Most people who remember the Cuban missile crisis recall a time
of uncertainty and fear: terrifying television and radio news
broadcasts, snatches of furtive adult conversation, duck under the
school desk bomb drills, preparations for a worst case scenario...
For many households then there was a good guy (America) vs. bad guy
(those ungodly Communists) narrative behind the whole story. For
Margarita Engel, then a child, things were a lot more complicated and
confusing. In Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings she shares her
story in eloquent free verse.
Engle's parents came from widely different cultures. Her father
was the American child of Ukranian refugees. Her mother was the
beautiful Cuban woman he fell in love with on a visit to her island.
Engle's early childhood involved travel between the United
States and Cuba where her mother's family lived. School years were
spent in the States where she felt like a "misfit bookworm". Some
summers were spent on an enchanted island with vividly colored
songbirds, wild horses, coral beaches with flying fish, and dancing
flowers...a treasured space where she felt fully alive...
...until bad things started to happen. A revolution in Cuba was
followed the nationalization of many formerly American owned
businesses and the I'll-fated Bay of Pigs Invasion. Diplomatic
relationships between the United States and Cuba were shattered.
Travel became restricted. The Cuban Missile Crisis ushered in the
spectre of nuclear warfare
"Supermarket shelves are empty.
Food and water are hoarded.
Gas masks are stored in bomb shelters-
Expensive underground shelters
That only rich people can afford."
and left one young woman wondering if the two countries she found her
being split between would ever be able to get along.
Engle's candid and poignant coming of age story is sadly very
relevant in today's world where war seems constant, the number of
refugees fleeing violence and peril overwhelming.
On a personal note, last month I had the chance to visit my younger
daughter, Katie, in her new home in Portland. We explored a beach
with a lighthouse and old fort and went bargain shopping. She took me
out for lunch. Her boyfriend came over for supper. It was a truly
enchanted day and the best possible use of my birthday money.
A great big shout out goes out to Katie and Jacob.
Julia Emily Hathaway
Sent from my iPod