The Defector

Rod Martinez

© Copyright 2018 by Rod Martinez

Map of the island of Cuba.

This is the true story about my mother-in-law. It follows the story of a shy teenager from a small town in Cuba who defected to the USA via missionary work. Should this timid island native never have had the guts to make such a brave move, I would have never met my wife.

To a Latina, family is everything and Aida was as Latina as they come. Aida Gomez was born in Cuba in 1929. Life in Cuba back in those days was fair, but in October of that year the American stock crash on Wall Street is felt here. The price of sugar cane – one of the island’s major exports - drops to an all-time low. Truly, living in a Caribbean paradise had its quirks. She was very close to her family but things would go south soon for the painfully timid Aida and her entire family when General Fulgencio Batista is elected president. He later officially legalized the Communist party as the party of the island. Aida was barely eleven years old and didn’t quite understand the changes happening on her home island, but those changes would prove impossible to ignore when a young militant named Fidel Castro led a revolt against the president turned dictator Batista and successfully overtook the government becoming leader of the country. He said he fought for the rights of the common man so the natives considered him a hero. They were tired of oppression and hoped for a new and complete change.

But soon into his reign, the Cuban people defected in as many ways as they could to escape Castro’s leadership which quickly changed into a fierce dictatorship. Though he did a lot of good for his people, he became what many considered a tyrant and the people wanted freedom from this kind of government.

Aida, a quiet church-going Christian, volunteered for missionary work at her church and came to be liked by an American evangelical organization that decided to bring her to the States for a missionary trip. Though she travelled to and from her home island because of the group, she eventually never returned home. The freedoms America offered were the kind of freedoms she yearned for herself and for her family back home. The poverty of her upbringing made her want more, and the life in the United States she heard about was readily available to her now. She soon met and fell in love with a WWII vet fresh out of the navy in the late 50s. Aida and Raymond married and had two daughters. She kept in touch with her family but she wanted more than a long distance relationship with them. Her plan was to get them here and between her and her husband, it became an obsession. One by one she saved up and helped to bring her sisters and her brother to the states. Castro’s rules were harsh but she was determined to give her family the taste of the freedom she enjoyed here. All came but one, the youngest sister- who stayed home to care for her aged parents. She remains there to this day.

The sisters and brother eventually all made well in life here in the states; sons, daughters and grandchildren soon followed merging the family into a loving unit again – miles away from home. The promise of life in America proved true to the standards they expected. Home ownership, jobs, college, careers and retirement – the family cherished the promised life that the spirit of America has always stood for.

Aida never got to see her younger sister again. She passed away on January 2016 and had a good life. She had three grandkids and was loved by many; congestive heart failure took her from her loved ones. Aida left an impression to all that knew and met her, including me - Aida was my Mother-in-law. She raised both my wife and my sister-in-law with love and nurtured them to be the great moms they are today. She was truly an incredible example of what someone could do when they set their mind to it – against all odds and facing supreme diversity and a regime that was truly against freedom and civil rights, something we Americans take for granted. 

I considered her a hero, she suffered silently through the years, struggling with her husband to get her family here , a family that unilaterally agree they owe her a debt of gratitude because life in Cuba is not what we Americans could ever understand or bear. My wife’s cousins and their children understand. We all know they live better lives here in America because one shy girl from a small town ninety miles south of Florida was determined to keep her family together.

Rod Martinez is author of "The Juniors", "Cassie's Curse", "Gleema 3" (Graphic Novel)"Chasing Butterflies" , "Who is The Gray Man?" and "Dead Boy Walking."  He is winner of the 2018 Professional Development for Artists Grant by Tampa Arts Council.

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