Extraordinary, Ordinary Women
Dalina Gonzalez Vasserstein
Click on pictures to enlarge
I would like to introduce you to my new neighbor, Dalina, who moved in with her son Ilde at the beginning of the Covid-19 Pandemic's ‘social distancing’ and ‘shelter-in-place’ mandates in the spring of 2020. That means she hasn’t been able to get to know many people in Taylor yet or see much of the community due to the shut-downs.
Dalina is an extraordinary woman, though, with an amazing past. As a teenager, she immigrated by herself to the United States from Cuba three years after Fidel Castro took over the country. His revolution caused the transfer of privately owned businesses, homes, and land to government owned and controlled properties, including American lands and businesses. The Cuban government took over all the banks, including First National City Bank of New York in Santiago de Cuba, the one her father worked for from 1924 until it was nationalized in 1959. He retained a job working for Banco Nacional, which was in charge of all of the confiscated banks. He voluntarily retired in October 1962.
Dalina de la Concepcion Gonzalez Espinal was born and raised in Santiago de Cuba, the capital of the Oriente Province. Dalina was her parents' only child, but she had a large extended family that remained close throughout their lives. Dalina is writing her memoirs for her children and descendants, and in them she describes the houses they lived in Cuba, which included beautiful tiled floors, courtyards within the homes and ‘traspatios’, which were small backyards where they could grow fruit trees and plants and raise a few chickens if the location permitted.
Dalina attended a Catholic school until her second year in high school, and in Cuba at that time, high school consisted of five years of study. After her parents built a new house in 1955, she transferred to Instituto Santiago, Santiago de Cuba’s public high school, which was within walking distance of their new home. Math was Dalina’s favorite subject, and she planned to attend the University of Havana to study architecture following high school.
Every year, the “Day of the Catholic Student” was held on March 7, which meant all Catholic students attended a beautiful mass at the Cathedral in the center of the city. Dalina had a good friend named Jodi whose father was from Poland and believed in communism, so they avoided talking about politics or Castro’s regime. Before the Catholic student mass, though, Jodi warned her to not attend it, so she must have heard that something was up. Dalina told her she always went to this mass and would also go that year.
The next day, though, the Instituto would not allow any student that attended mass to enter the school, so that ended Dalina’s high school in her fourth year. Punishing those practicing their religion was yet another consequence of Castro’s communist government.
Dalina took private lessons to earn her certificate as an architectural draftsman, which paid off later when she earned money at home drawing architectural plot plans for subdivisions when she lived in Puerto Rico. She also took typing and stenography, which prepared her for various jobs in the United States later, too. But in Cuba, she could not attend college and pursue a career without her high school degree, and that wouldn’t happen unless she lied about her religious beliefs and became a member of the new regime. She knew then that she would have to leave Cuba if she wanted to do more with her life.
At age sixteen, Dalina had a boyfriend, Ildefonso Quintero, who was six years older than she. He was already planning to leave Cuba, and he talked with her parents about letting them marry so Dalina would have someone established and waiting for her in the U.S. Dalina married Ildefonso at the tender age of seventeen, and he left for the U.S. soon afterwards. Five months later she packed a very sparse suitcase (3 pair of underwear, 2 changes of clothes, 1 pair of stockings or socks, and 1 pair of shoes), due to strict instructions by the communist government, and endured humiliating searches and treatment at the airport in what she described as a “fish tank” before she was allowed to board the plane heading to the United States. By this time Ildefonso had moved to Las Vegas for work, so Dalina arrived in Miami completely alone.
Dalina's last memory of Cuba was saying goodbye to her parents at Havana airport, wondering if she would ever see them again. Her parents also feared they were seeing their only daughter for the last time, but they wanted a better future for her. Several years later, though, Dalina’s parents were able to leave Cuba, but their decision meant they had to leave everything they owned to the government.
In the U.S., Dalina arrived with the attitude that she would do whatever it took to support herself. Her parents had taught her to be the best at whatever she did, and she followed that advice. She and her husband had four sons, and her family lineage continues with ten grandchildren. After her first marriage ended several decades ago, Dalina met and married the love of her life, Eddie Vasserstein, who gave her a new last name. They enjoyed a beautiful life together until he passed away recently, which prompted her move to Taylor.
As a young woman, Dalina left everything and most everyone she knew and loved to come to a strange country where she had to learn to adapt to a new culture and language. She also learned that she was extremely capable of doing any job well that she attempted. Dalina learned to bloom where she was planted, whether it was Las Vegas, Puerto Rico, Houston, or Miami. And she will do well in her new community.
Welcome, my friend. Taylor is fortunate to have you.
Donna Van Cleve
From Dalina G. Vasserstein's Memoirs
Dalina and her youngest son Ilde
Dalina as a young girl and teen in Cuba
Cuba had only one weather season, but Cubans changed fashion with the seasons anyway, including dark shoes & fabrics for fall & winter, & light shoes & fabrics for spring & summer
Dalina's family home in Cuba that her parents had to hand over to the government when they left the country for the U.S.
Dalina & her parents at the Havana airport when she was leaving for the U.S.
You can see the anguish on her parents' faces.
Dalina's first picture after arriving in Las Vegas
Dalina and her parents in Miami in 1984
Dalina & her 4 young sons in 1979
Dalina & Eddie's wedding in 2002
Dalina & her sons today