Elena Muller Garcia
Audio Recording of Interview
At the age of thirteen, Mrs. Garcia was sent by her parents who were fearful of the new Communist regime in Cuba to the United States by herself on a ferry to attend an Ursuline boarding school in Texas. She recounts the role that religion and her religious identity played in her resettlement and in her personal and professional life thereafter, attending Catholic schools and working for Catholic charities.
Other interviews of this person can be found below:
Narrator: Elena Garcia
Date: June 9, 2021
Location: West Palm Beach, Florida (Mrs. Garcia); Washington, DC (Interviewer)
Summary: At the age of thirteen, Mrs. Garcia was sent by her parents who were fearful of the new Communist regime in Cuba to the United States by herself on a ferry to attend an Ursuline boarding school in Texas. She recounts the role that religion and her religious identity played in her resettlement and in her personal and professional life thereafter, attending Catholic schools and working for Catholic charities.
Topics: Childhood, Complications with Faith, Cultural adjustment, Education, Employment, Faith, Family, Fear, Historical Context, Immigration process (Refugee), Language, Places of worship, Politics, Privilege, Religion, Self-consciousness, Self-esteem, Self-image
Section 1: 00:43 - 13:24
Childhood - Mrs. Garcia explains that during her childhood (she was born in 1947), Cubans who shied away from politics lived “peaceful” and “happy” lives. She was raised as a Catholic and she recalls her staunch father as being one of the biggest influences on her religious identity.
Politics - When the communist regime commenced in Cuba, Mrs. Garcia and her third older brother, Alex, were almost immediately sent individually to the States; they did not arrive at the same locations.
Religion - Mrs. Garcia recalls that in childhood, religion was her “inspiration.” Her brother, Javier, gave her her first Catechism lessons and often explained God to her as the Creator of everything they saw in the world.
Privilege - One of Mrs. Garcia’s uncles was a bishop; she discloses different moments of her childhood where she unsolicitedly and sometimes, according to her, undeservedly, enjoyed the privileges of being the bishop’s niece.
Self-consciousness - In Cuba, Mrs. Garcia was acutely aware of her relationship to the bishop and the expectations that came with it so she ascertained that she was on her behavior; however, when she arrived in the United States, although she enjoyed other benefits because of her uncle’s status, she turned her focus on properly representing Cuba. And for her that meant, maintaining excellent performance in school.
Section 2: 13:24 - 27:35
Self-esteem - In school, when Mrs. Garcia was praised for her performance, she never believed that she had earned it all by herself; she always thought that it was her bishop uncle’s influence. Then, she decided to use her privilege to serve others.
Self-image - Mrs. Garcia vividly recalls the picture and accompanying religious message she saw in a poster that sparked her journey to building her self-esteem.
Immigration Process(Refugee) - Through Operation Peter Pan, Mrs. Garcia made her journey to the United States on a ferry; her mode of transportation was unusual since most other children went by plane. She, her parents and other Cubans who were making the trip believed that their migration would only be a temporary solution to the instability that Cuba was experiencing following the Bay of Pigs invasion.
Section 3: 27:35 - 39:00
Immigration Process - Shortly after she arrived in Florida, Mrs. Garcia became fully conscious of the fact that she did not have her parents with her and to her, this moment marked the end of her childhood. Before leaving for Dallas, Texas, Mrs. Garcia temporarily lived with her aunt and a friend who had also escaped Cuba with her family; she remembers both households being overcrowded.
Education - Mrs. Garcia was awarded a scholarship to attend an Ursuline boarding school in Texas, which she accepted; she loved it there because it offered her continuity, including religiously as it was Catholic.
Immigration Process - During her high school career, Mrs. Garcia lived with an American family. Although she had only pleasant experiences throughout, she still missed home.
Section 4: 39:00 - 50:56
Fear - Mrs. Garcia had such a terrible fear of being forced to stay in Cuba upon a return that it literally became a nightmare that spanned decades.
Complications with Faith - Although Mrs. Garcia trusts her conviction as a Catholic, she admits that it has lately been difficult to be hopeful as the Catholic church faces many controversies.
Family - Mrs. Garcia considers the letters in which she corresponded with her parents while she was in the US and they in Cuba as her most precious possessions, following her family.
Section 5: 50:56 - 1:00:11
Politics - At one point, Mrs. Garcia’s grandmother and mother disputed over politics and as a result, physically separated (they had been living together). However, fortunately, they reconciled.
Language - As a native Spanish speaker and refugee from Cuba in the United States, Mrs. Garcia struggled with insecurities about her English speaking abilities while she was student in high school.
Section 6: 1:00:11 - 1:10:16
Education - Mrs. Garcia only attended Catholic educational institutions. She received her masters in religious studies from Barry University in Miami.
Employment - Besides the summer jobs she held while she was a college student, all the other jobs Mrs. Garcia has had have been at Catholic institutions. For instance, she worked for Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities in different capacities.
Education - Mrs. Garcia had intended to major in theology in college, but ultimately received her Bachelor’s degree in English Literature because her second alma mater, Barry University, did not offer a theology major. She says she had been interested in religion since she was a young student.
Religion - For one Christmas, she requested her parents to gift her with a missal that had both Spanish and Latin translations so that she could follow along in the Latin masses.
Section 7: 1:10:16 - 1:20:01
Family - Mrs. Garcia believes that she inherited her compassionate nature from her father. Similarly, at her bishop uncle’s school for working adults in Cuba, she witnessed the value of and learned the importance of empowering those in need with not only basic needs but also with education.
Section 8: 1:20:01 - 1:34: 43
Employment - Mrs. Garcia recalls a one-time demonstration she held for immigrants in West Palm beach while she worked for Catholic Charities as one of the most gratifying experiences she had in that role. Though, she never has worked directly with immigrants or refugees.
Immigration Process ( Refugee) - After noticing a Catholic Relief Services (CRS) case number in her Pedro Pan documents, Mrs. Garcia became curious about the involvement of the CRS in her immigration to the United States. Eventually, she found that the CRS’ final resettlement project in the US was with Cuban refugees - herself being one.
Section 9: 1:34:43 - 1:51:38
Politics - Operation Pedro Pan was a secret during its operation; even the Pedro Pans themselves had not a clue. But there were exceptions: Mrs. Garcia, for example, learned about it from her mother.
Religion - Mrs. Garcia reveals that she was inadvertently “strictly Catholic” during her early years of resettlement in the US. However, in college, she met people from other religious backgrounds.
Religion - Mrs. Garcia’s first alma mater was Webster college; one of the reasons she cut short her studies there was because the college was converting to secular.
Complications with Faith - Mrs. Garcia recalls first having doubts about her faith in her senior year of high school. Also, the Death of God movement during the sixties deepened her skepticism.
Revival of faith - Mrs. Garcia credits Raymond Brown’s citation of the Catholic Church in his book about the Gospel of John for the salvation of her faith.
Future - Mrs. Garcia has considered going back to Cuba, but some of the fears that she has, including having limited freedom of speech, still prevent her from making the journey. However, she says that if the purpose was service, she’d go.