Yonder tells his story in the form of a letter to his younger self. It is a must-read story, whether you are a Cuban American or not.
Letter to My Younger Self
Dear eight-year-old Yonder,
I need you to stop crying. I know you’re scared. I know you don’t know what’s going on. I know you’ve never been on a plane before — you’ve never even seen a plane before. And you’re afraid of heights. Which is ironic because right now, you’re scared that the small propeller plane carrying you, your sister and your parents isn’t flying high enough. It’s flying way too close to the ground.
But it has to. Because if it doesn’t, somebody might spot you and you might get caught.
Look around you. The inside of the plane is cramped, and it’s just the four of you and the pilot. No bags. No luggage. No lights. It’s dark and loud. But if you tune out the sound of the propellers humming outside, you can hear Mom and Dad crying, just like you are. And your little sister, Yainee, is quietly sitting next to you — wearing her little white dress like the princess she is — just along for the ride.
You think you don’t know what’s going on? She has no idea.
But both of you need to just trust Mom and Dad. They know what they’re doing, and they have a plan.
You’ve probably noticed that the plane has already started flying a little higher. That’s because you’ve left the coast of Havana. It’s safe now. Soon, the sun will come up and shine in through the left side of the plane, and the farther you get from the Cuban coast, the closer you’ll be to your new life in America.
Yes, Yonder. You’re going to America.
I know. Mom and Dad haven’t even told you yet. When Dad came into your room at 3:30 a.m. and woke you up, all he said was, “We’re going on a trip.” He didn’t tell you to pack anything. He just told you to grab your stickball bat and get in the car.
Your parents didn’t tell anybody they were leaving until the very last second. They couldn’t. It had to be a secret because if the government or the police had found out that your parents were planning to leave, they would have have thrown them in jail.
That’s why there were so few family and friends back at the airstrip to say goodbye.
Did you notice how they were taking photos in the dark with those disposable Kodak cameras — the little yellow ones? Well, in a few years, you’ll see those photos. You’ll notice that in them, nobody is smiling. Their eyes will be dotted bright red from the flash, but you’ll still be able to see the tears in them. Everybody will just look.…
Well, they’ll look the way you feel right now.
Scared to death.
But I want you to take the fear you’re feeling, and multiply that by 100.
That’s how scared Mom and Dad are.
They’re about to start over in a new country where they don’t speak the language — none of you do — and they’ll have to build a new life for themselves, and for you and Yainee. And they’ll have to do it from scratch.
I know you’re probably waiting for me — for somebody — to tell you that everything is going to be O.K. That life in the U.S. is going to be amazing. That all of your family’s dreams are going to come true and you’ll all live happily ever after.
But it’s not that simple.
Your parents are basically leaving poverty for poverty. When you land at the airport in Miami, your family will be met by U.S. immigration. The officers will ask your parents some questions, and after a lot of paperwork they’ll basically say, “Welcome to America.” And you’ll be free to go.
But free to go where?
And free to do what?
Remember, you have no luggage. No possessions. You have only the clothes on your backs … and your stickball bat. Your parents have almost no money. No jobs. No place to live.
But that’s O.K., because Dad’s a hustler.
You know what I mean. You basically helped him run his illegal business out of your family’s apartment in Cuba. You delivered packages for him all over town. He figured a kid was less likely to get hassled by police in the street, so he’d give you the stuff from the stash under his bed and you’d put it in your bag and make the deliveries. Lemons to Mrs. Maria’s house. Onions to the family at the end of the street. Potatoes. Beans. Limes. Dad always had something stashed and ready to sell — things people needed because the government-issued rations booklet (la libreta) that most families relied on to survive was only good for a bare minimum of groceries each month. And after families had used up their booklets, most couldn’t afford much more food from the local bodega.
But Dad had connections.
He was a baseball player in Cuba, so he was a little bit of a celebrity. Everybody knew who he was, including all the farmers. So he bought and traded for goods under the table — goods that most people either couldn’t afford or couldn’t get because they were in such high demand. He basically ran a black market for discount fruits and vegetables from his bedroom. He could have gone to jail for it. But because he was helping people, nobody reported him. Plus, like I said, he pretty much knew everybody.
How do you think he got the plane you’re on right now?
He knew a guy.
But in America, he doesn’t know anybody.