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  • I remember the café con leche and the ham sandwich. Strange, I know, but this is the first thing that comes to mind. It is what I asked for when I landed.

    It was June of 1962 and I came from Havana, Cuba thinking this was a vacation. At six years of age I could not understand why mother cried when she saw me off at the airport nor did I quite get the guise of why those men dressed in green uniforms took off my "dormilonas"*, the ones that adorned my little ears. After all the years I still hold unto the ticket from Pan Am as if holding it will bring back memories of my childhood.

    There was something within me that understood that life would never be the same. Children, whether we want to come to terms with it or not are perceptive about life. Sometimes more than we give them credit for.

    In attempting to channel some of the emotions of what my true immigrant experience was I pulled out my old report cards, large thick paper documents that speak of a different and less complicated era. To me this was the best way to understand where I was at the beginning.

    Now at 59 those times seem very far away and yet inexplicably I am drawn to who I was then and who I am now. It is probably the same person, with a twist or two.

    They gave me a permanent for the trip. You can see in the old photographs the fat curls surrounding a face to match, funny, my hair is curly anyway but maybe back then it was a little straighter. I knew when I arrived at (what was then) Central Beach Elementary that I wanted straight hair, preferably blonde or red and I most definitely had a yearning for freckles sprinkled lightly on my cheeks and nose. This to me was the epitome of American good looks, not the curls and the cockroach colored eyes. Back then I did not want to be different, today I strive for it.

    Those report cards, the are telling. Here is what my first grade teacher Bernice Gold (she had lovely red hair and tons of freckles) said about me;

    " Ivonne shows good leadership skills. She is well liked and respected by all her classmates. She expresses herself through her art work. We must work with Ivonne to better express herself in her written work".
    My thoughts were in Spanish, hard to be a wordsmith in a foreign language, however, fifty plus years later, the majority of the words are in English.

    *Dormilonas: Stud earrings, from the word (dormir) (to sleep) since you don't have to remove them when you go to bed.
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