BACK IN CUBA, Patty’s childhood more than anything was very much like any other child’s: dotted by a bunch of memories of joy and happiness, times of sunshine and unbridled freedom, and very little memories of pain or difficulty. Living in La Habana, in a part of town aptly called Playa, beach, she had some of the happiest times of her life. As an avid swimmer, the ocean was Patty’s playground.
She recalls going snorkeling with her parents often, right off the coast, and being able to see coral reefs, schools of fish, and other wonders that can be found in the Caribbean coast with its turquoise water and gentle currents. This was also a time where family would gather around meals and have plenty of joy. Cousins, aunts, uncles were all happy to have each other. Children ran outside and played games—it was all fun and happiness.
Yet, amid all this childhood haze, Patty was not blind to reality; she did have some understanding of her parents’ struggle. Because of the economic circumstances in the island, even the everyday necessities turned into an ordeal. Providing food or bare needs items like soap beyond the rationed or allowed amounts was often a task that was done under fear of retaliation of punishment. Since the government had outlawed businesses, even acquiring fish from an acquaintance could lead to an unexpected visit from the police to the family home. In the household, the family improvised everyday life as much as it could. Patty often wore diapers made out of cloth, made and washed by her mom routinely. But even with the ingenuity with which her parents devised life in Playa, they wanted something better for their kids, a better and brighter future—one in which they didn’t have to live under the restrictions that held them down.
Nonetheless, these feelings of frustration did not shadow the genuine enjoyment of life and love in the family. Days of swimming with her family at the pool, days of playing with cousins like any other kid would do at an age adult problems seem so distant. She would play outside all day, barely coming back home to eat, only to come back out as soon as the plate was emptied.
As a child, she had many friends at school, a place that she enjoyed to be at. There, she would read out loud verses of national poets, or folk stories that were selected by the communist government for instruction. She also enjoyed participating in the classroom and playing in the playground with her classmates. Studious and dedicated, Patty was keen to a discipline of hard work combined with free-spirited play.
However, as she turned nine years old, she was told one day she had to grab one thing to take in a plane out of Cuba. She grabbed a small bag, gift from her uncle. The family was on the move…