'Cuba Is Right There for Me'

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For many who fled Castro's Cuba — even those who were small children at the time — the island nation still holds powerful memories decades later. One woman now living in Lexington, Mass., finds her thoughts turning often to a doll she left behind.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

It's been almost 40 years since commentator Ana Hebra Flaster left her home in Havana. She was a young child at the time, but she remembers Cuba vividly. Sometimes she thinks her memory is too vivid.

ANA HEBRA FLASTER: Why would a fairly well adjusted middle aged woman refuse to forget a doll she had when she was six? I left Rosita, my only, and may I say very hip, doll in Cuba on the night we got permission to leave the country back in 1967. I was six. Before that night, Rosita and I had been inseparable. I carried her around our neighborhood decked out in her mod little outfit.

I'd named my doll after a Cuban film star, Rosita Fornes, because, as I recall, like the actress, my doll had blonde hair, blue eyes and freckles. All the exotic traits we brown eyed, olive skin girls envied.

Even now, 38 years later, Rosita remains unforgettable. She is my talisman, my memory bridge. Like Citizen Kane's Rosebud. I've always wondered why some people remember the apparently meaningless details of the past, while other people struggle to remember even the whoppers.

My cousin Alberto, for example, was 12 when he left Cuba, but he has no memory of the place. He claims this is because he was hit by a car while he was walking in a snow storm the year after we arrived in New Hampshire. After the accident, he remembered algebra, thank God, but he's got absolutamente nada on Cuba.

How could Alberto's memory of Cuba be wiped out like that while mine remains full of mysterious details, like the way my first grade teacher's bangs curled, the irresistible sweetness of a ripe mane(ph) or the swirly, blood red pattern of my grandmother's tiled floor. I can draw the street plan of our old neighborhood, sing nursery rhymes like Iranpancito(ph) Miguel, more or less on tune, and still feel, really feel, the crinkle of the black lacy skirt I wore to my last carnival.

After almost four decades here I've become more American, but I've never forgotten Cuba or Rosita, my abandoned talisman. My friends ask me why I speak so much of my Cuban past, why I still identify myself as Cuban. I've been a naturalized U.S. citizen since I was 12, graduated from an American college, am raising an American family, and still Cuba is right there for me.

I may speak accentless English and feel very American, but I can only blend in so much. Inside, I'm just not the same as people who were born and raised here. There's nothing wrong with that. Someone has to remember the little details from the past. I can almost see Rosita winking her approval.

BLOCK: Ana Hebra Flaster lives in Lexington, Massachusetts.

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