Angle to Key West: Cousins (3/17)

Refugee Raft

Boca Chita Key, Key Biscayne National Park, Florida – March 17, 2013

My cousin Chris and I grew up easy. We only hear stories of what it was like to leave everything behind in Cuba. Neither of us worried about where we’d sleep or if there would be food to eat. When cousins came to visit, they weren’t crowding into shared rooms for months while waiting for their parents to arrive. No one we know went insane because they couldn’t handle losing their world.

Our fathers had it different. They lost everything when they left Havana. Friends, their house, their neighborhood. They grew up in a strange land they didn’t understand. They had to learn a new language a decade into their lives. They dealt with racism and poverty, but my grandfather knew there was a better life for them in America and he gave up being a lawyer and sold women’s dresses for the rest of his life to give his kids a chance at it.

But even they were lucky. They came over in a ferry, one of the last to leave Havana. They got out before it got bad.

Chris and I both stood and stared at the raft. It was old and abandoned. Broken wooden pallets, a shaky metal frame, a rusted drive shaft to power a homemade motor, giant foam tubes strapped to the sides with “OK USCG” sprayed across them in black paint.

Sometimes you forget what you take for granted, what you stumbled into because you were born on one side of an imaginary line. Then you see foam blocks and wooden pallets thrown against the ocean for a chance, just a chance, at a better life.

We didn’t move for a moment, we didn’t say anything, we just stared at the broken wreckage, at the twisted foam tubes, the splintered wood tied to the rusted frame. We just stared and felt lucky.

I hope they made it.

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