THE HISTORY OF PAPI'S
It was always Reynaldo "Rey" Regalado's dream to own a business and together with his father, Rey Sr., he yearned for a better life abroad in the United States. The two often spoke of presenting the delectable culinary tastes of East Cuba to the Americans. Specifically, they wanted to introduce Rey Sr.'s family recipe for pork marinade to the meat of the traditional Cuban sandwich. How, they wondered, could the Americans resist? Despite the constant barrage of the Cuban Government's Anti-American rhetoric, the "Land of Opportunity" held steadfast in their dreams.
The dream blossomed when the Soviet Union began its inevitable demise during the late 1980s. Cuba, long dependent on trade and subsidies from the Soviet Union and Communist bloc countries, began to struggle economically. By 1990, food rationing, already in effect since the 1960s, was tightened, as well as a strict limitation on access to certain goods and services. Fidel Castro declared a "special period in time of peace," during which Cubans were forced to live as if the country were at war.
In addition to rationing, the Castro regime maintained its ever-present strategy to thwart the US-led embargo: all electronics, some foods, quality clothing, and other essential items, must be purchased with United States dollars. To this date, most Cubans live in extreme poverty without the assistance of remittances from abroad - namely US dollars sent from relatives living in America. Rey knew that he had to act quickly to make a better life for himself so that he could, in turn, help his parents and younger siblings live better.
It was in early 1990 that Rey began his struggle for freedom. Willing to risk his life to help his family, he trained every day for the 8 km (approx. 5 miles) swim to the safety of the US Marine base at Guantanamo Bay. After months of training, however, a fisherman approached Rey with a life-changing proposition. The fisherman, too, wished to flee the country and needed a way to transport his family to the dock. Since Rey had a relative with access to a car, and the fisherman had access to a boat, a deal was made. Rey quickly included in the barter an agreement to also bring along his childhood friend. With the deal set, it was decided that on an undisclosed date, the fisherman would sail Rey, his friend, and eleven more refugees to freedom.
The fateful day came with twelve hours' notice - escape would be at 8:00 PM on November 18, 1990. Outfitted only with his dreams, the clothes on his back, and his father's recipe for pork marinade, Rey began his journey. Under the cover of darkness, he, his friend and the fisherman's family took their final outing to the beaches of Santiago de Cuba. After a heart-stopping mechanical problem, they embarked on a four-hour journey to freedom in the belly of a stolen thirty-five-foot fishing boat that was owned by the Cuban Government. For the protection of family and friends, no goodbyes had been said. Nine years would pass before Rey could return to visit his family.
At last, after twelve years of struggle and sacrifice, through Papi's (pronounced "poppies"), Rey is realizing the dream that he shared with his father. He became a United States citizen on September 26, 2002, and is bringing a taste of Cuba to the Americans. Unfortunately, Rey's father will not be able to enjoy his son's good fortune. Sadly, Rey, Sr. passed away on December 9, 2002, after a long struggle with cancer. Papi's, Spanish for "Daddy's", is named for and dedicated to the memory of Rey, Sr. -- the inspiration for the dream.
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