Cuban Doctor Found Home, Healing In U.S. In 1963, Dr. Gustavo Mestas and his family escaped from Cuba and Fidel Castro's communist regime. His daughter, Ileana Smith, was 10 at the time. When she asked about their move recently, her father responded with a laugh. "That is a very complex problem," he said.
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Cuban Doctor Found Home, Healing In U.S.

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Cuban Doctor Found Home, Healing In U.S.

Cuban Doctor Found Home, Healing In U.S.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Time now for Storycorps. Friends and family have been interviewing each other for this project like Ileana Smith and her father, Gustavo Mestas. She was 10 years old when their family fled Cuba; he was a doctor there. They talked at Storycorps about coming to the United States, a journey that happened 45 years ago this month.

Ms. ILEANA SMITH (Cuban Immigrant): Pappi, tell me how you came to the decision to escape from Cuba.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GUSTAVO MESTAS (Cuban Immigrant): That is a very complex problem, okay? When Fidel started this revolution, even the churches were ringing the bells. Everybody was so happy. But after a while, you saw there was no salute. You said Jesus, this is not good for my children.

So one day, my friend that used to have a boat told me that he wanted to leave, and I said I wanted to leave, too.

Ms. SMITH: I remember I was looking out the porthole. I saw the Russian coast guard with their big guns.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MESTAS: Yeah. We saw the search light of the patrol boat, and my friend, he stopped the motor, he stopped everything, and said quiet everything - no one talk, no nothing because the patrol boat is the one that was killing people.

The next day we reached the coast of Florida close to noontime. It was tough. I didn't know if I was going to be able to practice as a doctor here or not. You have to take some classes. You have to pass an examination, and we didn't have any money. So I picked up tomatoes in the field, and I worked cleaning a motel, and then at night I had to go to medical school, and I had to walk 57 blocks because I didn't have money for the bus.

Ms. SMITH: But even when you didn't have money for the bus, you bought me a Barbie doll.

Mr. MESTAS: Because in Cuba, you had a room full of dolls.

Ms. SMITH: Yeah.

Mr. MESTAS: And your mother was trying to sell them before leaving, and you were crying, what is happening? And I said soon, I will buy you another doll.

Ms. SMITH: I remember that.

Mr. MESTAS: I think that the people here, the way they accepted me and the way they treated me, I paid them with hard work.

I worked for 30 years at a general practice. I never miss a day. I had a fractured ankle and went with crutches every day to my office to work.

Even today, after more than eight years retired, I go to the grocery, and I see the ladies, and they kiss me. I think they love me.

Ms. SMITH: I know they love you. They always tell me. Well, I want you to know that you have had the greatest influence in my life of anyone, and I love you, and I respect you and admire you.

Mr. MESTAS: Thank you. I love you, too.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: Gustavo Mestas with his daughter, Ileana Smith, at Storycorps in Delaware. Their conversation will be archived at the Library of Congress along with all StoryCorps interviews. Subscribe to the project's Podcast at NPR.org.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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