Since 2003, over 50,000 people have shared life stories with family and friends through StoryCorps, a public radio oral history project. StoryCorps is one of the largest oral history projects of its kind, and millions listen to its broadcasts on public radio and the web. Each conversation is recorded and is preserved at the Library of Congress.
This month, StoryCorps launches a new initiative: StoryCorps Historias. Over the course of the next year, Latino USA will partner with StoryCorps to bring Historias to our public radio audience.
Dr. Gustavo Mestas and his family lived in Cuba during the early years of Fidel Castro’s regime. In 1963, however, they escaped and came to Florida.
Dr. Mestas’s daughter, Ileana Smith, was 10 years old when they came to the United States. She asked her father about his reasons for escaping Cuba.
“That is a very complex problem,” he said. Dr. Mestas describes the mixed feelings he had: an initial moment of happiness at Castro’s victory, and then the eventual realization that this was, in his own words, “not good for my children.”
So when a friend was leaving, Mestas and his family also got on the boat and headed for Florida. Upon coming to this country, Mestas struggled. He had to take classes at night so that he could practice as a doctor. In the daytime, he worked picking tomatoes and cleaning motels. He would walk to his night classes.
Mestas was an orthopedic surgeon in Cuba. But he decided to be a general practitioner in the United States — he didn’t want to wait for years before being able to practice.
Despite the difficulties, Mestas is happy with the way people have accepted him into their lives. “The way they accepted me and the way they treated me, I paid them with hard work, ” he said.
Mestas worked for 30 years as a doctor. And he still has a good relationship with his former patients. “Even today, after more than eight years retired, I go to the grocery and I see the ladies and they kiss me,” Mestas said. “I think they love me.”
Ileana sees her dad as a large influence in her life.
“I love you and I respect and admire you,” she said.
LISTEN NOW to their story.
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