Customs General of the Republic-

Welcome to Cuba

Judy Bolton-Fasman
 About the Writer
Split Lip Magazine

Judy Bolton-Fasman has recently completed The Ninety Day Wonder: A Family Memoir. Excerpts from the memoir as well as other essays have appeared in The Rumpus, Brevity, Lunch Ticket, Cleaver Magazine, Cognoscenti, The Rappahonock Review and other venues. 




Judy Bolton-Fasman


Date of Birth

December 30, 1960. I was born one year and ten days after my father called off the first wedding to my mother, nine months and four days after they finally wed. Like my father, I was born in New Haven, Connecticut.



Half-American. Half-Cuban. American on some days, but Cuban on most others.


Arrival to Cuba

I arrive on the island on November 15, 2012, returning to a place I have never set foot. My first stop in Havana is Plaza de la Revolución. Steely outlines of Che Guevara’s and Camilo Cienfuegos’ facades loom. During the one childhood summer I spent in Little Havana, errant television signals brought images of Fidel speaking from the plaza, into my cousins’ living room. My relatives shouted at the screen as if Fidel could hear them. “Just ninety miles away!” they said. Forty years later in Havana, I close my eyes and feel the trade winds of my mother, who was stuck in grainy, cold Connecticut, memorialized and cried over.




By Air or By Sea

By air. A chartered flight filled with ex-pats bringing computers, bicicletas and Costco-sized portions of medicine and food staples to relatives on the island. A woman checking in a microwave and Wii tells me that she visits Cuba three times a year. I do a quick calculation. I could have been to Cuba over 150 times if Fidel had made things easier. Or was it the United States government that mucked things up?


By sea. The Mariel Boat Lift. The summer of 1980 my Cousin Roberto rented a boat with a captain and brought the rest of my relatives out of Cuba.


By air. My mother has not been on an airplane since she begged God to spare her life on a turbulent Cubana Airlines flight from Havana to New York in 1958.


By sea. My parents drove to Fort Indiantown Gap, a United States military installation, to find my mother’s godmother, La Madrina. After Cousin Roberto docked in Key West, La Madrina, who had glaucoma, was brought to The Gap for processing and sponsorship.


The history of The Gap refers to my Cuban family as aliens, and Marielitos. Founded in 1755, The Gap was a place borne of conflict between the Sussquehannock and white settlers who wanted their land. By 1980, The Gap was a temporary refugee camp for 19,000 displaced and disoriented Cubans. A Latino-inflected version of “refugee” was one of the early multisyllabic words I learned. I was a little girl walking home from school with my abuelo, who panicked when one of the mothers in the yard asked him a question. He blurted, “No espeake Eengleesh. Refoochee. Cubano!”


By air. La Madrina was released at the end of summer 1980 and flew to Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Connecticut to be with us in Hartford. By next summer her glaucoma had improved and she fled again, this time to Miami. She couldn’t stand my bipolar mother or the gray snow and ice of a foreign New England winter.


Purpose of the Trip

On the declaration form, in Spanish, it says, “Motivo de Viaje.” I am learning there is a motive for everything in Cuba.


Previous Visits to Cuba

Previous visits to the island occurred on the white capped waves of my mother’s sighs and cries of, “Hay Cuba como te estraño.


Address in Cuba

The Spanish translation for address is dirección. What is my direction in Cuba? Downtown where the laundry flutters from balconies like pennants? The City Center with its wide boulevards and the domed Capitolo Nacional rising up in the distance? La Habana Vieja, a riot of color, children begging tourists for caramelitos? 20 Calle Merced is a slim, vertical building painted pastel green. I hesitate at the heavy brown door—the same door, where my mother and grandmother devised a secret knock—so my mother could sneak into the house without stirring her drunken father. When the current occupant opens it, I’m surprised the flat is so small. I know now that my mother wallpapered her poverty with fantasy. Her gleaming marble stairs are nowhere to be found. There was no maid, either, to polish them.


Declare If You Bring or Not With You


Alive animals, products of animal or vegetable origin—No

Simples or other articles for commercial—No


Satellite communications equipments—No

Other communications equipments (Walkie-Talkie) —No


Cash in an amount exceeding 5000 USD or its equivalent in other currencies

I converted cash in an amount not exceeding 1000 USD to Cuban pesos to buy a painting notable for its three-dimensionality. I could not shake the representations of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost in atheistic Cuba.


In addition to my personal items, I bring to import to Cuba:

Que carajo! How the hell did the ex-pats squeeze through with those Target-bought televisions and blenders? I once heard that someone brought a tombstone to replace a crumbling one in the Sephardic Jewish cemetery. I bring aspirin and bandages for the tiny Jewish community, but end up giving away most of the bottles to cab drivers and hotel workers. Ah Adveel—mi mujer sufre la migraña. So many heads hurt in Cuba.


The information contained in this Declaration is accurate and I assume full responsibility and legal obligations that could result if they are false.

Mi familia Cubana son cuentistas—they are storytellers. No matter how many facts I discover about their lives in Cuba, their fabled stories remain true in my heart.