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Mother Who Stayed Behind May Rejoin Children After 21 Years

TIMES STAFF WRITER

“There are very few mothers who would send their children (away) without knowing whether they’d ever see them again,” Mariano Sanchez said of his exodus to the United States from Cuba. “But I’m very grateful to my mother. For me it was one heck of an experience.”

Mariano, then 9, and his brother, Alejandro, then 11, left Cuba in April, 1969. They were sent to Madrid, Spain, with other children from their native Guantanamo. But once the plane landed the children split up. Mariano and Alejandro lived at the Casa de Campo on the outskirts of Madrid for seven months.

Since the boys’ aunt, Rosa Hurtado, lived in Los Angeles, they were sent to live with her.

The boys’ father, Fructuoso Sanchez, escaped through Guantanamo with a cousin and two friends in 1971. “Dad had been a coffee grower but spent 5 1/2 years in jail because he was accused of being a CIA agent,” Mariano said. His father would later joke that the only seah that he knew--pronouncing the acronym as if it were a word--was Sears.

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Mariano, Alejandro and their father moved to an apartment building in Santa Ana that housed about 25 other Cuban families. Conversations and friendships could always be conducted in Spanish.

In 1978, Fructuoso Sanchez opened a Chevron gas station, which he ran until it shut down 10 years later. For a time, the two sons worked with their father. Now Fructuoso Sanchez runs a Union 76 station in Westminster with Alejandro. “You know, it’s a family kind of operation,” Mariano said.

Mariano learned the printing trade by working for three years for Lee M. Beard, owner of Beard Printing Co., who ran his shop out of his house across from the Sanchez home. After Beard died and the shop changed hands a few times, Mariano bought it 10 years ago.

To mark the degree of his assimilation, he says, “I’ve had a few customers who couldn’t tell where I was from.”

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But there is no camouflaging his nationality when he wears his T-shirt that bears the message: “Cuba Si, Fidel No!”

Mariano, who is divorced, now lives in Santa Ana, as does Fructuoso. Alejandro is a divorced father of two children, Alex Jr. and Elkis, and lives in San Clemente. Mariano and Alejandro’s parents divorced in Cuba and she stayed there. After the boys left Guantanamo, Mariano didn’t see his mother for 16 years, until he returned in 1985.

Visits to Cuba are restricted by the U.S. embargo that limits travel to people going on family visits, official government business, news-gathering assignments, for educational research or as guests of a Cuban institution. Efforts are under way to have Teresa Losada come to live permanently in the United States. A letter of invitation has been sent through the State Department and is being reviewed at the Cuban Interests Section.

Mariano is hopeful that the request will be processed in two weeks in Cuba, and then it should take another eight weeks before she is able to leave, he said. Mariano said he recently talked to her and she expects to arrive in the fall.

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“Just talking about my mother gives me the goose bumps,” he said. “It’ll be some reunion!”


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