Cuban-American Poet Issues New Book

Richard Blanco 2014

Cuban-American Inaugural Poet Richard Blanco released his new book “Prince of los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood” today, October 1, 2014. In the past, Babalublog contributor and Yale University Professor Carlos Eire also authored the book “Learning to Die in Miami: Confessions of a Refugee Boy.”

It seems that growing up in Miami leaves indelible imprints in the personality of Cuban-American youngsters who are tasked to navigate between two cultures — one Cuban-American and the other American. This experience triggers many challenges, but it creates many opportunities.

To learn more about Richard’s new book, click on


It’s a good thing that more and more Cuban ‘Pedro Pan’ children are telling their stories

(My new post about Pedro Pan kids)

It’s an amazing story.

It involved children, from 5 to 18 years old.

It happened almost daily in Cuba as parents took their children to the airport, put them on plane and waved goodbye.  My parents looked into it but decided that we would leave together rather than separately.

We now call it “Operation Pedro Pan” and the numbers were staggering, according to Operation Pedro Pan Group, Inc:

“Over four decades ago, Cuban parents fearing indoctrination and that the Cuban government would take away their parental authority exercised one of the most fundamental human rights: the right to choose how their children would be educated.

From December 1960 to October 1962, more than fourteen thousand Cuban youths arrived alone in the United States. What is now known as Operation Pedro Pan was the largest recorded exodus of Unaccompanied minors in the Western Hemisphere.  The exodus of the Cuban children was virtually unknown for over 30 years. Msgr. Bryan O. Walsh who is considered the Father of our Exodus states that the name had only appeared in print in March of 62 and in a Reader’s Digest article in 1988. It was through the effort and work of Operation Pedro Pan Group, Inc. that the name Operation Pedro Pan became known throughout the US and the world.   Approximately, half of the minors were reunited with relatives or friends at the airport. More than half were cared for by the Catholic Welfare Bureau, directed by a young 30 year old Irish priest, Bryan O. Walsh. The children from the Cuban Refugee Children’s Program were placed in temporary shelters in Miami, and relocated in 30 States. Many children of the Unaccompanied Cuban Children’s program, are unaware that they were part of history in the making.”

Over time, “los Pedro Pans,” as they are affectionately known in the Cuban American community, were integrated into US life. In most cases, they became successful citizens of the US.

Over the last few years, many of these “Pedro Pan” have decided to write down their stories.  It probably started with Carlos Eire’s “Waiting for snow in Havana” and followed by a series of books, such as a new one called “Cuba adios” by Lorenzo Martinez.

These books serve important objectives:

1) they reminde us of our parents and their sacrifices;

2) they show the incredible generosity of Americans all over who helped these youngsters settle in new towns and cities very far from the tropical winds of Cuba;

3) they provide reading material to the young Cuban Americans born in the US.  Many of them are in high schools and could use these books to get closer to their Cuban grandparents; and,

4) they will allow future historians, in a hopefully free Cuba, get the background information about the Cuban immigration of the 1960s and 1970s.    I’m not sure how much Cubans in the island know “the exile story,” especially the sacrifice of a coming to a new land.

I’m thrilled that more and more Cubans are telling their stories.  It’s amazing how similar and different they are.

P. S. You can hear CANTO TALK here & follow me on Twitter @ scantojr.


“The struggle begins”: A book about Cubans in the US

Guest: Victor Andres Triay, author of “The struggle begins”.  This is a Cuban story circa 1960-62.




A “Cubana” from Dixie who tells stories!

The Cuban American experience is diverse and very interesting.

On one hand, there are those Cubans who stayed in South Florida and grew up there.  They attended schools full of other Cuban exiles.  They walked on streets beaming with “Cubanismo” or the smell of “cafe cubano”.  They were never really separated from Cuba.

On the other hand, the rest of us settled in places like Chicago (Carlos Eire),  Virginia (Jorge Ponce), Louisiana (Humberto Fontova) or Wisconsin like me.  We had to find “cubanismo” by getting together with other Cubans or playing those Beny More LPs on our turntables.

Speaking of the second group, we chatted this week with Tersi Agra Bendiburg, a “Cubana” who grew up in Georgia.

Her family story is similar to mine, and perhaps yours:

“Tersi had vivid memories from her childhood in post-revolution Cuba.  She remembers soldiers walking through her house, taking inventory of everything her family owned.  A year later, when they were to leave the country with nothing –not even her parents’ wedding rings, the soldiers returned to re-inventory all the contents of the house.  She also remembers her father hiding a young man in their home  (who had been shot by soldiers) until he could be passed along safely.

At age, ten, Tersi’s family moved to Mexico City where they stayed with a distant relative while her parents applied for political asylum in the United States.  That Christmas was the first time Carmen, age 3, had ever seen Christmas lights because religious celebrations had been halted after the revolution in Cuba.

          It was a wonderland.  On the Dia de los Reyes, Three Kings Day, Tersi wrote to the kings to let them know Tersi and her family were no longer in Cuba, but were, instead, in Mexico City so they would know where to bring presents.  Her parents were so worried that Tersi had written a letter and they had no money to buy her a present.  It was then that she spoke with a relative from Decatur, Georgia who told Tersi that the kings had left presents for her and Carmen in Decatur, and that in the future she should direct her letters to Santa Claus because the kings said the coffee in America was too weak for men from the east and the icy streets were too much of a challenge for the camels.  Sure enough, when they arrived in Decatur, both girls had presents waiting for them.
In Decatur, the Agra family was sponsored by the First Baptist Church of Decatur.  They never needed welfare since they had a little furnished apartment and Mr. Agra began work almost immediately.  Tersi attended Oakhurst Elementary where she had the famous spinach incident, and many other adventures.
          That first Halloween in the United States Tersi ran home with a pillowcase full of candy.  She dumped it out and said, “You just say trick-or-treat and they give you candy!”
          “What a country!”  Her father exclaimed.”

Yes, what a country indeed!

Today, Tersi tells children the wonderful stories of Latin America and others:

“Latin American Folktales

Consists of a large collection of age-appropriate folktales and legends from Latin America. Tersi explains how these stories crossed the Atlantic from Europe and Africa centuries earlier and became part of the Latin American folklore. The use of songs and musical instruments moves the stories along. Students are encouraged to join in for songs and refrains during the stories. A workshop for grades 5-12 on how to research, collect, and adapt folktales can follow the presentation.
Georgia: Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue
Offers a memorable collection of legends, stories, and anecdotes taken from the folklore and history of Georgia to bring its rich culture to life right before the students’ eyes. This program is especially suitable for eighth grade students who study Georgia history.
Coming to America: Red Clay Stories
Raises awareness and builds understanding about the difficulty immigrants face in adjusting to a new country and putting down roots through bittersweet stories.
Day of the Dead:  A Scary Name for a Beautiful Celebration!
Tells how this Mexican holiday of celebration and remembrance reflects the values and customs of the two very different cultures of Europe and the Aztecs. Tersi explores the roots of the Day of the Dead in All Saints Day from Europe and a number of celebrations of the Aztec and other indigenous peoples.
Our Holiday Table:  a Multicultural Feast
Tells how real holiday dishes inspire stories drawn from the three cultures that came together to make up the Spanish-speaking Caribbean: Native American, European, and African. “
What a wonderful lady!   Thanks to Fernando Hernandez for the introduction!     We spoke with Tersi on Friday’s show and learned that she was born in Florida, Camaguey or not too far from my mom’s hometown of Ciego de Avila!   As my mother loves to say:  “Que mundo mas chiquito”!
Enjoy the show:  CLICK HERE TO LISTEN!

A good book for your children (and “nietos if you have any)

Cubans are such great story tellers.  I guess that’s because we have so many good stories to tell!

Why is that?  What makes Cubans such good storytellers?

Maybe it’s our Spanish heritage or something about the island that just brings out the “storyteller” in all of us.

My friend Fernando Hernandez just published a book about Cubans in the US.

It is a wonderful collection of stories about Cubans, like you & me, who settled in the US and made something out of ourselves:

“In this new book the reader will discover how in 1930 a Havana bandleader traveled to New York City, recorded a million-copy hit that kicked-started a Cuban music craze throughout the United States.

Science fiction lovers will learn that a Cuban-American was the writer, producer, and story editor of many Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episodes. An author born in 1865 in Brooklyn, New York of Cuban origin began his career at age 12, becoming a prolific boys’ fiction writer earning the nickname the American Jules Verne.

History buffs will enjoy reading about three sisters who became Confederate spies during the Civil War, and thanks to their bravery, a Union warship was captured.

New Yorkers and those who visit the Big Apple will read of the work of a structural engineer, born in Havana of immigrant Lithuanian Jews, who was known as “Mr. New York” for his engineering of the city’s skyscrapers, including the 70-story Trump World Tower.

Read about a surgeon who in 2012 led a team of 150 doctors, nurses, and others in Maryland in the most extensive face transplant surgery ever performed in the world.

The book also profiles those who serve the less fortunate, including the co-founder of Florida’s largest free clinic serving migrant workers, the working poor, the sick, and families who fall between the cracks of America’s social system.

This is a book that transcends ethnic, national, racial, gender and religious barriers and bears witness to what Cubans, both political refugees and immigrants, have accomplished in a country where liberty and freedom abound.

This is the story of the Cuban-Americans, and the footprints they have left on their path across the United States.”

What’s the best part of the book?  They are all real CUBANS!    Everyone of these stories is about a CUBANO who beat the odds in the US.

This is a fun book.  It is inspirational.  Some stories will make you laugh, like “las cubanitas” in the US Civil War, and others will touch your heart.

Here is an idea:  Give this book to your kids or grandchildren if you have any.  Tell them that this is what Cuban heritage is all about.

Last, but not least, Fernando has quite a story too.  He was one of the 14,000 Pedro Pan children who came to the US in the early 1960’s.

Get the book!

Check my interview with Fernando!


CANTO TALK goes Babalu this weekend

We had a great time this weekend talking to some of our Babalu friends.

On Friday, it was Fernando Hernandez, (“The Cubans“) Regina Anavy (“Out of Cuba“) and Jorge Ponce.  We discussed their books and Jorge’s article about Hispanic Heritage month and the Obama administration;

On Saturday, Jorge Ponce came back and we discussed his post today about the term “hispanic”:

Enjoy them over the weekend!

Audio treat – Silvio Canto Jr. talking about “Cubanos in Wisconsin”

Cubanos in Wisconsin, a wonderful book written by our friend Silvio Canto Jr., with the assistance of his son Gabriel, is a must have addition to your library.

In "Cubanos in Wisconsin", I will tell you about spending summer at Ciego de Avila, or my mom's hometown...
In “Cubanos in Wisconsin”, I will tell you about spending summer at Ciego de Avila, or my mom’s hometown…

From the quiet Cuban town of Ciego to the bustling city of Havana, no Cubans were unaffected by Fidel Castro’s rise to power in the late 1950’s. Fidel’s Revolución, which began with rallies, parades, and truckloads of hope, smothered the island of Cuba with oppressive public policies that gutted the small nation’s system of enterprise and muzzled the vibrant Cuban culture of the 1950s. Symbols of capitalism were torn down and private schools were replaced with “Revolutionary Schools” established to spread Castro’s message. The country’s religious leaders were excommunicated and proud Cuban traditions like the Cuban Winter Baseball League became Fidel’s props, instruments for social and economic control. As more and more dissenters were imprisoned or killed fighting shadow wars to overthrow the regime, it was clear that human rights had become a fairy tale that existed across the sea in America. Following the failed, US-led invasion at the Bay of Pigs, Fidel’s death grip on the island grew unbearable. Like scores of other Cubans, Silvio Canto’s family fled their home country for the opportunity to lead a life of peace and freedom. The journey to freedom would not be easy. Before they left the island, the family faced boisterous Cuban officials and food shortages. Silvio watched in horror as his father’s attempt to maintain autonomy repeatedly ended in vain and his mother’s frustration with the new Cuba reached a tipping point. Leaving the island was only the first step toward their eventual resettling in a faraway land called Wisconsin. Along the way the family faced an earthquake in Mexico City, poverty and dismay in Jamaica, and culture shock in America. They lost their way of life, their country, and their dreams of a free Cuba but, with the support of family and friends, the family started a new life and formed a new identity. They became Cubanos in Wisconsin.

On March 21, Silvio was the guest on the New John Batchelor Show. Their conversation mirrors the atmosphere of the book; a loving tribute to the Canto family, the lost Cuba they left behind, and those who helped them along the way. Silvio shares his story with warmth, and a profound respect and appreciation for the people and places inhabiting his family’s journey. Listen to the show here.

Brand new for your reading pleasure, “Cubanos in Wisconsin” by Silvio Canto Jr.

If you enjoy warding off chilly winter nights getting comfortable with a warm throw and a good read, I have a treat for you. Hot off the press, Cubanos in Wisconsin, by Silvio Canto Jr., is a delicious serving of Cubania and Americana.

Our good friend Silvio Canto Jr., of Blog Talk Radio’s Canto Talk describes his book:

“The book relates our family story, from our early innocent days in Cuba, to the moment that Castro came in, to the Bay of Pigs, Missile Crisis, the Kennedy assassination, and our decision to leave Cuba.

You will learn about our family, i.e. my parents, my brother, and our little sister. This is a family story, from the crazy things that boys do to the very serious issues that my parents faced to all of the nice people who helped us along the way.”

CIW thumbnail (2)

Cubanos in Wisconsin, written by Silvio Canto Jr., with the help of his son Gabriel, follows the Canto family on their journey from pre-Castro Cuba in the late 1950s, when the dreams of boys centered on family, baseball and their beloved island, through their early years as exiles in Wisconsin in the late 1960s. It is a family memoir, a loving tribute to Silvio Canto’s parents, aunts and uncles, the spirit of the Cuban people, and those individuals who helped and sustained them on their journey.

The story will resonate with many Cuban-Americans of a certain age, with memories of an idyllic childhood in a pre-Castro Cuba. A time of prosperity, carefree optimism, and comfortable living for a large and expanding middle-class that was lost forever in the traumatic years that followed. Silvio takes us along on his family’s journey through their last years in Cuba; the systematic loss of freedom as the Castro dictatorship intruded into every aspect of their lives, the heart-breaking decision to leave Cuba, and the very difficult time spent as outcasts, vilified as gusanos (worms), while they were waiting for permission to exit the country. We journey with them as they face the uncertainties of life as exiles via Mexico City, Jamaica, Miami, and finally to their new home in Wisconsin.

Cubanos in Wisconsin is a wonderful heartwarming book written with love, and humor. Silvio shares his memories, as well as the important historical events of the time through the eyes of his boyhood self in Cuba. We relive with him cherished childhood stories from those days long ago in Cuba: Festive winter Sundays spent watching double headers at El Cerro, Havana’s baseball stadium, where the kids ran wild and all enjoyed the pleasures of friendly rivalry, food, drink, and the music of team bands. The summers they spent visiting his mother’s family in Ciego, among cousins, playing with lizards and making mischief around town. The years of seemingly endless days attending Maristas Catholic School, with long rides on the green school bus, testing the limits of the driver’s patience with their antics. Days spent with friends, enjoying games, and playful teasing, under the watchful eye of wise and caring adults.

Silvio perfectly imparts the innocence of that lost era, a timeless age of faith, civility, and freedom; his is a story for sharing and enjoying with loved ones of all ages. If you’ve been looking for an appropriate book to teach your children or grandchildren about Cuba, and what happened there, this is the book.


Cubanos in Wisconsin is available for purchase at, click here.

“Memories from the Intolerant Tyrant”

Augusto “Gus” Venegas was on Blog Talk Radio with Tampa’s Thomas Parisis on “Radio Libertad Por Cuba” the other day discussing his current book, “Memories from the Land of the Intolerant Tyrant” based on Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution.

Gus book

Gus has become a Facebook pal of mine in recent weeks, so I thought I would offer a link where you can listen to the archived interview, and add your comments on their discussion.

Taiwan as a model for Cuba – panel discussions from the Cuba Transition Project

Back in February, the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies’ Cuba Transition Project held some panel discussions on “Taiwan as a Model for Cuba’s Future.” It wasn’t until now that they posted video of the event, which featured the following speakers:

  • Dr. Jaime Suchlicki – Director, Institute for Cuban & Cuban-American Studies
  • Mr. Ray H.W. Mou Director General, Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Miami
  • Pedro Roig, Esq.
  • Dr. Yuang-Kuang Kao
  • Dr. Chung-li Wu
  • Carlos Alberto Montaner
  • Dr. Jose Azel
  • Dr. Hans H. Tung
  • Dr. Yih-chyi Chuang
  • Dr. Jorge Salazar Carrillo
  • Dr. Andy Gomez
  • Ileana Ros-Lehtinen President of the Foreign Relations Committee, U.S. House of Representatives

The video of the event is available on this YouTube playlist. Click the link if you would like to pick and choose the speakers you watch.

If you’ve got a serious craving for heady panel discussions, you can just watch here. The videos should play sequentially on their own.