U.S. President Obama’s historic visit to Cuba this week marks a turning point in the two countries’ fraught relationship. He’s the first sitting president to visit since Calvin Coolidge in 1928, and his visit comes after the U.S. government resumed diplomatic relations with Cuba in July 2015.
The past several months have been especially significant for the Cuban-American community.
Since 1960, over 1.2 million people have immigrated from Cuba to the United States, according to data compiled by the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. There has been a spike in immigration since the two countries re-established diplomatic relations.
For those who came from Cuba in the decades before relations began to normalize under the Obama administration, the journey was complex, potentially lengthy - and often dangerous. And many could only bring a limited number of possessions - and hardly any valuables.
For instance, this ring is one few valuables Elisa Fernandez and her daughter Teresa Sichynsky were permitted to bring on their Freedom Flight from Cuba to the United States in 1966. (Disclaimer: Tanya Sichynsky, a Washington Post employee, is the daughter of Teresa Sichynsky.) Fernandez had it made in Cuba out of melted-down jewelry, and the ring bears the initials of her maiden name: EGD. The 20 Cuban pesos Fernandez tried to take with her were confiscated at the airport.
Teresa recalled her journey for us:
My father was on a ship working as a longshoreman when Castro came into power. He did not return [to Cuba] because if he did, he would not be able to leave. It took my dad five years of petitioning to get us out.Soldiers in a Jeep arrived at my grandparents to let us know we were leaving for the U.S. [on a Freedom Flight] in one week’s time. All we could take was one suitcase and no valuables. It was a quick and sad goodbye to my big family in Cuba.We left Cuba and landed in Miami, Florida where we were processed at the Freedom Tower and given 15 U.S. dollars. I met my dad for the first time on the tarmac at John F. Kennedy airport in New York on March 18, 1966.
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