. 

It was then that Angela made the decision to emigrate with her four children to the United States.  The Cuban Government would not allow her husband to do the same.  Things were rolling fine until they got to the airport, and the bureaucrats refused at the last minute to allow Angela to leave the country. 

Angela made one of the most difficult decisions that a mother could be called upon to make – let her children leave to a foreign country by themselves.  But Angela was not alone in making this decision.  From 1960-62, over fourteen thousands Cuban kids arrived alone in the United States via the Operation Pedro Pan and through the stewardship of Father Bryan O. Walsh of the Catholic Welfare Bureau. 

Angela’s children were first placed in orphanages and later moved to Pueblo, Colorado, where a welcoming family took them in.  Angela was able to exit Cuba after four excruciating years to join her children.  Her husband left Cuba much later via Mexico, but died at the early age of 53 of lung cancer.

What made Angela and her children survive in a country with a strange culture and language was the strong family bond.  Everyone in the household had a role to play, and he/she played that role(s) willingly.  This family honored Alexander Dumas’ quote from The Three Musketeers: “All for one and one for all, united we stand, divided we fall.”  

Angela never lost her nostalgia for her idyllic days in Cuba BC, but she always kept her eagerness for adventures of the future.  The storyline always goes back to the fulfillment of Angela’s lost dream of her love for music and the sharing of those talents with the world.  For those who learn never to give up and face adversity with uncomplaining stoicism, Angela is one of many heroines who did it her way. 

At age 91, Angela gave her first music concert at the historic Hollywood nightclub, Avalon, with a band made up of world-famous musicians and with Andy García in charge of the bongos.  She got a record deal, and her fans anxiously wait for its release.

One of the most agonizing and disturbing questions that I often get when I’m introduced to some Americans and they find out that I’m Cuban-American is a display of extreme curiosity regarding whether I have gone back to my homeland.  I think that the goal that this question tries to convey is an exposition of erudition.  But to Cuban-Americans, the opposite takes place.  Taking into consideration that the majority of Cuban-Americans left Cuba to escape a communist regime and that the same communist regime continues to oppress the Cuban people after sixty-two years, why would a self-respecting and honorable Cuban-American opt to return to this hellhole?!!! These Americans would be better served in displaying their erudition and compassion by making reference to stories like Miss Angela’s.

Angela’s story serves as an uplifting tale of love, loss, struggle, and triumph by achieving the American Dream. It’s never too late for those who never lose sight of their better angels and talents.

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