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After Fidel Castro's Death, Families Remember Cuban Exiles Who Didn't Live To See This Day

Yenesis Alfonso felt empty when she found out Fidel Castro had died.

As hundreds of Cuban Americans took to the streets in Miami in pure jubilation banging pots and breaking out in dance, she placed pink flowers beside her father’s cremated remains.  

“I can understand the happiness of seeing evil go down, but nothing is going to change.  It’s not going to bring back all the love I lost,” she said.

Alfonso was two years old when she boarded one of the last Freedom Flights from Cuba with her father, mother, and older sister. 

If her father Alex Mena didn’t leave, they feared he would be killed. Neighbors were leaving marks on their door—a visible sign that someone in the home did not support the revolution.

"They had their eyes on him," she said. 

In Miami, holidays were somber. Alfonso said growing up she never celebrated Noche Buena, the  traditional Cuban Christmas Eve feast.

'My dad would say, We can celebrate when we’re all together' - Yenesis Alfonso

When her family left Cuba, her oldest brother was left behind with the intention that he would join the family within a few months. The Cuban government wouldn't let him leave because he was of military age. It would take 16-years before he reunited with his family via the Mariel Boat Lift.

"My dad stopped celebrating any special holiday because he felt it was unfair to celebrate with my brother left behind in Cuba," said Alfonso. “My dad would say,  ‘We can celebrate when we’re all together.’" 

Across the Cuban-American community, children of exiles reflect on Castro’s death by remembering their loves ones who didn’t make it to see this day.

Maria Linares’ father spent weeks in a Cuban jail . His infraction: "​He just voiced his dislike of Fidel and the revolution."

'[My father] died hoping Cuba would finally be free again' - Maria Linares

He would later tell his daughter how he was he was forced to eat raw potatoes and water.  At night, the  Cuban soldiers shouted and fired shots over the prisoners’ heads.

“My poor father, he suffered a great deal,” Linares said.  "But he died hoping Cuba would finally be free again.”

News of people taking to the streets to celebrate Castro’s death reminded Nora Martinez of her father. She didn’t join the impromptu gatherings in Miami, but she said if her father were still alive he would have.

And while Martinez does not think Castro’s death will bring immediate change to Cuba, for some it provides some closure to a painful past—closure that many didn’t live to experience.

'I wish he [Fidel Castro] would have died when she still knew who he was'- Maria Linares

“My mom had Alzheimers and it's doubtful she even remembered who Castro was,” said Martinez. “I wish he would have died when she still knew who he was.”

For Alfonso, the pink flowers she placed next to her father’s cremated remains symbolize a new beginning.

She plans to visit her mother’s grave site to also place pink flowers there and to tell her, “Fidel is dead.”

This article includes comments from the Public Insight Network, an online community of people who have agreed to share their insights with WLRN.



Listen to our special coverage of the aftermath of Fidel Castro's death here: