I Remember How It Made Me Feel

I remember it was an Autumn day in Miami.  The humidity was low and the sky was a brilliant blue. There was almost a hint of chill in the breeze as Bill and I were driving around discovering our new city.  We thought we were the luckiest people on earth because we were living in an older resort on Collins Avenue.  The property was being renovated and Bill was selling time shares at the resort.  Our entire family was able to live in one of the condos while he worked.  We were having a working vacation and it was marvelous after having ministered in the inner city and red light districts of Orlando.

miamiocean I loved Miami more than I thought I would.  It was as if it was the capital of South America and I felt as if I was living in a foreign city.  I was on sensory overload.

The water views were eye candy to me and I couldn’t believe how many shades of blue there could be.  From our fourth floor window,  I looked out each day to the ocean and the painted canvas “The Artist” had painted for me.  My attachment to the water was almost like crack to an addict, a child to its mother or oxygen to my lungs. It completed me as I stared out at it, healing my hurts, speaking life to my spirit and telling me its secrets of the deep.

I thought the sounds of Miami were wide open loud.  You could stand on a street corner and hear three or four different languages coming from car radios.  The music was either wild and sensual or soft and sensual.  Everything was alive and pulsating, breathing and rhythmical.

The smells of Miami came in on gentle breezes and down the hallways and out the windows of Collins Avenue.  They teased you with specific scents you couldn’t quite identify and they made me hungry.  I’m sure they smelled of Cuba and Puerto Rico, Haiti, Jamaica and little Islands whose names I’d forgotten.  They smelled of food exotica born on sea breezes and salt air.  They made their way into my conversations and manifested as spices in my kitchen cabinet.  The smells were like magic and I thought that if ingested them, I would automatically think Hispanic, speak Spanish or bleed Latina.  Sensory overload is a powerful thing.  4qn2ek6-1

I loved my new city and our new friends, almost all of them Latino.  The managers of the beach club were Puerto Rican and so were some of the other salesmen.  Many of the staff were Cuban and their parents had immigrated to the United States by boat during the 1950’s or 1960’s.  More recently, some of the younger ones had come by boat.  I was fascinated with these brave people.  One man worked in maintenance but he had been a doctor in Cuba.  He came to Miami on a boat and was so glad to be in America that he didn’t mind working well below the professional status he had enjoyed in Cuba.

We also knew some illegal aliens who lived amongst us.  Bill held Hispanic church services at the resort each week and we knew that these were good people.  They had come to the US with Visas that had since expired and were doing the best they could do to make it in America by “flying under the radar.”  We decided it wasn’t up to us to judge them but to befriend them and help them spiritually.  We even helped some of them with government paperwork so that they too,  could become legal residents.

On that beautiful Fall day,  as we were returning to the resort,  we noticed that several helicopters were flying low over the water.  We soon realized that they were news “eye in the sky” helicopters from the local news channels and that there was something news worthy happening on the beach. We quickly parked our car and ran into the building.

The first thing I saw was a line of employees on their knees looking out of the windows toward the beach.  Their mouths were moving in frantic prayers of teary Spanish and when I asked a friend standing nearby to interpret, she told me that they were praying: “Lord, let their feet touch the sand.  Let them walk up to the shore.  Keep them strong and don’t let them drown.”  Tears were rolling down their faces.

We ran out to the beach to see what could cause so much agony on the faces of our friends.  What we saw and heard will always be etched in my memory.  CG25423-001 Right beyond the shoreline,  there was a tiny boat or glorified raft.  There were what appeared to be illegal Cubans on the boat but some of them had jumped into the water and seemed to be trying to reach the beach.  A US Coast Guard boat was circling the raft and trying to do everything in its power to discourage the Cubans from jumping into the water and making it to the shore.  They were spraying the people and their boat with water cannons.  The water pressure was strong and hard to fight against. Plus, there was the terribly loud wail of the Coast Guard siren and boat horn.  The low riding helicopters also made the ordeal even more frightening.

A large group of Latino Americans had gathered on the beach, almost as if they had expected the little boat to come there onto the shore.  Like in the resort lobby, some folks were on their knees praying and some were standing right by the water’s edge, like coaches cheering their team on.  “Come on, you can make it!  Just a little bit further and you’ll be on the shore!  Don’t give up!  Don’t be afraid.” To make it even more unbelievable, there were news reporters with microphones and cameramen reporting live to their local channels or getting their stories ready for the 6:00 news.  In the chaos there was fear and hope, standing next to one another like old friends, holding hands on a battlefield.

I knew what I had seen but I didn’t know what the laws were pertaining to the “mess” we had just witnessed. I went back to my condo and did some five minute research on my computer.  I found out that there was a policy in place that made that  scene on the beach a legal one.

It was called the “wet foot/dry foot” policy. President Clinton had made an agreement with Cuba’s Fidel Castro to help regulate the number of illegal immigrants coming into the United States on boats.  If the immigrants were deterred by the US Coast Guard and not allowed out of the water onto the shore, (wet foot) they had to be sent back to Cuba unless they had reason to file for political asylum.  If they made it to the shore on dry land (dry foot) they could stay in the states and proceed with becoming legal US residents.

None of the Cubans made it to shore that fateful day.  The story broke on the 6:00 news and by 11:00 that evening,  the Cuban American population in Miami was showing its displeasure and agitation at the US government. In an effort to show solidarity, hundreds of them and others in the Latino community went down to the bridge that stood beside the US Coast Guard building and lay down side by side across the expanse shutting down the bridge and blocking traffic for hours. I can only tell you how it made me feel.  The whole scene had made me heart broken and sick on the inside.  I almost had Bill take me down to the Coast Guard Station so that I could lay down next to the Latinos.  My heart was on emotional sensory overload.Oh, I knew that laws were laws and  policies were policies, but to get so close to your goal, your destination, only to be thwarted by intense water pressure wasn’t fair.  I could have sworn if you cut me I would have bled Latina that week.

P1010503 A few months later, the Elian Gonzalez story hit the news.  Remember the six year old little Cuban boy found floating off the coast of South Florida in a small inner tube? He, his momma, her boyfriend and eleven others had set off to “look for America.”  The aluminum boat they had crowded into capsized  off Florida’s coast and Elian’s mother and ten others drowned.  The INS sent him to stay with his father’s  relatives in Miami but Elian’s father wanted him to be returned to Cuba to live with him.  It was an international custody dispute but in the end, Elian’s father won.  He was sent back to Cuba.

I thought about his mother and her sacrifice to give Elian a better life in America.  It was her desire that he live in the US.  That wish had cost her everything. Yet, laws are laws and they are made so that our country can stay strong and powerful.  But the little voice in my head said over and over,  “No, laws are made to be broken.” What kind of American citizen was I becoming?

I looked out to the sea a lot during my time in Miami after what I had witnessed.  My dependance on its ever changing colors and movements kept me fascinated  but it held secrets that it no longer told me.  How many had died in its watery arms as they sought a life their mother country could not give them?  Embarrassed by the tragedies, it danced along the thin slice of sand that could give illegal aliens freedom, pretending nothing had happened.  I stretched out my thin arms as if to embrace it; to tell it that it was not its fault.  There were laws…  immigrant

Now, I know that there are children being sent from Latin America, through Mexico, to the American border.  I hear that their parents pay thousands of dollars to put their beloved children on a bus and send them to seek a better life than they can give them in their mother country.  The parents know that the chances are slim to nil that they will ever see their children again.  They know that if they make it to the American border, the welcome mat will be rolled out for them. It makes me wonder,  should the sacrifice of their parents  be honored and our nation embrace the children and absorb them into our culture.  Do the foreigners believe in America more the the Americans do?  On the other hand, is it child abuse to put your children on a bus and put their lives into the hands of others in a different culture?  Is it child abuse to put your unsuspecting child into a boat and send him to a foreign land when the chances are slim he will even make it to the shores of that land alive?  Oh, the questions adults must agonize over to consider laws!

I just remember how it made me feel when I think back to the day I saw the illegal Cubans off the shore of Miami Beach,  humiliated and broken in the water.  There was a breaking in my soul and the soul of a city that day. I feel that breaking again as I view the pictures of the illegal Latin American children laying on pallets as they sleep,  somewhere in Texas, awaiting their fate and trusting the friendly Americans.  Something inside me, I don’t know, maybe the Latino blood I acquired fifteen years ago in Miami,  as I ingested the magical Hispanic spices and listened to the rhythm of their sensual music, did something to me.  Maybe the friendships I made in Miami made me have an affinity towards these brave, happy people.  And if I could, I would  go and take my pallet to lay down with the scared, homesick children who have found themselves miles away from home and tell them that “It’s OK. Everything’s going to be alright,” even though I would have no assurance that would be true.  Then, I’d stretch my arms over them and tell them, “It’s not your fault either.  There are laws.”

Here’s your song…  

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Carolina Carol
    Jul 14, 2014 @ 01:12:00

    I share your mix of feelings on this subject Donna. There are no easy answers. Most of our forefathers and mothers journeyed to this country for a better life for themselves and their children. These people are no different. I don’t think that they would risk sending their children without being able to accompany them unless they felt the risk was greater to stay. It seems so un-American for us to receive them so harshly yet I know that we can’t accommodate them all. I pray for those who are making these decisions/policies to have heart and wisdom as they determine the futures of these desperate people as well as our own country. I am so torn as I watch this all unfold on the nightly news 😦

    Reply

    • themuseinme
      Jul 14, 2014 @ 03:26:26

      Thanks for reading Carol! Yes, I am very torn about this issue. As I see it played out in the media, I couldn’t help but remember our Miami story. I let it “simmer” for a week or so and decided to write about it today. After what I saw on the beach that day in Miami will probably always make me lean a bit towards the immigrants! My nurturer’s heart is broken as I see the pictures and hear the stories about the Latin American children. What a humanitarian crisis! Oh, the humanity of it all!

      Reply

  2. Peggy Williams
    Jul 16, 2014 @ 00:57:30

    Donna, I share your sentiments. So few things are clearly black or white. Most are shades of gray. If love is at the heart of all we think or do, then we will find ourselves at odds with man-made laws more times than not. Thank you for writing this.

    Reply

    • themuseinme
      Jul 16, 2014 @ 01:12:21

      Thanks, Peggy. It seems that the older I get the more gray my world becomes! I would like to think that gray is the new color for love. The problem is that gray doesn’t always make my world a happy place but a world that is always at odds with me. On the other hand, most people say that the color “gray” looks best on me. I think they say that because it matches my gray hair. It’s funny Peggy. My life is turning gray(er) and it’s OK. Maybe it means love is winning! I love you! 🙂

      Reply

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