The Fragile American Dream – A Cuban Refugee’s Perspective

by Cynthia Toney

On February 10, 1962, nine-year-old Vivian Toscano and her family emigrated from Cuba to the United States.

Vivian remembers well the upper middle class life she enjoyed with her parents, brother, and extended family in Cuba before the revolution.

“Christmas in Cuba was beautiful,” Vivian reminisces. “We had a huge tree and a huge manger.” She recalls that the Christmas holidays were very family-oriented, including both her extended and immediate family. “We were always together.”

Recognizing the signs of an imminent political coup, Vivian’s father, who was both a medical doctor and a dentist, was not as concerned about loss of his jobs or personal property as he was the loss of freedom his family would suffer if they did not support the new regime.

Soon after Castro took power in 1959, the new government took inventory of the family’s home, farmland, and other possessions. They were allowed to live in their house for a time, Vivian recalls, because the government knew that they were planning to leave soon.

And many were forced to leave—or be executed by a firing squad.

Venezuela was one of the countries considered as a place of refuge. “The president of Venezuela was a dental patient of my father’s,” Vivian explains. “He arranged a job for him there, as a doctor, but my father wanted to go to America.” Vivian’s mother did not agree at first.

Vivian loved Cuba, but she helped her family choose the United States as their destination. “Now I love America and don’t want to go anywhere else,” she says. However, she fears that what happened in Cuba may happen here.

“When Fidel Castro and his men came down from the mountains, speaking their ideas of Communism, we knew that it was time to leave. They were wearing rosaries around their necks, but they did not fool us. We knew what they were.”

It didn’t matter if citizens had been thrifty and had hidden money for their future. The new government changed the currency, and the old money was no longer usable.

“Communists want everyone to be equal,” Vivian emphasizes, “but poor.”

Vivian’s father was allowed to continue to practice medicine for the government –without pay. Castro did not want a comfortable middle-class, afforded by Capitalism.

Private Catholic schooling in Cuba was ended for Vivian and her brother, who began to receive home schooling from their mother. “Castro’s regime sent all the priests and nuns away on ships to other countries,” Vivian recollects.

A friend sent money (later repaid) for the family to fly to America. When it was time to leave, each family member was allowed by the Cuban government to take 30 pounds of clothing, but no jewelry.

After they arrived in the United States, Vivian’s father was no longer certified to practice medicine or dentistry. The family lived in poverty, residing with an aunt and uncle in a two-room rented house in Miami.

“We slept on the floor,” Vivian says. “There were no sleeping bags. It was cold in the house and we were hungry.”

Vivian’s father worked as a dishwasher to provide for his family, as did her uncle, who also had been a doctor. There was a bus strike in Miami at that time, so they had to walk to work when they were unable to hitch a ride with someone.

“For two or three months” the family accepted help from the U.S. Government in the form of military rations and $100 per month. Vivian’s father refused additional help, preferring to support himself and his family. In order to pay for Vivian’s school lunch, he collected bottles for the return deposit. Vivian’s brother, who was only 15 years old, also worked to help support the family.

Soon the family was able to rent an apartment. Vivian’s father eventually passed the medical board exam and became a doctor on a cruise ship.

As a young woman, Vivian sold Avon products. She later became a successful pharmaceutical representative, a position she held for many years. Recently she started her own jewelry business. “There is opportunity in America to become successful in spite of coming here with nothing.”

Now, on Christmas Eve, Vivian and her family celebrate La Noche Buena (The Good Night) with a traditional Cuban feast of roast pig, rice, black beans, yucca, salad, turrons, and homemade sweets.  As for Thanksgiving – that’s “strictly American,” according to Vivian, so “no beans!” she exclaims.  Then adds, “And we have a big Fourth of July!”

Vivian is troubled when she sees things happening in America today that are very similar to the events she witnessed during Cuba’s fall to Communism – government takeovers of healthcare, food production, personal property, as well as the destruction of personal wealth and the attempted eradication of Christianity.

Vivian, who educated herself on the backgrounds and belief systems of candidates prior to the 2008 election, declares, “When Obama became President, I began to worry about the future of America.” She quickly states that she doesn’t like Hillary Clinton either.

Vivian emphasizes that she and her brother (“he’s very patriotic”) would rather surrender their lives than renounce the freedom they have enjoyed in their adopted homeland.

“I talk about the threat of Communism everywhere I go, even in the streets – and sometimes people don’t want to hear what I say. But Americans need to be warned about it, and I am not afraid to tell them.


Cynthia Toney is a Contributing Writer and Editor, The Bold Pursuit

© The Bold Pursuit sm, All Rights Reserved

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4 thoughts on “The Fragile American Dream – A Cuban Refugee’s Perspective

  1. My Naval Reserve squadron was called to active duty by Kennedy when all this was going on. We kept a detachment from our squadron at Key West for shipping and ASW surevelance and had a front seat look at all the desperate attempts by Cubans to get away from this strife. We found rafts, overcrowded boats and anything that would float in an attempt to get to the U S. There is no way to know just how many perished in this horrible attempt to flee the opression. This story is a happy ending to one families escape.. Thank GOD for HIS GRACE. dave

  2. David, thank you for sharing your personal experience in your comment. It must have been heartbreaking to witness the tragedy as it unfolded. I pray to God that America can escape the irons of Communism.

  3. Mac, you are right. I wish that all Americans would recognize the signs of Socialism and imminent Communism present in our country the way that this family did in Cuba. Our current administration in Washington is authoritarian–some would say dictatorial.

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