By ANDREA SLIVKA
When Cuban native Lisset Diez was 13, her father came to the United
States after years of imprisonment and torture as a political prisoner
of Fidel Castro.
"I didn't see him for 23 years, and I actually never thought we would
see each other again before he passed away. But it happened. I'm
extremely happy," Diez told Fostoria High School students Thursday.
The United States negotiated her father's freedom in 1987, and Manuel
Diez became a U.S. citizen in 2007. After working for years to save
enough money to bring his daughter to the U.S., he recently secured her
emigration to the U.S. through a family reunification program.
She arrived in the U.S. with her husband and two children less than
three weeks ago and now resides with him in Findlay, where he built a
house so her family could live with him.
"I felt joy — immense joy that the voice on the phone was now the person
I was holding and hugging," Lisset said afterward of being reunited with
Manuel said the physical pain from torture didn't compare to the feeling
of separation from his daughter.
"I live for her, and my whole life is surrounding her, and now I'm not
alone anymore," he said. His wife died three years ago, and he has no
Speaking through a translator, the family answered students' questions
ranging from what it's like for them to come to the U.S. to the
children's future goals.
After being accustomed to restrictions on food, work and speech under
the communist government, the family members said they are adjusting to
a life of abundance and opportunity in the U.S.
"It's like being born again," one family member commented.
Lisset's husband, Dusvani Martinez, said part of him is sad to leave
some family behind in Cuba, but he feels very fortunate to be here and
is eager to start his new life.
Students were surprised to hear someone could be imprisoned for 10 to 15
years for having more than the rationed amount of meat.
Students also learned many people in Cuba don't have the option to
choose what type of work to do, but rather are assigned by the government.
Manuel spoke about the restrictions on freedom of speech and told
students, "I feel saddened when I see some of you ... don't realize how
lucky we are to be in this country."
Manuel didn't want to answer questions from students or the media about
why he was arrested in Cuba or how he was treated in prison. Spanish
teacher Esther Garcia-Tio had warned students beforehand that he may not
speak about it because his 11- and six-year-old grandchildren there did
not yet know the full story.
However, Manuel previously spoke to FHS students and spoke more openly
then, Garcia-Tio said afterward.
"He endured a lot of torture and hunger," she said. "He was put in
isolation. They were trying to break his spirit, you know, but they were
unable to do that."
At one time, Castro stood before him, and he was told to kneel. When he
refused, they broke his legs, she said.
Lisset said after the assembly it was very unfair how her father was
treated because he hadn't committed any crimes.
"He had just spoken up against the leader, and he didn't deserve the
abuse he got," she said.
Manuel said when he was in Cuba, there was repression and a lack of
food. "I felt there was no future."
"The only thing you can say about (Fidel) in Cuba is that he is good.
Otherwise you will be arrested," Manuel told students.
When asked what their plans are now that they are in the U.S., the
family said they want to learn English and find jobs.
"She just wants to work and work really diligently so she can have
things for her children that she was not able to have as a child," the
family's translator said as Lisset spoke.
Afterward, Junior Chris Jackson said he learned not to take things for
"They get in trouble for saying things we have the right to say in
America. It's just a lot different," he said.
Garcia-Tio said she hopes the program will motivate students to see the
opportunities they have here in the U.S. and to take advantage of them.
"The sky's the limit," she said. "We set our own limitations, not a
government setting them."
Mayor John Davoli presented the key to the city to Manuel before the
family answered questions from the students.
He said afterward that while Americans face problems economically on a
local, state and national level, listening to the family speak puts
everything in perspective.
"I think (the students) will appreciate more of what they have," he said.
Chandra Niklewski contributed to this report.