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Lucky Exodus View Comments
By Alicia von Stamwitz

OUR FAMILY WAS LUCKY. Or at least that’s what my parents told me, over and over again.

“We got out of Cuba just in time.”

First my mother, with my two siblings and me, in 1960. Then my father, shortly before the revolutionaries appropriated the family business. My grandmother waited the longest, emigrating the following summer. She left her husband behind, forever as it turned out. He stayed in Havana to take care of a younger brother who had been imprisoned by Fidel Castro’s regime for “collaborating with the CIA.”

After I married and had children of my own, I began dreaming of returning to Cuba. My situation was complicated, though. First, because I am a U.S. citizen now. Second, because both sides of our family had been part of the hated bourgeois before the Cuban revolution and had openly opposed Castro.

I called my uncle in Washington, D.C., for advice. He’d been the mayor of Havana and ambassador to the United States under former president Ramón Grau. He discouraged me from going, warning that it would not be safe for any member of our family to return. My father agreed. He knew Fidel well—he had crossed paths with him every day in the hallways of their private Jesuit high school.

“He was a bully then,” he said, his face darkening, “and he is a paranoid bully now. You might get in, but you might not get out.”

Still, one afternoon, he drew a map of Havana with an engineer’s precision and carefully marked a half-dozen places of interest in red pencil: the family business, our home in Havana, my grandparents’ houses.

My maternal grandmother lived with us in New Jersey after she emigrated. One summer morning, she patted a spot beside her and told me a secret. Just before she fled Cuba, she whispered conspiratorially, she had hired a master carpenter to hide a few precious belongings under the staircase of her home—a box of photographs, a bundle of letters, family heirlooms nestled in velvet and gold brocade drawstring pouches.

Si regresas a La Habana,” my grandmother concluded, squeezing my hands too tightly. “If you make it back to Havana . . . promise me, Ali, that you will go to my house and get my things.”

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Alicia von Stamwitz was born Alicia Ramirez de Arellano. She lives in St. Louis, where she is an independent consultant and freelance author.


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Pierre Toussaint: 
		<p>Born in modern-day Haiti and brought to New York City as a slave, Pierre died a free man, a renowned hairdresser and one of New York City’s most well-known Catholics. <br /><br />Pierre Bérard, a plantation owner, made Toussaint a house slave and allowed his grandmother to teach her grandson how to read and write. In his early 20s, Pierre, his younger sister, his aunt and two other house slaves accompanied their master’s son to New York City because of political unrest at home. Apprenticed to a local hairdresser, Pierre learned the trade quickly and eventually worked very successfully in the homes of rich women in New York City. <br /><br />When his master died, Pierre was determined to support his master’s widow, himself and the other house slaves. He was freed shortly before the widow’s death in 1807. </p>
		<p>Four years later he married Marie Rose Juliette, whose freedom he had purchased. They later adopted Euphémie, his orphaned niece. Both preceded him in death. He attended daily Mass at St. Peter’s Church on Barclay Street, the same parish that St. Elizabeth Seton attended. <br /><br />Pierre donated to various charities, generously assisting blacks and whites in need. He and his wife opened their home to orphans and educated them. The couple also nursed abandoned people who were suffering from yellow fever. Urged to retire and enjoy the wealth he had accumulated, Pierre responded, “I have enough for myself, but if I stop working I have not enough for others.” <br /><br />He was originally buried outside St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, where he was once refused entrance because of his race. His sanctity and the popular devotion to him caused his body to be moved to St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue. <br /><br />Pierre Toussaint was declared Venerable in 1996.</p>
American Catholic Blog It’s through suffering that we grow in endurance, character, and ultimately, in hope. Our suffering is not without value if we know Jesus. When you are suffering, you can pray and unite your sufferings to the only one who truly loves you perfectly or knows all you are feeling.

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