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Interview with Aida Schreibeis

Schreibeis, Aida
Carlson, Jennifer
Date of Interview: 
Overcoming obstacles; Relationships with people and places; Cultural identification
Aida Schreibeis talks about her life in Cuba and about coming to the US and learning English.
Charlotte Narrative and Conversation Collection
Collection Description: 
Jennifer Carlson interviews Charlotteans to collect stories for a class project at UNC Charlotte.
AS (Aida Schreibeis): Jennifer, how are you?
JC (Jennifer Carlson): Good, thank you. How are you?
AS: I'm fine thanks.
JC: Good. Can you tell me about, um, some memories you have from Cuba?
AS: Oh, surely. Um, I think one of my best memories were my summers. Uh, once we finished school, um, we used to go to the beach every summer for the whole entire summer and, uh, that was, uh, very special because we had friends that we met there every year and those were different from our school friends so it was, uh, a little different kind of things and of course we spent a lot of time at the beach and riding horses and doing all kinds of things, uh, watching people fish, and I used to get up like at five o'clock in the morning and watch an old, um, watch this man that was very old and he used to come over with his net to fish for sardines. And I used to sit there at the beach and watch him pull the net, pull the sardines and he usually would give me a little, uh, uh, bucket full of sardines and I would take and my mother would fry them for me. [Public Address system]
AS: So I think that uh, of childhood memories those are real special ones.
JC: What beach was it?
AS: It was called ( ). It was uh, pretty far from my hometown but it was about an hour from Havana.
JC: Did you uh, travel in a car there?
AS: Yes, I did.
JC: Did your family have a car?
AS: Yes they did.
JC: Can you tell me about before you left Cuba how was it?
AS: [Pause] I left Cuba in 19, um, 62. January of '62 and Castro took over in 1959. Um, before that you know, we had our, um, regular governments you know the people, um, that were voted in by the people, but then we had Batista which was a dictator, um, although there was during the Batista government which it lasted several years, there was no freedom of certain things like freedom of speech but, uh, you still had freedom to travel and to do things that we wanted to do and, um, um, the economy of Cuba was good at the time. So other than the fact that you couldn't talk bad against the government, things were, you know all right. There were still killings and things like that. And then Castro took over and things change, uh, immensely. Um, not only did we don't have freedom of the press, well we had no freedom. Um, everything belonged to the government and, uh, like I always say, including your soul. [Laugh] So um, things were kind of sad. Again lots of killings, bombings and, um, Cuba was just not the same, like you know, like it was before. [Pause] So-.
JC: Were you in school at that time?
AS: Uh, no. Castro took over in '59 in January. Well, yes I was. I was in my last year of high school and, uh, he took over in January and I graduated from high school, um, in June. So those are the time that I was in school during, during Castro's regime.
JC: What did you do, um, after you graduated high school when you lived in Cuba? // Did you work? //
AS: I, // no, I didn't work. // Actually I didn't do anything.
JC: [Giggles]
AS: Um, things, uh, I was, my plans were to go into Havana to the university, and my dad wouldn't allow it because by the time I finished in, in June, um, there was a lot of problems already. Um, the counter-revolution, that's what they called it, had already started. Um, as I said, you know, we're famous for when things don't go right, you burn. Ah, theaters, restaurants, uh, um, park benches, um, whatever. And uh, killings also from part of the government when people were not in agreement with what was going on so I pretty much stay at home, and um, I already knew that I was coming to this country. I knew that we were coming to this country in January, um, fourth of 1959. Because after Castro gave about three speeches from the mountains where he was in, in the eastern side of Cuba on the way to Havana, my dad um, realized that things were not right in there, that he was communist and he told my mom that he was going to get our passports ready to, to leave, to leave Cuba. So I just kind of pretty much stayed there and waited for, you know, for the time to come here, to the United States.
JC: Do you have any brothers or sisters?
AS: I do not. Just, uh, I'm an only child.
JC: I never knew that.
AS: Uh-huh.
JC: OK. Now, tell me, how is Cuba different from the United States from before Castro, or how is it similar?
AS: [Pause] Um, different I think that, uh, some of, it was a more relaxed type of, uh, atmosphere. It wasn't just as fast-paced um, you know, even at that time we would we, uh, would come to Miami or something like that and although Miami was a lot smaller than it is now it was still a faster paced life than we had in Cuba. Um, but we are so close in Cuba to the United States we're just 90 miles from Key West and, uh, Cuba was packed with American companies and American businesses and, um, the Cubans, because of the proximity, traveled, you know throughout the United States all the time. So it really was not different, um, and I shouldn't say that. It was-. [Long pause, lapse in recording]
JC: OK, Aida. Did you know English when you came, when you finally did come to the United States?
AS: Well, um, I thought I had some knowledge but really I didn't because in Cuba we had to take English in high school. Um, but I wasn't smart enough to know that I should have been serious about it. So I thought when I came here that, that I could manage but I really didn't understand anybody that would speak to me or me speaking to them. But, um, I always had a positive attitude about my learning English and, um, took it with a stride but, that it was fun. And um, I started working at a, at a company in California and I really didn't know English but I was working in the file department. And I knew a little bit and, uh, I went to, to the part of the office and this lady had an attache case and her desk and I in, in my English I said, um, "What is this?" And she said, "It's an attache case." And I picked it up and I looked at her all over the place and I was serious, I looked at her and I said, "I really don't see anything out of shape with this case." [Laugh] So of course, you know everybody laughed and carried on and like that, there were many, many instances but I always thought that you know they were laughing with me and not at me and that, that's um, that was my motto when I was, uh, trying to learn English. By the way I'm still, still learning, learning English.