Thursday, June 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
Rays journal: 7 pitches, 3 straight homers prove too much in loss to Astros

Rays journal: 7 pitches, 3 straight homers prove too much in loss to Astros

HOUSTON — The Rays were engaged in a third straight tight, go-either-way battle with the defending champ Astros on Wednesday.Until they were not.A brutal seven-pitch sequence by starter Nathan Eovaldi changed everything, as he gave up three con...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Rays see the results of keeping a good, young core group together

Rays see the results of keeping a good, young core group together

HOUSTON — The Rays saw a lot on the weeklong trip that ended with Wednesday's game against that Astros, beyond the street hustlers prowling in Times Square and the urban cowboys and girls parading through H-town.There was an impressive debuting...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Kevin Knox poised to become Tampa Bay’s highest NBA draft pick

Kevin Knox poised to become Tampa Bay’s highest NBA draft pick

Kevin Knox Sr. was watching the NFL draft 24 years ago when the phone rang. Buffalo coach Marv Levy was on the other line."Marv said they were taking me," said Knox Sr., a standout receiver at FSU.Soon after, Knox Sr. saw his name scroll across ESPN'...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Lightning’s Victor Hedman wins NHL’s Norris Trophy

Lightning’s Victor Hedman wins NHL’s Norris Trophy

Victor Hedman, a relentless part of the Lightning's push to the Eastern Conference final last season, was honored Wednesday night with the Norris Trophy, given to the NHL's top defenseman."To the Lightning organization, Mr. Jeff Vinik, Steve Yzerman ...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Wednesday’s Rays-Astros game

Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Wednesday’s Rays-Astros game

RHP Nathan Eovaldi said before his rough start Wednesday against the Astros that he was pitching better than his numbers showed. Well … In four starts since his six no-hit innings debut, he's 0-3 with a 6.17 ERA, allowing eight homers, four Wed...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Report: Bucs QB Jameis Winston bracing for suspension from NFL

Report: Bucs QB Jameis Winston bracing for suspension from NFL

Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston could be suspended for up to three games  next season following the league's investigation into allegations he groped a female Uber driver in Arizona in 2016, a Tallahassee radio station reported.Jeff Cameron, a&#...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Passengers on fatal Southwest flight sue airline and manufacturers of plane and engine

Passengers on fatal Southwest flight sue airline and manufacturers of plane and engine

Eight passengers who were aboard a Southwest Airlines flight that was forced to make an emergency landing in Philadelphia after one of its engines blew apart filed suit Wednesday against the airline, Boeing and the companies that manufactured the eng...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Former employee sued by Tesla says he was a whistleblower

Former employee sued by Tesla says he was a whistleblower

Tesla sued a former employee Wednesday, accusing the man of hacking the automaker’s computer systems and stealing company secrets, shedding light on what chief Elon Musk had suggested was the work of a secretive internal saboteur.But the employee, Ma...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Police: Couple leased someone else’s home to 15 families at same time

Police: Couple leased someone else’s home to 15 families at same time

LARGO — Vanessa Rodriguez thought she found the right house for her three kids, in the right neighborhood, for the right rent. She signed the lease for April 30, sent a $2,300 money order and planned to move in June 1.Then the delays started. She sai...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Clearwater wants $40 million from the county for a stadium. But there’s not $40 million to give.

Clearwater wants $40 million from the county for a stadium. But there’s not $40 million to give.

CLEARWATER —The city’s proposed $79.7 million overhaul of the Philadelphia Phillies’ spring training facilities depends on getting $40 million in bed taxes from Pinellas County.But records show even if county officials wanted to bankroll the Phillies...
Updated: 8 hours ago