Wednesday, February 21, 2018
News Roundup

Pinellas County woman overcomes fears about returning to her native Cuba

ST. PETERSBURG — Marty Estevez-Lopez doesn't have to close her eyes to recall the memory of armed guards bursting into her small home in Cuba five decades ago.

Or the way those men went through her family's things — cataloguing them, taking inventory.

The guards wanted to make sure the family left everything behind.

"I remember saying goodbye to everyone," said Estevez-Lopez, who was 9 years old at the time. "I remember I cried a lot. It was very emotional . . . It was just really scary."

Soon afterward, Estevez-Lopez and her parents were on a plane to Indiana to join her two brothers, one of whom had been sent to the United States under the famous Peter Pan operation months earlier.

Estevez-Lopez became a U.S. citizen at 18. By that time, she knew she wasn't going back to her homeland. But then again, she didn't really want to.

"I've always had a fear about going back," she said. "Emotionally, I didn't think I could handle it."

• • •

Estevez-Lopez, a longtime Pinellas County Schools social worker who lives in St. Petersburg, stepped on a plane in late March, when local schools were out for spring break.

Officially, she was part of the pilgrimage led by Pope Benedict XVI to Cuba, where thousands celebrated the country's patron saint, the Virgin of Charity of Cobre.

But personally, she was on an even greater mission: It was the first time she'd been back to her birthplace since leaving 50 years ago.

"It felt surreal. I couldn't believe it was happening," said Estevez-Lopez, 59. "Forty-one minutes on a plane and it's like you step into a totally different world."

Her cousin picked her up in a 1955 Chevy Bel Air. Other cousins apologized for the intermittent electricity and water. Estevez-Lopez visited relatives she hadn't seen since the '50s, and others she'd never met at all.

She stayed on the island for about a week so she could reunite with family and travel.

It was bizarre, yes. But also healing, Estevez-Lopez said.

"I did a lot of soul searching to get myself to the point where I thought I could handle it," she said. "I prayed about it."

• • •

Estevez-Lopez's reaction isn't uncommon, experts say. It's normal for immigrants who have to leave their country abruptly to experience similar feelings, they said.

"A lot of the Cubans that came in the 1960s were never able to completely mourn the enormity of (it)," said Eugenio M. Rothe, a psychiatrist who teaches at Florida International University. "The mourning process becomes frozen. . . . You have to think about it as a conglomerate of losses."

The cure, Rothe said, is time.

It took Estevez-Lopez most of her life — even as travel restrictions eased and Estevez-Lopez saw friends and family return.

Even her children, who were born in the United States, visited Cuba in the past few years. Estevez-Lopez was one of the few in her immediate family who hadn't gone.

Two years ago, an uncle visited. He made his niece promise that someday, she'd return.

On Christmas, Estevez-Lopez's sons, one of whom is a St. Petersburg police detective, surprised her with a plane ticket. Then she heard about the pope's pilgrimage and arranged a spot with her brother, Felipe J. Estévez, the bishop of St. Augustine.

"I just knew, this was it," Estevez-Lopez said. "And this time, it was like coming home. It's almost like a piece of me is there. I'd like to go back."

Kameel Stanley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8643.

   
Comments

Updated: 6 minutes ago

Updated: 8 minutes ago
Where you can trade in your Gasparilla beads for doughnuts

Where you can trade in your Gasparilla beads for doughnuts

Krispy Kreme Doughnuts will be trading old Gasparilla beads for its famous glazed doughnuts.Anyone who brings in 12 pounds of beads to Krispy Kreme on Saturday will be rewarded with a dozen original glazed doughnuts, according to a news release.For t...
Updated: 11 minutes ago

Updated: 13 minutes ago
Former Florida Rep. Robert Wallace jumps from Tampa overpass

Former Florida Rep. Robert Wallace jumps from Tampa overpass

TAMPA — Former Florida state Rep. Robert Wallace ended his life Monday by jumping from a Dale Mabry Highway overpass, records show. He was 65.At least one witness saw Wallace go off the overpass and plunge between 40 and 50 feet onto Gunn Highway, ac...
Updated: 14 minutes ago

Updated: 17 minutes ago
Investor calls for Bloomin’ Brands to let Outback Steakhouse stand alone

Investor calls for Bloomin’ Brands to let Outback Steakhouse stand alone

TAMPA — A second activist investor is calling for a big shake-up at Bloomin’ Brands Inc. In a letter to Bloomin’s CEO, Barington Capital Group, a New York-based investment firm, urged the Tampa-based restaurant conglomerate to let Outback Steakhouse ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Clearwater Beach named No. 1 in U.S. by TripAdvisor

Clearwater Beach named No. 1 in U.S. by TripAdvisor

A reigning champion for sand and sunshine, Tampa Bay is once again home to what’s been deemed the best beach in the country. Clearwater Beach was named the best beach in the U.S. for 2018 by the popular travel site TripAdvisor reclaiming the crown tw...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Each lap remains a lease on life for distance runner Jon Mott

Each lap remains a lease on life for distance runner Jon Mott

LAKELAND — It took only one moment of teenage audacity for Northeast High's top distance runner to be immortalized as a sprinter.Days before his high school graduation, Jon Mott sneaked off to a dugout in the baseball stadium. There, he strippe...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Alex Trebek will moderate a Republican debate in the Pennsylvania governor’s race

Alex Trebek will moderate a Republican debate in the Pennsylvania governor’s race

We’ll take "surprising side gigs" for $1,000! "Jeopardy" host Alex Trebek will moderate a debate among Republican hopefuls vying for the Pennsylvania gubernatorial nomination.The longtime game show star will be questioning candidates at an Oct. 1 for...
Updated: 1 hour ago