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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – When news of Fidel Castro’s death first broke, Cuban Americans in South Florida took to the streets with pots and pans.
But when the revelry was over, many were left with the urge to tell their family’s stories and they went on social media to do it.
Fernando Frias and Miriam Alvarez don’t know each other, but they share a common history. Both are Cuban exiles, both were imprisoned on the island and both are the subjects of Facebook posts written in the wake of Castro’s death.
“It took me about a day for it to all wash over me. It was late, it was past midnight and I’ve been writing all day. I just felt like I needed to write something, to get something, to dislodge something that was inside of me,” said Carlos Frias.
Carlos Frias is Fernando’s son, he’s also a journalist with CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald and wrote the book “Take Me With You: A Secret Search for Family in a Forbidden Cuba.”
He broke the news to his father early Saturday morning, “Se murió Fidel!” Castro had died.
“To be able to deliver that news that the boogeyman that’s been over him for his life, even as a shadow, is gone. That’s a little bit of a gift,” the younger Frias said.
“I was happy,” Fernando Frias said. “No one suffered like what we suffered.”
A business owner before the revolution, his bodegas were nationalized when Castro took power. He was thrown in jail where he heard more than a dozen people executed.
His son shared some of that story in a post that went viral on Facebook.
The picture from outside Cafe Versailles Saturday morning shows his father, eyes to the sky, amongst the revelers.
Carlos wrote, “He is smiling through reddened hazel eyes and soon mine match his. ‘I’ve been waiting my whole life for this,’ he says.”
“So when I wrote, I wrote for all of us. One voice, telling one story that tells many stories,” Carlos said. “I didn’t want to approach my newspaper right away and say I wanted to write this for the paper. I wanted to write this just for me and my friends and I shared it on Facebook.”
Carlos and I, CBS4 Anchor Lauren Pastrana, share this in common.
When I wrote about my family’s history on my personal Facebook Sunday, I wasn’t expecting to put it on the news.
But some stories just have to be told.
“We all hold our hands together. The separation from men and women was horrible. We all took our hands together, the women, so we could die together. Because we thought they were going to kill us outside,” Miriam Alvarez said.
Miriam is my great aunt. My family affectionately refers to her as “Aya Mimi”. Today, she is an artist, great-grandmother and a volunteer docent at the Frost Art Museum at Florida International University.
But in the 50s, she was a young woman in Cuba, when suddenly her life changed forever.
On Facebook, I wrote about how she was thrown in jail because members of our family were seen as a threat to the regime.
“Every night at la Cabana they heard the people being executed and screaming before they were executed ‘Viva Cuba Libre’,” she said.
She was eventually released from jail, but only after lying and saying her name was Gladys. That’s my grandmother’s name.
My grandparents came to the U.S. in 1960. Miriam came a year later.
Miriam’s sister, my grandmother Gladys, has Alzheimer’s now, and while she lived to see this day, I don’t know if she understands what has happened.
“But, here I am,” Miriam said. “And I have survived to see him die.”
I ended my post by saying, “Fidel Castro’s death won’t erase these stories, just like his power could not destroy my family’s incredible spirit.”
It’s a spirit shared by many in this community, filled with hope for the future.
“I hope the government in Cuba will change the way they think and it will be a democracy as we have here,” Miriam concluded.
“Que viva Cuba libre,” Fernando said with tears in his eyes.