South Florida’s older Cubans say they have waited a lifetime to go back to homeland

Many Cubans who always wanted to go back to their roots are hoping what's happening now will allow for just that.

WEST MIAMI, Fla. – For so many who left Cuba in the early years of Fidel Castro’s dictatorship, they thought the move to America would be temporary. In the more than 60 years that followed, they built businesses and families, but they never made it back home. Now, in the twilight of what has been a lifetime dream — a hope — that in this unprecedented moment of protest, a free Cuba may just happen and that they can finally return to the land they love.

On Thursday at the Pointe of North Gables assisted living community, a group of these hopeful came out in wheelchairs and walkers. Bursting with energy, they waved small Cuban flags.

But in the wonder of the moment, through smiles and tears, they say they have spent a lifetime waiting for a free Cuba.

Andres Torres, 77, a resident at the Pointe, said he was 16 years old when he left the island in 1961. As a teenager, he thought being in America would be temporary.

“As a matter of fact, when I was leaving Cuba, I said, ‘I am going to be back,’ but it never happened,” Torres said.

In the decades that passed, they launched careers and built businesses and families.

Torres is a retired computer programmer. He started two businesses, had three children, one is dead. And, in all that change, the triumphs and heartbreaks of life, a daily tug at the heart of what didn’t change — that Cuba is still not free.

“Nothing changes,” he said. “It is harder now as a matter of fact. The other day, I talked to my cousin in Cuba that I hadn’t talked to in 60 years . . . He said there is nothing to buy there and that no matter how much they send you from the United States, there is nothing to buy, so what’s the point? There’s no freedom. There’s nothing you can do but just cry all day.”

When she was four-years-old, Terrie Martinez’s family fled Cuba. She said they all went away with the dream that they wanted to go back.

“It is so sad because they always, always, wanted to go back to their roots, unfortunately, that never happened.” She said she still has some family there. “I wish they were here. They are suffering.”

Torres has hope. “I think this is for real now because it is the whole island protesting,” he said. . . . That we are going to be free. I am going to be able to return and die there. I have nothing else to hope for. I lost my wife. I am here. (It’s) very hard.”

They want to see the land their hearts have longed for and reunite with family. Pedro de Cespedes, 96, said maybe they could even help Cuba recover and rebound from decades of dictatorship.

“I would like to go there and fix everything,” he said.

The retired engineer left Cuba in 1963 and went to Mexico. He came to the United States in 1986 working at the United Nations for five years in New York City.

Zeus Hernandez, co-owner of the Pointe where the residents live, came here when he was eight-years-old on the Mariel boatlift.

“For them, this is life . . . nothing more important than a free country,” he said.

Hernandez said the facility created a moment on Thursday for the residents to be part of the movement.

“We wanted to give them a voice because they have been here for so many years and they have always dreamed of a free Cuba,” he said.

His 16-year-old son Zeus Hernandez Jr. was by his side and said he appreciates the sacrifices the generations before him made.

“When I look at them, I give them my upmost respect because I know all the struggles they went through,” and he said how hard they had to work when they started their lives in America from scratch.

About living to bear witness to this moment, Terrie Martinez had this to say.

“You should never lose hope in life no matter what. No matter what, there is always hope,” she said.

About the Authors:

Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment "Call Christina."

Michelle F. Solomon is the podcast producer/reporter/host of Local 10's original, true-crime podcast The Florida Files and a digital journalist for Local