Title: The Red Umbrella
Author: Cristina Diaz Gonzalez
This is the story of Lucía - she's 14 years old when her seaside town begins to feel the changes that a young man named Fidel Castro with a vision of a revolution have on her country. When the revolution first started, life didn't change much for Lucía - she still read the gossip magazines with her BFF Ivette - whiling their days away worrying about nail polish colors and whether a cute boy was interested in them or not - or she'd spend her afternoons lazing around the beach with her younger brother Frankie. But she starts noticing changes - for one her parents are acting tense, having private heated discussions, soon a neighbor then her father's co-worker goes missing and most of her young friends begin joining revolutionary groups. Before things get completely out of control her parents decide that she and Frankie must leave their country and live with a foster family in the U.S.
Imagine leaving everything and everyone you've known your whole life and coming to a strange country where you not only can't speak the language but have to rely on strangers to take you in, feed you, clothe you, support you. This is Lucía's story.
This story really touched my heart. My mother was Lucía's same age when she left Cuba - thanks to my grandparents' quick thinking - they decided not to wait it out to see what would happen to their precious Cuba after Castro's revolution and instead got on the first plane that would get them out of there. They were the only one's in their family to do that - meaning they left parents, siblings, cousins, etc. behind. And for many years after that they were not able to visit, communications were difficult (telephone calls were monitored or timed to a few short minutes) and mailing a letter was a joke (75% of the time it just didn't get there). So, in a way, Lucía's story is one that I definitely relate to.
Ms. Diaz Gonzalez's writing was so vivid you could almost see the vibrant colors, smell the food and tropical breeze. As happy as you feel because of her vivid descriptions of Cuban life, you also get a chill when you realize how dire Lucía and her family's situation really is. You can't trust anyone - not your friends, nor neighbors, not even family members. Her parents are left with no recourse but to send her and Frankie away.
I loved how each chapter started with a snippet from U.S. newspapers and their take on Cuba, Castro and the revolution. It really gave you a true sense of what was going on when you read the newspaper clipping and then delved into Lucía's current situation. Ms. Gonzalez-Diaz based this story on the experiences of her parents and other Cuban children who came to the U.S. in the program known as Operation Pedro Pan.
This tale is one that still affects the lives of Cubans and Cuban exiles today. Living in Miami, you still hear the stories and there are still many who have not been able to reunite with the families they left behind (my family included). This is a tribute to the courage these children showed and to those parents that were able to let go of them in a time of great uncertainty and upheaval.
I think this is a part of Cuban American history that is not covered enough - especially not in YA. A very good read for young and old alike. I can't recommend this enough.