Updated: Thursday, 27 Oct 2011, 4:21 PM EDT
LAKELAND - A generation has gone by since the mass exodus from Cuba to
Florida known as the Mariel boatlift.
Cuban refugees escaped from their homeland and a communist dictator for
a better life in America.
As we observe Hispanic Heritage Month, a survivor of the boatlift
decided to go back to Cuba and make a documentary on the life he left
Doctor Jose Manuel Garcia knows the success freedom can bring. He's a
professor at Florida Southern College who came here as a Cuban refugee.
"This is an important part of history. Not just Cuban history, but
American history, especially Florida history," he says.
The Mariel boatlift was a five-month long exodus from Mariel Harbor in
Cuba between April and October of 1980. Seventeen hundred boats, with
more than a 125,000 Cubans, came to Florida's shoreline.
Jose survived the treacherous journey at age 13, but believes Americans
don't know the full story. So Garcia decided to do a documentary, even
traveling back to Cuba to see relatives he hadn't seen since he was a boy.
"Here at last was the final leg of a very long journey," he says in the
An emotional journey, taking gifts to relatives who live with very little.
"I wanted to capture with the camera essentially what it was like for
somebody to return 30 years later and come in contact with the people I
left behind," Garcia said.
He is referring to people in his family who thought he had perished at
sea in a failed attempt to seek freedom.
"They had written my name the day that I left on a piece of paper and
buried that. In a way, it was almost a symbolic death," Garcia said.
Jose's documentary includes personal stories of others who were allowed
to leave, but faced beatings and taunting from Castro regime supporters.
"What I really hope is people will walk away with is seeing the human
side, a human documentary. This is not a political documentary," he says.
His documentary is called " Voices from Mariel ." It's a personal
project Jose believes shows the enduring spirit of those who risked
their lives for freedom. The film has won several awards at local and
national film festivals.