Miriam (Salabert) Gorriaran ... Cont.

After we left Cuba, I always had some contact with my parents. And the plan was always that we would be reunited. But instead of us going back to Cuba, my parents came to us. My mother was the first one to come. But my father was not allowed to leave Cuba. He was a doctor, and he had a high position with the Department of Health in Cuba, so there was no way that he would be allowed to leave. So my mother came first, she got permission to leave Cuba before my father. First, she went to Miami, where she stayed for a few months, and then she came to Dubuque.

We were already in Iowa about a year before she arrived - she arrived in the Spring of 1962. We lived together in Iowa for a few months, and my father did not arrive in the U.S. until October. He came to Rhode Island around January of 1963, and then we joined him at the end of March.

The story of how my father came here is very fascinating. He had to escape from Cuba – they wouldn’t let him leave. He tried three times to leave Cuba, and the third time, he finally was able to make it. But he was in the water for 17 hours. 17 hours! He came in a motorboat. That’s the only way he could come.

What my father did is, he became friendly with a fisherman, and he offered to buy a little boat where they could both go fishing. So he would regularly go fishing with this guy, so it wasn’t so peculiar whenever he went out.

Finally, when he decided it was time to escape, they went out one day, but there was a storm and they had to go back to shore. They tried again with no success, and then the third time they finally did it. This time, however, they took several people with them. There were five people that left in that boat that time; all of them hid down under the belly of the boat. There was a woman with a baby, and they had to sedate the baby so that the he wouldn’t cry.

Here’s what happened: the day they planned to leave and were ready to go out “fishing,” suddenly the guards who looked after the waters on the coast of Cuba, didn’t allow them to go out. But the guy who owned the boat, convinced the guard, he told him: “Oh, you know, I haven’t been out, I haven’t been out fishing for a long time. I have to get out.” And blah, blah, blah.

So, they were allowed to go out, and they were almost caught! After they went out on the water, the guards noticed the boat kept moving and that no one was fishing, and they went after them. When they were close to international waters, they almost caught up to the fishing boat! The Cuban boat was literally almost on top of them. My father always said that they all believed it was a miracle when suddenly this American boat – the Coast Guard – appeared out of no where. All of a sudden, the Coast Guard boat was just there!

And when that happened, the boat that was chasing them from Cuba suddenly turned around and went back. They were saved! Oh, they were saved!

So then my father was put in seclusion for almost a week after he arrived in Miami – by the United States government. He had to be interrogated because of his different positions in the Cuban government. And you know, they knew everything about him. And they also knew where we were. Everything. They knew everything.

As for the other people in the boat, he lost track of them all together. Once they got to the U.S. and they pulled him aside, they were separated right away. They probably sent them somewhere else for questioning.
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Miriam and her siblings are reunited with their mother in Dubuque
Meanwhile, in Iowa, we didn’t know what had happened. We knew that he had done something, and we didn’t know what had happened, because he couldn’t get in touch with us. But finally, he called us in Dubuque. When he first contacted us, we were so thrilled!

And then, my parents talked things over, and they decided that my father had to do something because there was no question now that we were staying here in the U.S.

What they decided was that my father would take an exam so that he could practice medicine in the U.S. All foreign doctors, the first thing that they have to do to practice medicine in the U.S. is to take what they call “the ECFMG exam.” So my father said, “I have to do it.” Because his English was so-so, he was worried about that. He then spent three intensive months training, learning English and studying, so that he could take the exam. And then he took it, and he passed.

He was still in Florida when he was doing this. He said it was better that he was by himself so he wouldn’t be distracted, and so he could just concentrate on this before he came to meet us.


And, something that happened during that time that to me was a wonderful thing is that I became closer to my father. He wrote to me a lot while we were in Miami and also when we moved to Dubuque. I had never really been that close to my father. I was close to my mother when we were younger, but not with my father, because he was always so busy working. So while I was in Dubuque, we would write to each other all the time, and we got very close in those letters. And we were very happy. I do think this happened because of the time we spent apart. Yes, I’m sure of that. I’m sure it would have never happened in Cuba. And I became like his right hand in many ways after we moved to Rhode Island, up until the time he and my mother left to go back to Miami in 1974.

So, yes, there are always bad things that come from these events in life, but also there are some good things that sometimes come out of experiences like that.

After we arrived in Rhode Island, we lived in Pawtucket because my father was going to work at Pawtucket Memorial Hospital, he was doing his residency there. We lived in Pawtucket in one of those triple decker houses.

When my father passed the medical exam, he applied to different hospitals around the country. It happened that there were other Cuban doctors at Pawtucket Memorial, like Dr. Blas Moreno, for example. The hospital was recruiting and my father happened to know another Cuban doctor who had graduated with him, who was working at Pawtucket Memorial, and she urged him to come. He moved to Rhode Island in January of 1963.

It was not until the Spring of 1963 that the rest of us joined my father in Rhode Island, and believe it or not, we felt like it was paradise because after we arrived, we realized how much we missed the ocean. We were living in the Midwest for all that time, where there was no ocean, and in Cuba we were accustomed to being surrounded by water!

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