This year has been an interesting one between me and my father. Reflecting on my childhood, even though I was raised without my dad, and grew up on the beautiful island of Puerto Rico, I was always told, “You are so much like your father!” I was finally able to see the truth behind this statement by learning more about him and my Afro-Cuban roots.
Baby Olga Maria
Father’s Day has never really been a holiday for me, since I never had a reason to celebrate it. As a kid, it was harder to understand why my dad wasn’t there to play with me, or walk me to school, like other fathers did but with the passage of time, I discovered that not only did I have the best family in the world, but also the strongest mom, who was also a dad for me.
My mom and I when I won “The Next Generation Latina Award” by Mastercard and Latina Magazine
Many times, looking for that paternal figure, I used to call my brother “dad.” Honestly he was that for me too. My brother is about 15 years older than me, and was the one who always played with me, walked with me, attended special events like my graduations, and much more. However, even with all of this, I would write to Spanish TV investigative programs asking them to find my biological father. Of course, this never happened. At 18 years of age, I left Puerto Rico in search of a different and better future, and adventure for sure. I first landed in Miami for a few months. It was then that (with the help of a good friend who had the resources) I finally found my dad through a private detective. Where was he? Right in NYC, the place where I was born but taken away at 6 months old.
My Family (Sister, Brother and Mom) in Puerto Rico
Well the story continues, because I booked a round trip flight from Miami to NYC, without having friends or family to speak of, with the initial challenge to meet my dad. Unfortunately, due to many situations from his past, he wasn’t too cooperative. He initially thought that I was just coming to get child support or something like this. The good news is that I fell in love with NYC and decided to stay. I always believe and have faith that everything happens for a reason. I found many angels who later became my family. I am so thankful to these angels that helped me on my solo path in NYC. I struggled many times between living in tiny rooms, not having money for a metro card or a slice of pizza. I worked very low paying jobs, in stores and restaurants, all because I didn’t speak English. Finally, I started school and taking ESL classes. Life wasn’t easy but I was determined to make it! Many days were tough, like when I lost my job and ended up living on a neighbor’s sofa for 6 months. But guess what I always said to myself, “You can lose many battles but never the war.”
Going back to my dad, I did eventually meet him and, even though the path was not smooth every time, I was happy because I started discovering more about my Cuban roots. My father left Cuba in 1969. He was captain of a shrimp fishing boat, which he abandoned in the Gulf of Mexico and asked for political asylum. After many struggles with living two years in Mexico City, he crossed the border to the U.S. His first stop was Texas, followed by Miami (which he didn’t like very much, go figure) and final stop was taking an Amtrak to NYC in the summer of 1971. My dad’s story is very long but also interesting and adventurous (sound like anyone you know?).
My dad as a child in Havana Cuba
The same way I took a chance and a leap of faith leaving Miami, and later NYC, he took many on his journey. In the end, what I discovered is that we did have a lot in common. I also realized that my dad is not a bad person but he’s not really the typical description of a “father.” He is not nurturing, nor is he really interested in having any responsibilities on that score. This is why, over the years, we had an on-again and off-again relationship. Recently, after about five years of not speaking, I finally reconnected with him through FB. Ironically, it was right before I was embarking on a trip to Cuba. We started speaking a month before he turned 70. He’s still my dad and I believe in giving people many chances, especially family. This time, we caught up and he was thrilled that I was heading to his Homeland. He gave me my uncle’s contact information (family I’ve never met nor spoken to) in Cuba. He insisted that my uncle would welcome me with open arms and then he admitted that his brother is an amazing father, always putting his family first.
As you can probably guess, my dream was to meet my family in Cuba, to learn more about my culture and to see Cuba with my own eyes. This is how I ended up embarking on this adventure to Cuba and discovering more about myself (stay tuned for those stories coming soon). After my trip to Cuba, my dad came to pick me up at the airport. We hadn’t seen each other in 7 years.
My Dad and I after he picked me up from the airport
He asked me to stay with him for a little and we got to spend lots of time together. This trip, and spending quality time with him, finally filled in the missing puzzle pieces of my history, my roots and where I come from. Did I mention that I even discovered that I have Jamaican ancestors? And yes, I really am a lot like my dad and my Cuban family (talk about genetics!). But now that statement doesn’t feel like an accusation…I’m proud to be likened to my dad. Happy Father’s Day, dad.
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