“Growing up in a society dominated by political instability you would think times were bad, however, like most kids my age, from 12 to 17 years old. I had a good time with friends, going to school and playing baseball in the parks of Havana and even in the streets of a major cosmopolitan city, without much care, actually my biggest problem was finding a balance between homework and playing time, living in a big city with kids all around was a plus, we were a group of friends that did things together. In the block you know everybody, the son of the seamsters, the son of the guy that owned the grocery store, or some other kind of business.
Going to the Sea Jetty or Malecon at night was no bid deal, as long as you got home early enough to get ready for school. We would walk everywhere and even rode bikes in the main streets of Havana.
Life under Batista was no different to me, similar to the days of gangsters in the US, they did their own thing and we were left alone. Living in Cuba during my youth was simple, there were plenty of public transportation and you could take a bus almost anywhere. I remember it cost 8 cents and with transfers you could ride a bus all day. I think it was 2 cents more.
I remember going to help my father in his office he managed a big tannery in Havana and had many workers under him. He was very appreciated by the workers since he was compassionate and had leftist ideas of what workers were entitled to. He fought for the people that worked under him. He would tell me about the rights of workers and the benefits we in Cuba had, like medical care, disability, retirement and the right of unions.
Living in a large city like Havana was like being in the US, my dad was not rich, you could say middle class, like all my friends in this busy street of Havana. Going to the supermarket was like being in the US, as a matter of fact we used the same products I found in the US after I left Cuba in December 1961.
There were modern supermarkets and wide streets for us to walk. Good movies and small restaurants. We used to have dances once a week in our block called comparsas. The whole neighborhood dancing to the tune of bongos in Latin style for 4 blocks and then back. I must say there were always problems with those comparsas, someone was bound to get trampled but just a little bruised as the music was very contagious.
Most of my friends had TVs, even cars, although public transportation was available and cheap. However you could see that things were different than in the US as I realized many years after being in the US. The standard of living was good in the city but there was a lot of poverty even in my own neighborhood. There were housing places with upwards of 30 families living in it, called Solares, like a project in the US but worse. I don’t recall having friends that you could call rich or wealthy as I played with the same kids that lived in these projects. I noticed that it was rough for them and life was a struggle.
I must say life was good until the time Fidel Castro landed in Cuba with a few ragged revolutionaries in the Granma yacht . It was expected that the corruption would catch up and change the good old days. Cuba was a country dominated by gangsters from the US and money passed hands from major corporations to the wealthy. This corruption brought down the government and changed the life of all Cubans. My thinking of Cuba being made up of mostly middle class changed.
The oppression became a daily event, especially for a kid of 14 or 15 years old. We were afraid to hang in groups like we used to for fear of being tagged as revolutionaries as many of the young men dying were young and became martyrs of our own age. There are many stories of friends using similar tactics as the jihads in the Muslim religion, by planting a bomb on themselves and the device would explode and they would be killed. Of course the revolution would use these young men to try to initiate others to follow the cause. These were very unstable times in Cuba and the happiness and freedom we enjoyed growing up were replaced by fear of being apprehended by the military policy of Batista and worst disappear while being tortured in some jail.
For protection many Cuban families tried to befriend some military or police in case their children were kidnapped by this oppressive regime and could at least have an inside contact that is an ounce of prevention but when it comes to your children you tend to do whatever it takes to protect them.
It was to no surprise to me, that I tried to escape the safety of my home and join the rebels in the mountains to fight the government of Batista, as the young are always in the front of every major upheaval due to their idealist fervor.
My whole life changed that morning of the first of January of 1959 when Batista left the country and I with all my friends started to wave flags from cars, my father drove the car and I was out the window screaming my lungs off with the most happiness I had ever felt.
Little did I know that my life and my ways would be uprooted forever. So in conclusion, I owe my father for getting me out of Cuba, because he was also a revolutionary in his own way during the years of the many dictatorships in the county. He was wise and knew that this revolution like the ones before it were not going to change the country for the better, then again I did not know communism was not a dictatorship but an institution that will last for many years, even after the Castro era is long gone from this world.”
-Paul Acosta (my grandfather)