Ex­ile on Gar­cia Street

Pasatiempo - - In Other Words -

For many Amer­i­cans the Bay of Pigs, the CIAspon­sored in­va­sion of Cuba by ex­iles hop­ing to top­ple Fidel Cas­tro, is re­mem­bered mostly as a mi­nor em­bar­rass­ing episode in Amer­i­can for­eign pol­icy. But for Santa Fean and Cuban ex­ile An­drea Ber­múdez, the in­va­sion that failed 50 years ago this month had per­sonal con­se­quences. It trig­gered a long and ar­du­ous search for a new iden­tity that ended only when she wrote and pub­lished The In­com­plete Trav­eler: Diaries of a Cuban Ex­ile. On Satur­day, April 30, Ber­múdez reads from the work at Gar­cia Street Books.

Born in 1941 in Havana, Ber­múdez grew up the daugh­ter of a well-con­nected and suc­cess­ful doc­tor. The 1959 Cuban revo­lu­tion turned their world up­side down. The fam­ily’s ties to the for­mer Cuban dic­ta­tor, Ful­gen­cio Batista, be­came a li­a­bil­ity. In fact, on Ber­múdez’s wed­ding day, in the sum­mer of 1960, armed mil­i­tary men burst into the re­cep­tion in search of a for­mer po­lice chief. “The party came to an abrupt end, and the signs were loud and clear that the new Cuba was no longer a wel­com­ing place for the fam­ily,” Ber­múdez writes. in­va­sion of Cuba. Even her brother, who had also come to the United States, was part of the covert plan.

Pe­dro re­cov­ered from his in­juries and, once again, re­joined the train­ing camp. Weeks went by with no word from him. The Cuban com­mu­nity in which the Ber­múdezes lived was abuzz. “Mi­ami was ru­mor­land,” she said.

Re­turn­ing one day from the post of­fice with her fa­ther-in-law, Ber­múdez was greeted at the door of her small ef­fi­ciency apart­ment by her hus­band and brother — both dressed in army fa­tigues. The in­va­sion had failed dis­as­trously, they said. The sup­port­ing air strikes, promised by the Kennedy ad­min­is­tra­tion, never ma­te­ri­al­ized. Cas­tro’s su­pe­rior forces had quickly routed the stranded rag­tag army. The speed of the de­feat may have spared the lives of her hus­band and brother, who were to be part of the sec­ond wave of at­tack that was never launched.

The fail­ure of the Kennedy ad­min­is­tra­tion to have fully backed the in­va­sion was a bit­ter mo­ment. “This Camelot stuff doesn’t work for Cubans,” Ber­múdez said. “They were hurt.” The de­feat also marked a turn­ing point in Ber­múdez’s life. “We had thought that the Cas­tro revo­lu­tion wasn’t go­ing to last,” she said. “We re­al­ized af­ter the Bay of Pigs that this was it. We bet­ter un­pack.” She re­called think­ing, “We have to learn about this coun­try and its peo­ple. We are go­ing to be part of them.”

Re­united with her fa­ther as well as the re­main­der of her fam­ily, who fled Cuba soon af­ter, Ber­múdez was able to com­plete col­lege and earn a grad­u­ate de­gree and even­tu­ally a doc­tor­ate pro­vid­ing her with a solid ca­reer in ed­u­ca­tion in her new land.

But the loss of her home­land weighed heav­ily on her. As an ex­ile in a for­eign land barred from re­turn­ing to her na­tive world, Ber­múdez dis­cov­ered that one’s child­hood mem­o­ries are sus­tained and val­i­dated by cul­tural props. The books, movies, school lessons, cloth­ing, food, and al­most ev­ery­thing in her new land were alien to her. “You are al­ways look­ing at the world from the out­side in, mak­ing it hard to join a group iden­tity,” she said. Only mu­sic of­fered a link to her past. “I stayed very Cuban when it came to mu­sic. Mu­sic kept Cuba alive in my heart.”

Feel­ing nei­ther Cuban nor Amer­i­can, Ber­múdez pushed on. In the 1970s she was di­vorced from her hus­band, sev­er­ing yet an­other Cuban con­nec­tion. On the other hand, suc­cess in the ed­u­ca­tional field took her from Texas to Florida and even­tu­ally to Santa Fe. From 2003 to 2005, she served as vice pres­i­dent for aca­demic and stu­dent af­fairs at Santa Fe Com­mu­nity Col­lege.

Re­tired, she set­tled into a new home in El­do­rado with her part­ner, Deb­o­rah Shaw, a for­mer man­ager of en­vi­ron­men­tal af­fairs for the Florida Keys Elec­tric Co­op­er­a­tive. Yet even in this new tran­quil ex­is­tence, Ber­múdez’s dis­qui­et­ing sense of be­ing with­out a clear iden­tity con­tin­ued to nag her. Her chil­dren, raised in the United States, and the gag­gle of grand­chil­dren har­bored no such doubts. They are Amer­i­can.

With them in mind, Ber­múdez sat down in her fa­vorite brown leather chair on a Jan­uary day in 2010. She had de­cided to write a mem­oir, though one us­ing pseu­do­nyms, as a gift for her grand­chil­dren. Crowded on one side by her dachs­hund Char­lie, Ber­múdez be­gan to write on a lap­top that she perched on top of Lily, her other dachs­hund, nes­tled in her lap. “Those who have suf­fered the loss of a home­land know that one of the most dif­fi­cult re­al­iza­tions is the in­abil­ity to pass on to the next gen­er­a­tion the love and re­spect that are felt for the mother coun­try,” Ber­múdez writes.

Words poured forth. Day and night she de­vised a book that she said had been a life­time in com­ing. Then one day, months later, sitting in her car, wait­ing for a light to turn green on Cer­ril­los Road, Ber­múdez dic­tated the last words into a small tape recorder she kept with her at all times. And the book was done. Al­though it was in­tended for her grand­chil­dren, the process of writ­ing the book gave her, at long last, the sense of iden­tity she had been seek­ing. “Writ­ing the book made me Cuban Amer­i­can, be­cause I re­al­ized those mem­o­ries ex­isted,” Ber­múdez said. “It was like stand­ing on a moun­tain and scream­ing into the winds, This is who I am, and I am proud of who I am.

“The Cuba I left be­hind will never come back. I cap­tured a Cuba that will never be again.”

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