In July 1993, Juanillo — as he’s called around Orlando Latin Market — had planned to leave Cuba with about 70 other people on a fishing boat. But that’s all it ended up as — a plan.
“It looks like they spoke of me and they came to get me at my house,” the 67-year-old recalled as he sat in the bodega. “I didn’t even get to reach the coast.”
Juanillo said he was incarcerated for six months and, after he was released, he found himself unemployed. He began having health problems shortly after that with a kidney cancer diagnosis.
Less than a decade later, in 2000, Juanillo said he tried again to leave Cuba again — this time with his wife and their grandson in a small boat. They were successful this time.
“I came to this country but I still think about Cuba and am still Cuban… I lived in a very small pueblo but a good, rich pueblo with a lot of possibilities,” he said. “After the revolution, the opportunities dried up.”
Juanillo recalled his emotions when he finally arrived in Florida.
“I felt good because here I had four of my children and I came with my wife. I left a daughter behind,” he said. “But at the same time I felt bad because I had to leave my country — where I lived for 52 years… I had lived in my country for 52 years. I felt bad, I even missed the streets. You miss everything.”
(LISTEN: Juanillo speaks in Spanish about his life in Cuba)