Miriam Gorriarán ... continued

When we arrived in Miami, we were taken to a place called Kendall, which is in the southern part of Miami. There, it was fun in a way because I saw many familiar faces. I actually saw one of the nuns that I had in Cuba; she was there taking care of the children. When I saw her, I was very happy to see her! Her name was Mother Imelda. (We used to call them Mothers. We didn’t call them Sisters back then).

When Mother Imelda saw us, she came up to us and hugged us and stayed with us. She was very interested in learning about what was going on in Cuba since she had fled herself.

I went to a reunion last year and Mother Imelda was there. It was a reunion for our school, the school we would have graduated from in Havana. You know, you spend what seems like your whole life in a school, and suddenly it ended so abruptly for me. If I would have stayed in Havana, I would have graduated from high school in 1963. And so all those kids, now adults, we got together for our 50th anniversary reunion. Some of the nuns who are still alive were also there. Mother Imelda attended, but she was very old and fragile. Today, she lives in Puebla [Mexico] and she's quite elderly. Unfortunately, she didn't remember me, she just doesn't remember much anymore.

One of the most interesting things I found out about Mother Imelda many years later, was that she was originally from Taunton, Massachusetts! Can you imagine? That was so amazing! I never knew until that day at our reunion!

Eventually we learned that all the kids that had been there before us were allowed to stay there for 30 days, for one month before they were sent to different parts of the country. Soon, some of the children that we became friendly with were sent to Oregon. And everybody who went to Oregon loved it, so we wanted to go too. But the problem was that the three of us couldn’t go to Oregon, they would have to split us up. And that was one of the things that my parents told us, that we must always stick together.

After our 30 days were up, we were sent to Dubuque, Iowa. We went by plane. And, and we couldn’t land in Dubuque because of bad weather, so we landed in Waterloo. And I always say that was our Waterloo. Like Napoleon Bonaparte: another battle.

When we finally arrived in Dubuque, someone picked us up and took us to this place similar to the St. Aloysius Home [in Rhode Island.] There, the boys were sent to one side of the building and girls went to the other side. And my brother, oh, my poor brother: he would sit on the stairs on one side, just waiting for us! He didn’t know English, and he was only eight years old. And he would sit on the stairs, just waiting to see if he could see us. It was very sad. They wouldn’t allow the boys and the girls to cross to the other side, even if we had a relative on the other side.

We got to Miami a week before the invasion of Pigs – The Bay of Pigs, so we were all glued to the radio, we listened to everything that was going on in Cuba. It was then that we started thinking, “Hmm, what’s going to happen now?” And pretty soon, we realized that we were probably not be going back home after all.

High School and Proms

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While we were in this home in Dubuque, there was a nun, a Franciscan nun, who was assigned to take care of us. She had escaped from China, so in a way, she knew a little bit about what it was like to be a refugee. When I think back, she really did the best she could.

Then, I enrolled in high school. I knew I would have to go to a Catholic school, and I was told that I could choose from two different schools. At first, I decided to go to an all-girls school because I was used to going to a girls’ school. But then I changed my mind and I chose the co-ed school, and that turned out to be a good choice.

Soon after I enrolled, it was prom season. It was my first prom! And not only did I not have any money to spend on a prom, but I didn’t have a dress to wear! We found out that people outside of the group home would donate clothing, and sometimes they would donate wedding gowns, or evening dresses. And the Franciscan nun took one of those dresses and transformed it! I still remember it today: it was a black satin dress, with little spots of red. And the nun fixed it so that I could wear it to one of the proms.

And then for the summer prom, she took a wedding gown and, she fixed it for me too. She took it apart so that I could wear it. And, you know, when I think back to that, I am still in awe! That was truly amazing what she did.

In Dubuque, there were other Cuban girls there, which was nice because, you know, we had a lot in common… I still have a picture of some of them. One of my good friends who was there is Lissette Alvarez, she’s a well-known singer and dancer. She’s married to Willy Chirino. Willy Chirino is also a “Peter Pan Kid.”