Havana, Cuba

I stopped reading books when I was diagnosed with aphasia. Before the stroke, I read all the C. J. Box books about Joe Pickett, the game warden in Wyoming. All except for “Dark Sky”, which was Book 21. It took me a while to read it. With aphasia, reading is more difficult.


Temple PACT Book Group worked with us to learn to read two books over the last two semesters. We read two to three chapters each week. Many of us try using audiobooks instead of reading. I use both reading and audiobooks together and it helps me read the books.


The first book was “Identity Theft: Rediscovering Ourselves After Stroke” and the second one was “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency”. It was challenging to understand the first book and the second book was fiction, which was much easier to understand.


A friend recommended a book about Cuba, “Next Year in Havana”. The author is Chanel Cleeton. The first chapter felt like it was about my family’s departure from Cuba.


There are other stories I will add to the Cleeton stories.


“Next Year in Havana,”


The story talks about the Perez sisters. Elisa is the third of four sisters. The women were beautiful. Isabelle is the oldest, and she is engaged to her fiancé, Alberto. Beatrice is the second sister, and Maria is the youngest at 13 years old. 


The parents move to the U.S. in March 1959. It is just after Batista left Cuba on January 1, 1959, and Fidel Castro has won. It is at the Rancho-Boyeros Airport and Emilio Perez, the father, and his wife are leaving because Fidel Castro has murdered people who were pro-Batista. Those who were pro-Batista needed to leave before Castro killed them.


There were many people and soldiers at the airport. The family thought they were going on a brief vacation in the U.S. and they would return to Cuba someday soon.


The Nunez Family

1957 Christmas
1959 Christmas

My parents left Cuba in October 1960, 18 months after the Perez sisters left. Why did my parents stay in Cuba so long? Many people still thought Castro was a good person. 

In June 1960, Cuba nationalized the U.S. owners’ oil refineries after they refused to process Soviet oil. The U.S. did not agree to use Soviet oil in Cuba because the Soviet oil was much heavier than what the refineries could process, and it screw up the U.S. refineries. At that point, Cuba nationalized the U.S. oil business.


My father, Emilio Nunez, was 49 years old and worked as a safety engineer at Esso. In October 1960, the government said he would work for them rather than Esso and he would not do that. My dad’s secretary called him to tell him that the bulletin board had employees of Castro’s traitors listed and his name was on the list.

We were told that Espie, 18, my oldest sister, was on the airplane with my dad but her visa showed her date of departure as October 19, which was one date later that my dad.

On October 22, my older brother, Emilio, age16; sister, Mara, age 14; Bernie, age 9, and me, age 5, left on the same flight. My Uncle, Mario Suarez, was also on the flight with his family. 


My mother, Esperanza, age 39, and my youngest brother, Ricardo, age 3, waited until October 26 four days later. My mom was a teacher at The Phillips School in Havana, Cuba, and felt that she needed “to get things done” before she left Cuba. She told authorities that her daughter was not feeling well in the U.S., and she needed to go for a few days. She knew she would never return to Cuba.


At the airport, my mother and brother were supposed to go to the U.S. that night, but the soldiers held the flight from leaving. She was alone with my three-year-old brother, Ricardo, with her. The next day, they were able to go. 

In October 1960, we stayed at the Sachs house until we could find a place to live. I don’t know where we got the money. We only lived there for a few months before moving to Philadelphia.

It was a tough year for my mom and dad. My sister, Espie, was sick and my brother, Bernie, had Rheumatic Fever. In the summer of 1961, we went to Philadelphia to see the doctors about Espie. My oldest brother, Emilio, age 17, had just started his first semester at Pitt in January, 1961 but later went to Villanova in the Fall Semester after we moved to Philadelphia.



My parents bought a house in Havertown. It was where we lived. Even though we never returned to Cuba, everything worked out for us. All of my brothers and sisters did well. My two older brothers went to college at Villanova and my younger brother and I went to Penn State. Three basketball championships at Villanova and two football championships at Penn State. We were big fans.


I have a wife, a son, a daughter-in-law, and a granddaughter. I had a stroke in June 2020 and I have trouble with my language. Working on these stories helps to strengthen my abilities.



Notes: Books for the Chanel Cleeton stories are: Next Year In Havana, When We Left Cuba, The Last Train to Key West, and The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba.

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