the Clothes on Our Backs
By Peggy Proctor
When Fidel Castro was in his 30's and had political ambitions, he told the people what they wanted to hear, -- we will take from the rich and powerful and we will give to the poor. As history bears out, he took from the rich ---- but the increase never entered the coffers of the poor. He froze all of the country's currency. With his hands on the purse strings he took control. Among those "rich" whom this supposed Robin Hood took from, were the parents of a little girl, Iraiza Porter. This all began when Iraiza was only two years old. Her family, like others, would have to wait in line for hours to receive food and other necessary supplies.
The teachers in the schools asked the children to pray to Castro. Iraiza refused because she was Catholic and prayed to God. For this she was put in detention. Her family became what was referred to as a "subclass" because of their feelings against the Government. Under the communist government there was no freedom of speech or press. It was this dictator's way or none.
Iraiza's family wanted out. In order to leave the country however, and Cuba's communist rule, her parents needed a sponsor. Others became aware of the family's intentions to leave the country and persecutions increased. When a family applied to leave the country, the government inventoried all of their possessions. Nothing could be broken or the person or persons were not in compliance and weren't allowed to leave. Iraiza's family was very, very careful but one day, when Iraiza was eight years old, they had a fire that burned up one fourth of their inventory. What could they do?
The police came to inspect their home, then a wonderful thing happened, -- the police said that they needed the house for police headquarters, so miraculously, the family would be allowed to leave!
All told, it took ten years from the time they started the process till they could leave Cuba. When the day finally did arrive, Iraiza's name did not match police records and they wouldn't let her leave the country. The police told them to leave Iraiza behind and they could send for her later. Her father said, "No, we must go together." Once again the Lord interceded and they were somehow allowed to leave.
Arriving at Freedom House
Sometime in 1970 the family arrived at the Freedom House in Miami, Florida. The only things they were allowed to take with them were the clothes on their backs. They let Iraiza keep her earrings and her mother was able to keep her wedding ring. Now here, they were in a foreign land, they knew no English and had no job and no money. Soon after they arrived, Iraiza's father became ill and was hospitalized for a year! Everyone else went to work. Iraiza was now twelve years old and she went to work cleaning houses. Her thirteen-year-old brother delivered newspapers and cleaned also. Only the seven-year-old was allowed to "mooch," as Iraiza puts it. The family was able to rent a little house. The cost was small, but the house had holes in it, which let in the cold and the rain. They spent a very cold winter there. To add to their hardship, came the grief of her father's death.
Grandmother wanted desperately to help her grandchildren. She could leave Cuba to help them, but her husband couldn't come with her. In addition, she would also have to leave another daughter there in Cuba. Iraiza's grandmother had a very difficult decision to make, but her heart was bleeding for her daughter and grandchildren in America --- She made a painful decision and left Cuba. Grandmother was able to care for the children while her daughter worked. With that problem under control, another arose --- their house was condemned. They were able to move to a bit more adequate house and managed somehow.
Iraiza and her siblings learned English at school but mainly from watching soap operas. It was a good way to learn because the accent didn't change. Mother didn't learn so quickly because the majority of the load of responsibility rested with her. Grandmother never learned English.
Iraiza always had a desire within to provide her future children with a better life. Just coming to America and away from communism gave her the opportunities that only this land of freedom afforded.
When she was a bit older, missionaries came to her door. Iraiza and her sister accepted the gospel. Iraiza knew it was true. It all made sense. She felt good and comfortable about the things that she was taught. It made all of the pieces of the puzzle of life fit together. She knew she would be doing the right thing to be baptized.
After one of those missionaries who taught her went home, he and Iraiza corresponded. Soon they were married and moved to California -- then back to Florida but again were drawn west. In route to California, they stopped to visit her husband's sister in Utah. Utah seemed like the place they should live and they put down their roots in southern, sun baked, Utah.
Iraiza went to a community college. She had to get straight A's to be able to go, so she studied very hard. "When you leave a country on political asylum, you can never go back," she said. "With all the sacrifice my family has made-- my father, my mother, my grandmother and grandfather, do you think I would not work hard? No!! I had to work hard!" Iraiza went on to become a nurse. Her brother received a master's degree in Economics and went on for a Ph.D. Her younger sister also graduated from college. They were all filled with the desire to make the most of the grand opportunities afforded them in this great land.
Iraiza's goals have been to:
Complainers make Iraiza feel like "wringing their little necks,' as she put it. "We, in this wonderful land have so much to be grateful for. Don't blame your woes on the government. Just do what you have to do --- get an education."
Iraiza's grandmother is ninety-six years old now. She came here when she was seventy. She couldn't learn the language. She was sad to leave her spouse. Sad too that when letters were sent to Cuba, the government threw them away and there were also no phones to reach loved ones by. Now that the grandchildren are grown, Grandmother wanted to go back to Cuba and be buried by her husband, but she hasn't yet been able to. She lamented, "I'll be buried here and I'm not even a citizen!" The worst part about becoming a citizen is that one has to know English! The test is in English!
Overwhelmed by the fact that Grandmother couldn't be buried in her country, Iraiza wrote a letter to the citizenship office, told her grandmother's story and asked if her grandmother might have a translator. She knew that they never allowed this, but felt she must write the letter. Six months later, to her great astonishment, permission was granted. Iraiza went with her grandmother to be her translator. Another amazing thing happened, they only asked her one question and then announced to Grandmother that she was an American citizen! She is so proud to be part of this country. Every where she goes, to everyone she sees she walks up to them and in her little bit of broken English says, "I'm an American citizen! I'm an American citizen!!!"
Some people will "have hate" because Iraiza and her family are Cuban, but she chooses to feel the love. She is proud and happy like Grandmother to be an American citizen. The family came with only the clothes on their backs but have worked hard and made the most of this choice lands' opportunities for freedom and for truth.