I recently had lunch with about twenty old friends from IBM. The thought that really struck me is how each of those people has affected my life, and how each of them has a story to tell.
The gentleman (or should I say ‘hombre’?) I’ll discuss first is a man I worked for, and with, on several occasions. He was my manager for a while at IBM, my client when he was working for a company connected to Delta Airlines and I was working as a Training Consultant, and my co-worker when we were both working as consultants and providing point-of-sale training for McCoy’s Building Supplies out of San Marcus, Texas.
Lucas Alvarez was born in Cuba and came to the United States shortly after Fidel Castro overthrew the government of the former dictator – Ruben Fulgencio Batista Zaldívar. Lucas was a college student at the time and was openly displeased with both dictators. In fact, he was very outspoken concerning Castro. Fidel took over power in 1959 and in 1960 started a systematic crackdown on anyone who opposed him.
One day when Lucas returned home after classes, his father handed him an airline ticket. His suitcases were already packed and he was whisked to the airport. While in flight to Miami, Cuban soldiers arrived at the Alvarez home looking for Lucas.
When he arrived in Miami, Lucas was basically penniless. He spent a few nights sleeping on the beach before he managed to land a job at one of the resort hotels. Not being able to speak English very well, he had to work as a menial until he mastered the language of his new country. Eventually he earned and saved enough money to return to college. He earned his degree and was soon hired by IBM.
At the luncheon, Lucas announced that he’s been in the United States for forty-eight years. When asked if he would return to Cuba if the Castro brothers lost power and the borders were reopened, his response was one of honest evaluation wrapped in sadness.
First, he said that all the older people he knew growing up are probably dead and gone. Next, he explained that the people he knew who were his age had all fled to other countries. Finally, he said he would have no way of knowing any of the younger citizens. In short, he would know no one.
He further stated that his brothers had returned to visit their old home and neighborhood. They reported that the paved roads are now nothing but dirt and dust, and that many of the buildings have collapsed and not been repaired. They described it as though it was a city in Germany that had been left to rot after being bombed during World War II.
Thomas Wolfe wrote “You Can Never Go Home Again” almost ninety years ago, but I don’t think he was thinking about people like Lucas.
Perhaps I’m one of the few fortunate ones. The house I grew up in is virtually unchanged since I moved on in 1966, and much of the neighborhood looks the same. I’m sure many of the people I knew are long gone, but at the very least – on the surface – the neighborhood appears unchanged.
I can’t imagine the feelings Lucas’ situation must engender. My heart goes out to him and to all the Cubans who were forced to leave their homeland because of the insecurities of some dictator.