National News

Living very different lives, Cuban man, woman remember 'the good times'

Posted October 14, 2015 5:20 p.m. EDT
Updated October 22, 2015 12:10 p.m. EDT

— In the early 1960s, thousands of citizens fled Cuba seeking a life outside the control of communism.

Today, more than 2 million Cubans live in the United States. About 11 million remain on the island, but their lives are often drastically different.

In Morrisville, Alfonso Sama owns Carmen’s Cuba Café. He said the food he serves often reminds him of his childhood – in the kitchen, cooking with his mother.

“I thank God for everything,” Sama said. “I have beautiful kids. I have grandsons already. I cannot ask for more, really. I’m not ready to retire.”

Getting to North Carolina was not easy for Sama, who was born in Havana.

“It was fine until Fidel Castro came,” he said.

Sama said he spoke out against the government and ended up in jail.

“I didn’t like the communists, you know,” he said. “It was very restricted. They wanted you to do what they wanted you to do.”

Sama decided to leave Cuba on a raft and start a new life in the U.S. – never forgetting where he came from.

Sama’s son, Ali, said he wants to visit Cuba with his father.

“The stories my dad would tell me growing up – just seeing his eyes light up about the beaches and the mountains – it just excites me to want to see that,” Ali Sama said.

Alfonso Sama has not been back to Cuba in 53 years.

“I used to work at H. Upman,” he said. “In those days, H. Upman would be the best cigars.”

H. Upman is now a school named after a leader of the Cuban revolution – the cigar factory has moved to another building. Two of the workers there did not remember Sama, but they said a lot has changed.

Based on a map Sama drew, a WRAL News crew was able to find his childhood home and a woman who remembers Sama from years ago.

WRAL News was able to connect the woman, Caridad Martinez, and Sama via cell phone. It was the first time the two had spoken in more than 50 years.

“He has to come back to visit,” Martinez said.

Martinez currently lives a very different life. She became a chemist, married and lived in Canada briefly before returning to Cuba to care for her grandfather.

When she told her father she wanted to move to the U.S. like others in her family, he wondered what would happen to him.

“He asked me, ‘Who will stay with me? Who will cook for me? Bathe me?’ I had to stay. Someone had to make the sacrifice,” Martinez said.

Martinez said she has since lost touch with family members in the U.S. At 69 years old, she lives alone in the home where she was born, not far from Sama’s childhood home.

During the toughest times in Cuba, Martinez said she found herself turning to faith.

“I strongly believe in God,” she said.

Martinez said that, if she ever needs strength, she looks for the cross at the top of the Catholic church that can be seen from her home – the same church in Sama’s old photos.

Pictures of what they both call “the good times.”