By OLGA CONNOR
El Nuevo Herald
Miami music mogul Emilio Estefan has always carried his love of Cuba on
his sleeve. From the conga beat he made famous with his wife Gloria to
his restaurant fare, there's no doubt he's a proud product of his homeland.
Like nearly two million others, he was forced from his homeland by Fidel
Castro's rise to power and eventually came to live among Miami's Cuban
exile community, where, as we know, he found fame and fortune.
Now, he wants to ensure the history of other Cubans like him is captured
for posterity -- the beginnings of an Ellis Island-style chronicle.
Going on sale today is Estefan's personal pet project, a massive,
bilingual coffee table book. Through stories, photographs and lists of
names, the book documents the different generations of Cubans who
escaped through three famed exoduses -- Operation Pedro Pan, the Freedom
Flights and Mariel.
The Exile Experience: Journey to Freedom fittingly debuts at Christmas
-- a melancholy time for older exiles who recall Castro took power 51
years ago this month. The book can be purchased at six CVS stores in
Miami-Dade or ordered at www. MiamiHerald.com/exile.
The book is the brainchild of Estefan, who contributed to its creation
through his Crescent Moon Publications and Emilio Estefan Enterprises.
Guiding the project was HCP/Aboard Publishing, an affiliate of the Miami
Herald Media Co.
It's Estefan's second book this year. His The Rhythm of Success: How an
Immigrant Produced His Own American Dream is still in stores.
``For a long time, five years more or less, I've been thinking, `What
can I do for the world to understand what happened to Cubans?' '' said
Estefan, who wrote the foreword and took part in deciding which authors
``There are many people who are not Cuban and they ask, `What is your
pain and why did you leave Cuba?' You can never tell the entire truth of
what happened in one sitting -- the separation, the dead, the lack of
freedom for so many years, the prisoners, the Mariel boatlift, the
Freedom Tower, so many things that have transpired in 50 years.''
He hopes this book will help the world understand.
The book tells the story of the various waves of exiles who arrived on
these shores. It is a collaboration of well-known Cuban writers: Carlos
Eire, Carlos Alberto Montaner, Mirta Ojito and poet Carlos Pintado. But
Estefan also sought personal testimonials of successful people from
different generations of exiles, like the Mas Canosa family, television
personality Cristina Saralegui, medical entrepenuer Benjamin Leon Jr.,
and Perry Ellis International chairman and CEO George Feldenkreis.
``It has been an exile (community) that has fought a lot,'' said
Estefan, who fled Cuba as a teen with his father. ``They have had to
work hard, to defend themselves against everything, to separate from
their families, their properties, even their own personalities, because
they have had to start all over again in a totally new country.''
The Exile Experience: Journey to Freedom is published in three separate
editions -- each tailor-made for those who arrived through Operation
Pedro Pan, the Freedom Flights and the Mariel boatlift. Each edition
features the names of every Cuban who arrived in one of the three
exoduses, more than 400,000 names between the three editions.
Garry Duell, publisher of HCP/Aboard, guided the project with Estefan
and the book's sponsors. He says the names in the back of each edition
give Journey to Freedom an emotional impact.
``If you came in the Freedom Flights, as a member of the Pedro Pan group
or during the Mariel boat lift, you can find yourself in one of the
three volumes.'' The books serve as proof and verification of your
arrival into exile, he said.
For months, Duell's staff worked to weave together the work of Miami
Herald and El Nuevo Herald reporters and photographers and other
writers. It took weeks to figure out how to fit the exile names in the
book from existing Miami Herald exile databases.
The first chapter was written by Montaner, whose life is as dramatic as
that of any exiled Cuban. He was a political prisoner at the age of 17,
but escaped from prison and took refuge at a foreign embassy in Havana.
He arrived in Miami in September 1961 with hundreds of other Cubans.
In his chapter, ``The Cuban Revolution: Why and How,'' Montaner presents
the historic background that produced this dramatic change in the
island. ``My assignment was to explain why hundreds of thousands of
Cubans ended up in Florida,'' Montaner said. ``Until 1959, Cuba was at
the receiving end of immigrants, there were more Americans living in
Cuba than Cubans in the U.S.'' Then Castro came to power.
The assignment to explain the exodus of 14,000 children during Operation
Pedro Pan fell upon Carlos Eire, who was one of the children who came in
that program sponsored by the Catholic Church and the U.S. government.
Several successful people, such as Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, musician
Willy Chirino, Miami Dade College President Eduardo Padrón, and former
senator Mel Martínez were Pedro Pan children, whose exemplary lives are
The following exodus was the Freedom Flights, where 260,000 Cubans
arrived on two daily flights from Varadero to Miami from 1965 to 1973.
The chapter is written by Miami Herald reporter Luisa Yanez, who as a
child was among those exiles.
Based on her own experience and journalistic research, Mirta Ojito
summarizes the Mariel experience in the chapter ``Mariel, An Epic
Exodus.'' She explains one of South Florida's most famous and impactful
immigrant waves and how her family came to join its 125,000 participants.
Poet Carlos Pintado, was living in Havana during the 1994 balsero crisis
-- the last major exodus from Cuba to Miami -- uses poetic language to
narrate the chapter ``Rafters: Lost Between Two Destinations.''
Born in 1974, Pintado considered leaving Cuba on a raft, but changed his
mind after realizing that the people crafting those small boats were
neither sailors nor boat builders. ``I had doubts and thought the ocean
was the only way out. But one of the things that frightened me was that
the boat builders were dancers, actors, writers.'' He had already
written books he would later publish in Miami, where he arrived in 1997
with his father, who came as a political refugee.
The current editions of The Exile Experience do not list the names of
rafters, or those who came in the early days of the revolution, or via
third countries. Some of those will be chronicled in later editions.
Still, the book is a rich trove of historic photographs from The Miami
Herald/El Nuevo Herald and private collections.
There is also a tribute to the Freedom Tower, or El Refugio as Cubans
called their processing center, this community's Ellis Island. Today,
the iconic 1925 building is owned by Miami Dade College, where the book
was launched last Tuesday with a party for dignitaries and contributors.
``The Freedom Tower means a lot to me,'' Estefan said. ``I stood in line
there to get food with my aunt. ... my father lived in Puerto Rico and
my mother remained in Cuba with my brother. Once they gave me a voucher
to have surgery at Variety Children's Hospital, and when the operation
was over my parents were not by my side. There are many things we have
lived in our own flesh.''
When the gala for the college's 50th anniversary was held in the Freedom
Tower earlier this month, Estefan sat at the presidential table.
``That's what my career and this book are all about. We have to explain
it to the world. I went there for food and now I was sitting at the
presidential table,'' he said.
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