The small island nation of Cuba has a rich heritage and a dynamic and troubled history. The United States is full of Cuban immigrants who fled the streets of Havana and the beaches of this Caribbean jewel during the Revolution of 1956, when rebel leader, Fidel Castro overthrew the brutal Fulgencio Batista.
In the chaos that followed Castro’s power play, it quickly became apparent that life would be very different–dangerous and turbulent, in fact… so much so, that families went to great measure and expense to flee to the neighboring shores to the north, to Florida.
One family, kin to author, Guillermo Vicente Vidal, was faced with just such a choice: to leave behind one’s roots and heritage with no guarantee of ever returning, or to stay and wait, knowing and hoping that no leader can rule forever.
“Boxing for Cuba: An Immigrant’s Story,” follows the childhood of its author, former Denver mayor, Bill (Guillermo Vicente) Vidal as he unwillingly became part of the storyline of the aftermath of Castro’s rise to power and Cuba’s subsequent shift to Communism.
Written with a great deal of heart and a refreshing level of candor for such a prominent local political figure, Vidal’s account reads like an intense coming-of-age novel, with daring escapes, turbulent family life, humorous anecdotes, and dramatic reunions.
With many Cubans desperate to flee the regime’s ruthlessness, the refugee program for Cuban children, Operation Peter Pan, became the escape route for Vidal and his two young brothers, but it meant leaving their parents behind, with no guarantee for a reunion. Each family member is well-described and becomes a three dimensional character, heightening the sense of loss when the inevitable separation happens. The feelings of fear and sadness are poignant and painful to read, and Vidal succeeds in pulling the reader into the world of his childhood worries, especially after their anticipated reunion in Florida goes awry and the brothers end up in an orphanage in Pueblo, Colorado, a world away from home.
Spanning nations, decades, and cultures, Vidal crafts a vivid and moving account of the anxiety involved in being an immigrant; their sense of belonging is elusive, as the boys, and later their parents, strive to assimilate into the society that has reluctantly taken them in.
Even more than being a poignant account of an outsider in a challenging culture, “Boxing for Cuba” is a touching and honest portrayal of the universally tangled and complex concept of “family” and the notion of “home.” Colorado has since become home to this Cuban boy, and his contributions to the state are many. “Boxing for Cuba” is eye-opening, educational, and a joy to read.