Ismael and Josepha Sariol, married for more than 60 years, escaped Fidel Castro’s Cuba in 1994 on a ramshackle boat – and a month later walked to freedom. Their hush-hush plan to escape communism began with a quiet hope they might take immediate family past naval patrols aboard the familiar vessel he used to fish local harbors. It culminated with 60 persons climbing aboard in desperation as the exodus began. No charts, poor weather and overcrowded, the Sariols and entourage soon found themselves lost at sea till making landfall near Isla Mujeres.
Faced with an imminent repatriation to Cuba, a small group kept at it and moved through Mexico – from its easternmost tip, to Mexico City and north to the border. Standing on the banks of the Rio Grande weeks later, the couple, three sons and two grandchildren reached freedom as they stepped onto United States soil.
It wasn’t the Sariol’s last experience with our fertile soil. The fisherman who earned a living from the sea in Cuba then found work in Florida’s fields and packinghouses. Ismael picked green beans, then oranges. His wife Josepha worked the line in local packinghouses till late at night grading fruit and vegetables bound for brightly lit supermarkets many miles away. That paid the $280 rent on a place to call home – an efficiency apartment in Clewiston. Between them, they made ends meet.
In 2008, Ismael became a U.S. Citizen. Retirement followed; allergic reactions attributable to his exposure to essential oils and chemicals in citrus made continued work in the fields impossible. In 2010, Ismael and Josepha watched Pollywog Creek Commons rise out of the ground month-after-month. “Someone told me it was for farm workers, retired workers, too,” as Josepha begins a hopeful story. “I’d go by and tell my husband, that one there, that’s going to be our apartment. I said I have my heart set on this one.” For the Sariols their ‘American’ dream of having a home was fulfilled in retirement – at an affordable rent costing less than their first Florida apartment 20 years ago.