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U.S.-Trained Doctor and His Wife Chose Not to Go Back

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dr. Jose and Nora Cueto unwittingly beat the exodus from Cuba by nearly a decade. Jose received a scholarship (“we were not a wealthy family, never owned our own home”) from the University of Havana for a year’s travel. He took advantage of it first by going to Niagara Falls on his honeymoon in 1952.

The couple intended to return to Cuba, but Jose spent two years completing his surgery internship in Detroit, and Nora stayed with him.

The last time they visited Cuba was in the winter of 1958, when they celebrated Christmas with their families. Jose was offered a job as director of a hospital there, but he didn’t like the sound of the fighting in the hills. He decided the United States was safer.

“There was a five-year wait to become a citizen, and citizenship is required to practice medicine,” the Santa Ana doctor said. He remembers confronting signs that read “graduates of Latin American universities need not apply” when searching for a job.

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He was in the U.S. Navy when the Batista regime fell, and on New Year’s Day, 1959, colleagues congratulated him for the coup that brought Fidel Castro to power. He remembers that day as the one when he learned how to pronounce the word chaos in English. His response was, “Now there will be chaos!”

Dr. Cueto says 80% of his patients are Cubans. Despite his 15-hour workdays, he reads the newspaper daily and writes letters to the editors. He is very concerned with the way Cuba is portrayed.

News reports, he said, imply a vast improvement under Castro by noting the large number of Cuban physicians and engineers sent to Communist nations such as Nicaragua. But these physicians receive their degrees after only two years of education rather than the six to 10 demanded in Western nations and in pre-revolutionary Cuba, he added.

Jose and Nora served as sponsors to bring people out of Cuba--relatives, children of friends. His brother, Juan, emigrated via Spain and now works as an administrator in Jose’s office.

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The Cuetos’ five children were born here--all in different states. Their two daughters--Nora and Ana Maria--married Americans. Two of their three sons--Jose and Juan Antonio--married Mexicans. Their other son, Victor, will marry his Mexican fiancee next month.

Unlike the majority of Cuban exiles, the Cueto family left nothing behind. “The only thing my family lost was fear and the demand to talk like a hypocrite!” Jose said.


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