When Marilyn Borroto had to leave her home town of Antonio de Las Vegas in the Mayabeque Province of Cuba, she was a self-described guarded and naïve young girl who had never ventured beyond her tight knit community, or even slept away from the family home.
Now she had to travel alone to the United States like the 14,000 other “Operation Peter Pan” kids who fled Communist Cuba between 1960 and 1962 unaccompanied by their parents in an amnesty program led by Monsignor Bryan O. Walsh of the Catholic Welfare Bureau.
“It was like the world had ended, like the floor was taken out from under me, I had never even had a sleep over at a friend’s house,” said Marilyn.
“We were forty girls, 12 years old to 18 from everywhere in Cuba. Our camp was lodged in Florida City before we were selected to go to a nunnery in San Antonio, Texas.”
In those days Fidel Castro’s revolution was not expected to last very long. Rather than have their children educated in Marxist-Leninist philosophy in “Patria Potestad” where they would have been forced to relinquish the raising of their kids, many parents chose to send them away.
The expectation was that they would meet up with them again shortly thereafter. Of course the revolution lasted many decades, adult departures became increasingly difficult and as a result some of those children were never re-united with their families.
Marilyn was one of the lucky ones but before that emotional reunion nearly two years later with her parents and brother, it was her new friends later dubbed “Las Muchachitas de Villa Maria” at “Our Lady of the Lake Catholic School and Convent (today a prestigious university) that kept her going.
“Some of us had sisters with us, I had my cousin but other than that we didn’t know each other.”
“We bonded and formed a sisterhood, we would lend each other our clothes, cut each other’s hair, talk about our lives in Cuba, missing our parents, and we became very close.”
Years later Marilyn was eager to find her old friends and without a clue as to where to start. Thanks to the suggestion of family friend Herbie Levine who was the director in the 1980’s of WQBA, Marilyn went on the air.
”I went on the radio and asked ‘does anybody know…’ and I started saying the names of the girls, from their maiden names and from where they were from in Cuba” said Marilyn.
“I started getting calls saying one was now living in San Francisco, or married and living in Argentina, or their parents lived in Miami…and we found all but one eventually. We had our first reunion with 38 of the original 40 in 1986. We still meet every year. Of the 25 in Miami we have dinner once a month.”
The ladies have seen each other through family losses, and hardships of all kinds…fires, moves, deaths, and the tribulations life besets on all eventually. If they can’t be there in person to support each other, they send an emissary.
“The national flower of Texas is the yellow rose,” said Marilyn.
“If someone close to the family dies or some hard times happen and we can’t be there in person to help each other, we all arrange to send our friend forty yellow roses.”
“They did that when my mother died (Berta Zulima Sanchez). I put the flowers on top of her coffin, I put all my roses there and I said ‘mom we are with you…we are here with you now.’ We send our love if we can’t be there and by that we say ‘here we are.’”