Valley View native fulfills Cuban father’s final wish
By Rebecca Zemencik, Managing Editor • firstname.lastname@example.org
VALLEY VIEW – Last month a Valley View native and her daughter had the opportunity to do something that most people will never do. They traveled to Cuba and visited family members that they never had the opportunity to meet before. Not only was it a chance to see family, but it was also a chance to fulfill a promise that Lindsay Olano made to her father Marcelo, who came here as a Cuban refugee in 1980.
When Marcelo Olano became ill with cancer in January 2015, he made it very clear to his daughter, Lindsay that he wanted to be cremated and his ashes thrown in the sea. Lindsay told her dad that she would make sure part of him returned to Cuba.
On June 14 Lindsay and her daughter Iliana, fulfilled the promise she made to her dad.
Marcelo was born Tuesday, Jan. 16, 1945, in Havana Cuba, a son of the late Pedro Olano and the late Estella Fundora Olano.
In 1980, Fidel Castro opened the passage way to the United States known as the Mariel Boatlift for any Cubans wanting to leave.
“At the age of 35, Marcelo jumped at the opportunity for a better life and always thanked and worshiped President Jimmy Carter for giving him the opportunity for a better life,” recalls Marcelo’s wife Linda Klouser Olano. “When he came here he left behind a five-year old daughter but his mother insisted he go to the United States for a better life.”
Of The 125,000 Cubans that came here and landed in Miami most settled in Miami with relatives and the rest were sent to places such as Fort Chaffee, Arkansas; Fort Indiantown Gap, and Fort McCoy, Wisconsin.
Marcelo was brought to Indiantown Gap and it was there where he met who would be his future wife, Linda. Linda was the head cook in one of the mess halls that cooked meals for the Cuban refugees. Linda also worked in the processing department helping to find a sponsor for the refugees.
“One day Marcelo came to processing with a translator in hopes of finding a sponsor,” said Linda. “I told him I would see what I could do. I went to my pastor and he agreed to sign the paperwork for Marcelo’s release.”
Marcelo lived in Lebanon for a year, going to school to learn the English language. Upon his graduation, he moved to Valley View and immediately began doing concrete work with a local man.
“Marcelo was a very hard worker and never turned down a job,” said Linda. “Things weren’t easy when Marcelo first came to Valley View, beings he was a man of color. He had to endure quite a bit of nasty words but he would more or less let it go over his head and would just say hello and go on his merry way.”
Linda and Marcelo eventually married and had two children, Justin ‘Juice’ Olano, Valley View and Lindsay, who now resides in Orlando, Florida.
When President Obama made it possible this year for Americans to travel to Cuba, Lindsay began looking into what she had to do to go.
“I had to apply for a visa and get passports for my daughter and I,” said Lindsay. “My visit also had to fall under one of the 12 categories of the authorized reasons for traveling to Cuba. Our reason was to visit family. My father has two brothers, nieces, nephews, a daughter and a grandson there, unfortunately I didn’t get to see my sister, but I did get to finally meet most everyone else.”
Lindsay said her emotions were crazy leading up to the trip. She was excited and nervous all in one.
“I was happy to meet the Olano side of my family in person instead of only through phone conversations, emails and pictures after 33 years,” said Lindsay. “I was also nervous and sad because my dad didn’t live to see this opportunity and I was going to lay his ashes to rest.”
When Iliana and Lindsay arrived at the Havana airport they were greeted with a big sign that said “welcome to Havanna Lindsay and Iliana”. This was the first time in her life that she was meeting her father’s niece and his brother Roberto.
“The meeting was very emotional because my father’s brother looks so much like my dad and he was wearing one of my dad’s shirts that I had sent him,” said Lindsay. “Iliana just looked at him and said, ‘mommy that is PopPop’s twin’. The trip also brought peace, knowing that I fulfilled my father’s wishes and part of him was back home in Cuba.”
According to Lindsay, Cuba is a very beautiful country.
“One thing I definitely learned is to appreciate some of the more simple things in life such as toilet tissue and water and even things as simple as a Tee-towel,” said Lindsay.
Traveling around Cuba is mostly done by walking everywhere or taking the bus. She related that the buses are so packed the doors can barely close.
“To drive in Cuba, you better have your life insurance paid up,” chuckles Lindsay. “These people drive so crazy. There are very few signs and pedestrians do not have the right of way. Vehicles are very old. There are many beautiful classic cars in Cuba which Iliana and I got to cruise in. There are some modern cars but they are used as rental cars or taxes.”
She said the architecture of the buildings is beautiful but due to no funds for the upkeep many of the buildings are becoming old. Along with toilet tissue and water, food is also very scarce in Cuba. She said the fruit is not very nice and doesn’t look edible. The most fresh vegetables that could be found were either cabbage or green beans.
ATM cards or credit cards issued by a US bank are not accepted in Cuba. Lindsay had to change her US dollars to euros which is a better exchange rate. She said US dollars are taxed way too much. The Internet is not readily available. She said it is possible to find hotspots throughout the city, but you have to purchase an internet card for two cucs which is equal to $2.09 for one hour.
The beaches in Cuba are beautiful. The water is very clear and a beautiful blue color. While there, she and her daughter also visited several churches and found their architecture to be absolutely amazing. The air is very polluted. The old cars give off lots of exhaust polluting the air making it difficult to breathe. There is not a lot to do for kids….but the kids make the best of things. They will find something to make a round object and use it as a ball and use an old stick and get a game of baseball going.
“I took bats and balls and large bouncing balls along which Iliana used and taught the younger Cubano kids and family members how to play basketball,” said Lindsay, who also noted that the week after she and Iliana returned home, Shaquille O’Neal traveled to Cuba and taught kids how to play basketball. “This trip was definitely an eye opening experience. “We jump in our cars to sometimes go a block or two up the road… these people walk. We bathe in bath tubs or showers …. most of these people use a galvanized tub. We get hot, we turn on our air conditioner…. these people use a paper fan and fan themselves. There are just so many things we here in the US take for granted compared to every day living in Cuba. But these people never never complain. The things we find as inconvenient is just everyday living for the Cuban people.”
Lindsay is planning to travel to Cuba again next January. Justin and his son, Jaelin are also hoping to plan a trip to Cuba in the near future.
“I know Marcelo was smiling when Lindsay and Iliana went to Cuba,” said Linda. “Justin and his son, Jaelin are hoping to plan a trip to Cuba too. “Marcelo’s heart will be smiling knowing his children and grandchildren finally have the opportunity to meet their Cuban relatives… It was way too many years in the making.”