The Miguel Marquez Story
A true story of a friendship made and lost
Written 2010 and rewritten 02/2016 unedited
I first met Miguel Marques in 1968 about a week after he escaped from Cuba.
What had made Miguel so very interesting, was that I thought he was extremely intelligent for a guy, just having come from an island off the north coast of Cuba.
When I asked him, Miguel told me that he had very little formal education, so I knew that he didn’t have the kind of intelligence that comes from schooling. He had the innate intelligence that he was born with.
The island Miguel came from was called Cayo Coco, and because he came from such an isolated place, Miguel was never exposed to what we would consider modern society until he was 38 years old. That’s when he escaped from Cuba, and I met him.
I was very happy to be become Miguel’s friend, I was amazed at his Cuban hillbilly wisdom and his humor.
Once I met Miguel I decided to make it my mission to assist him, I wanted to fast forward him into the American way of life, I thought Miguel could handle it well and I thought it was going to be great fun doing it, and I was right.
It turned out that my reward for doing it, was being accepted into Miguel’s extended family as his special American Friend, and because of that, I was able to learn all about him, his life and his Cuban culture.
Not only that, but I also learned his language and his humor, as well as enjoying the many, many parties we had together with Miguel being the master at cooking whole pigs, and he taught me to do it Cuban Style, with salt, “Moho” and sour oranges.
Miguel was my good friend for over 40 years, but unfortunately in the end, as he prospered and he became too successful, and it seemed to go to his head.
Miguel eventually lost my friendship, as he became swallowed up with his success.
Regardless, of what happened, I was fortunate to have had Miguel and his family as my friends for those many years, and I feel obligated to tell his story and my story with him, as I don’t think anyone else will remember Miguel as I did.
In early 1964, I had bought into a company called Automotive Parts Industries, otherwise known as “API”. It was a business that was involved in the rebuilding of automotive parts like carburetors, water pumps, fuel pumps, brake shoes and starters and generators etc.
My own particular specialty besides from sales, was the rebuilding of starters and generators, although I was always able to pitch in and rebuild everything else when the need arose.
I was fortunate to have learned the starter, generator rebuilding business early on, I did it while I was working for Milford Auto Wrecking in Milford Connecticut. So when I moved to Florida, the getting involved with rebuilding of automotive parts just became a natural thing for me to do.
Our company API was located in Hialeah, and it had originally been started by a fellow named Dave Chait, who came from Passaic New Jersey. Dave had come to Miami in the late 1950’s and opened up an auto parts store in Hialeah, then seeing the need for a source of rebuilt parts, he sold his company and went into the parts rebuilding business. Dave did it even though he knew very little about rebuilding, he had started API, around 1961.
In 1963, I had come to Florida at the request of my friend Lou Gladstein. Lou had leased an auto wrecking business, and he had employed a manager. The manager had just about bankrupted the company, and Lou had hoped that I could rectify the situation.
So I came to Florida, and after several months, I advised Lou how bad things really were and he decided to close the place down, and that’s when my wife and I made the decision to stay in Florida.
I started earning a living in Florida by buying and then selling used auto parts, and selling to rebuilders. API became one of my best customers, so by the end of 1963, I bought a small part of the company, and then I bought some additional company stock that was in the hands of some loan sharks, they were guys that Dave, had gotten involved with early on, after that I owned 25% of the company.
It was in 1968, when one of my Cuban friends came by to see me. He wanted to know if I had any job openings for a relative of his.
My friends name was Totico’s Eschevarria, his family had once been wealthy land owners in Cuba. All their property had been confiscated by Fidel Castro and Totico had escaped to Miami, just after Fidel took over sometime around 1958.
Totico told me that he had a cousin who recently had escaped from Cuba, and had arrived in Miami about 2 weeks earlier, he said that his cousin wanted to learn how to do something in the automotive field.
Totico had said that he remembered the kind of work I did, and he thought it would be a good opportunity for his cousin to learn the rebuilding of auto parts while working for me.
I told Totico to have his cousin stop by and fill out an employment application, and that’s how I met Miguel.
Miguel was a tall, lanky, but pleasantly rugged looking fellow, with thick wavy black hair, and a slightly dark Mediteranian complexion, that first day, his cousin Totico came along with him as his interpretor.
Speaking only Spanish, Miguel said he was 38 years old, which at the time was about 10 years older than I was.
I asked him what he knew about automobile parts, and he said his family had an old 1948 Ford truck in Cuba, and it was his responsibility to keep it running.
That was it, I was so impressed with Miguels sincerity, I thought he might be my perfect student to teach the starter generator rebuilding business to.
Unfortunatly, at the time, my senior partner Dave, who was the company owner, only saw Miguel as an opportunity to get someone to work for us at minimum wages, and he took little interest in him.
I hired Miguel anyway, and I had a new trainee and a student that didn’t speak a word of English.
The very first thing Miguel and I agreed on, was that we would teach each other our respective languages, so we could communicate.
Once we started working together and I couldn’t help but like Miguel, as he was a hard worker, and he was curious about everything we did, almost as curious as I was about him.
As time passed, Miguel was learning the rebuilding business, with me teaching him a few words in English and Miguel teaching me a few words in Spanish.
I could see that Miguel was learning to rebuild much faster, than I had ever anticipated, and he asked questions that I had never been asked before.
Once wanted to know how anyone can tell a rebuilt part from a new one?
This was not the usual type of question someone asks, so I taught Miguel what to look for, and he was amazed. He said, “Those dirty bastards in Cuba always told me the parts I bought were new, but now I see they were really rebuilt.”
I was impressed, with Miguel, and I could see by the questions he was asking that Miguel’s intelligence was far above the average, and he also had really good mechanical ability.
Because we worked together every morning, it was only natural that we became friends. Miguel was my enthusiastic student, and I was always the inquisitive boss, asking him all about his Cuban culture.
Because we both wanted to learn each others language, every day, I tried to learn at least one new word in Spanish, and Miguel tried to do the same in English.
After a while, we could converse with each other pretty good, we had developed our own new language that was part Spanish and part English. It was many years later I heard that it was a common language among Cuban refugee’s and it was called “Spanglish”.
I wanted to be able to learn from Miguel where he came from, and why he came to the United States, and eventually as we began to understand each other, I was able to piece together much of Miguel’s story.
He was born and raised on a Cuban Island called Cayo Coco, it was off the north coast of Cuba, located next to another island called Cayo Romano, I was told Cayo Romano was a famous for having mineature horses.
Miguel said his father and mother had a farm on Cayo Coco, it was where the family grew vegetables and kept a cow for milk, as well as raising a few pigs.
Miguel said said that they fed the pigs “Palmeche” which were the colorful seeds that grew in abundance on palm trees, but he said that because the palm seeds had so much palm oil, it made the pigs really fatty, so then they tried feeding the pigs the trimmings from fish that the fishermen discarded, but when the pigs were cooked everyone complained that the pork tasted fishy.
Miguel said that in his family there were a total of 6 brothers and 3 sisters, There was Miguel, Manuel, Jose Ramon who was called Mongo, and there was Ricado, Jorge Luis, and Rudolpho. The girls were Rosa, Marcia and Mercedes.
He said their farm house like most others on the island, it had a thatched palm frond roof. I asked him what happened in a storm when it rained, and Miguel said they simply moved their beds around.
Miguel’s father had a small 12 foot wooden sailboat which he used for fishing as well as using it to sail to Havana once a month for supplies.
I asked Miguel to tell me about the fishing, he said “Sure, his father had taught him. well, sometimes he said he would cut a very tiny piece of dead skin from the tip of a finger and then with a tiny hook catch a minnow. The minnow was cut up for bait to catch a bigger fish, and that one was cut up to catch even a bigger one.”
Miguel said his fathers favorite fish to eat was the Moray eel, and Baraccuda, but both were dangerous to eat, because they possibly had Ciguaterra, a terrible poison. So to protect themselves, the family the fed fish to the dogs first, if they were still alive the next day they ate the fish.
Because Miguel was the oldest son, his father would take him to Havana when he went for the monthly supplies. Miguel said that “Once we were in Havana, he and his dad hit all the bars and had a good time with the ladies, he said my father taught me how to sail, how to fish, and how to drink .”
He said the Island of Cayo Coco, was a good provider for the family, and they had plenty of wild fruit, like coconuts, papaya, mango and bananas, so I asked Miguel if he ever ate the hearts of palm. He said “No. he never thought about it, but he saw people on Cayo Coco cutting baby palms, but he didn’t know they were eating them.
Miguel told me that in order to earn hard cash, he and his brothers made charcoal, which in Spanish is called “Carbon” its used for cooking throughout the Caribbean,
Miguel and his brothers would go into the woods every day and chop down trees, all done by using axes as they didn’t own a chainsaw.
The cut pieces of wood were dragged to the beach, piled up, and covered with beach sand. Once the wood was entirely covered, a fire would be started, and the wood then smouldered with very little oxygen, and that slowly turned the wood into black cooking charcoal.
When the charcoal was cool, they would dig it up and bag it up to be sold to a broker for shipment to the market place in Havana. Miguel proudly said “He and his brothers were called a “Carbonero’s”, which meant carbon maker’s in Spanish.”
One day,the Americans came to Miguel’s Island, It was a U.S. company that was exploring for oil, Miguel saw this as an opportunity, and he asked them if he could help out in their kitchen.
Miguel said “That’s where I learned to cook, and that’s where I developed a curiosity as to where these Americans came from.”
When we talked, Miguel was fast to admit that he lived on Cayo Coco Island like a hill billy, he said, “We just didn’t know any better”.
Miguel once said “I know I have a darker complexion than you do, so to me that means I had a black grandmother somewhere in my family, but I don’t know who she was or where she came from.”
Miguel said, that when he was 18, his father arranged a wedding for him, the girls name was Orphalina and she was about 10 or 15 years older than Miguel. Orphalina was a widow and had a baby son named Jorge. After Miguel and Orphalina were married they moved into the house with the Marquez family.
Miguel, eventually had a daughter with Orphalina, and they named her Margarita, everyone called her Maggie for short.
Miguel said, “That It was around 1958 when they first heard rumors about some kind of crazy revolution going on in Cuba,”, but everyone thought the revolution was on the mainland and it would never come to the island of Cayo Coco.
Cuba at the time, was being run by a dictator named Fulgencio Batista, he was a former army sergeant who had overthrown the government.
Miguel said his whole family listened to the nightly news programs on their battery powered radio, and they learned that there was now a new revolutionary army in the Sierra Maestra mountains, it was being led by a young attorney named Fidel Castro.
Fidel, the newscaster said, was determined to overthrow the Batista government and liberate Cuba for the people.
When Miguel first told me about Castro, I had remembered reading about him in a Life Magazine spread, it was when I was about 14, years old, and living in Connecticut.
The Life Magazine article had made quite a hero out of Fidel, so much so, that I wanted to go join up with him and help liberate Cuba, wherever that was.
In the evening, Miguel said “My whole family, listened to Fidel on the radio. He was broadcasting from his secret locations in the mountains, but he said, the revolution meant little to them or any of the other people living on Cayo Coco”.
That was until Miguel’s younger brother, Rudolpho, inspired by what he heard on the radio, left for Havana to join up with the Batista Army, he felt it his duty to do so, to protect Cuba.
A year later, his brother Rudolpho was severely wounded by machine gun fire, and came home, he was never able to walk again.
I still can remember Rudolpho as if it were yesterday, he attended every Marquez family party in Miami, and always ended up on the ground drunk, yelling and ranting, the poor guy eventually ended up drinking himself to death.
By 1958, Miguel’s family heard that Fidel Castro had won the war, and he had taken over the government of Cuba, so now every evening, the entire family, listened to Fidel’s speaches, and they liked what he was saying, he spoke of equality, and said that the rich in Cuba would give to the poor.
Miguel knew all about a rich farmer on Cayo Coco that had a lot of chickens and perhaps now, Miguel thought he would get some of those chickens.
One day, Fidel’s revolutionary army showed up on the island, and started pointing guns at all the residents, they needed food and drink, this scared Miguel’s family.
Eventually the soldiers came to where Miguel had stored his charcoal, and they wanted him to make more of it for the government, and as a good Communist he was to do it for free, Miguel said that’s when he and his family started to see what Communism was really all about.
Next, his brother Ricardo was caught trying to escape by boat and he was sent to prison for 8 years. That’s when Miguel’s family started to discuss ideas about escaping from Cayo Coco.
But by the time they started discussing it, it was becoming a very difficult thing to do, as Fidel’s soldiers and Communist spies were everywhere, just looking for defectors.
Miguel and his family were petrified as to what could happen to them.
Fortunately, Miguel’s father knew most of the fishermen on the island, so for $8000.00, which was all the money they had, a fisherman smuggled Miguel, his father and mother and Orphalina and her baby son Jorge and his daughter Maggie, off of the island.
Under the cover of darkness, Miguel and his family were taken by a small fishing boat, to a rocky island off the coast of Cuba, called Cayo Lobo. It was an island with an unmanned light house on it. They were told that a U.S. Coastguard vessel came by the island every few days to check on the lighthouse.
They waited on the barren island two days until the U.S. Coast Guard ship finally came by and spotted them.
They were all taken aboard the ship, deliced, hosed down, and given all new clothing.
Miguel said he was surprised at how good they were treated by the Coast Guard, and how delicious the American food was.
By that evening, the ship had returned to its base in Key West, and Miguel and his family were loaded onto a special bus headed for Miami.
Miguel said. “His first view of the United States was looking out the window of the bus as it traveled up U.S. 1 through the Florida Keys. All he saw were small buildings and a few tourists, he wondered if all the United States was going to be like that?”
They eventually arrived at a Cuban refugee processing building in downtown Miami, which is now called the “Freedom Tower”.
That night the family all slept on cots, and the next day Miguel’s cousin, who was my friend Totico, came to pick Miguel and his family up.
Miguel said, “My family, left the freedom tower that morning with a big box of free food and a large block of surplus yellow American cheese”.
He said that they headed for Totico’s small apartment, where they slept on the sofa and on the floor. They didn’t care, Miguel and his family were now legally in the United States.
After one day of rest, Totico took Miguel to the Dixie Bedding Company on 37th
Avenue in Miami, where he was immediately hired to help weld bed frames.
Miguel said, he didn’t mind the hard work, but after a week of working with a hot welding machine, in the 90 degree heat in Miami, he realized he needed to find something better to do, and that was when Totico brought him to me at API
Thus Miguel now started his new life in the United States, and I became Miguel’s new boss and American friend.
Over the next few months, I began to understand several more words from Miguel in Spanish, as well as the way he always joked around, I soon realized that he was a really a very quick witted person, and I thought that Miguel was sort of like a standup comic, as he was able to make jokes about everything he saw and anything he did.
One day Miguel said he wanted to show me something, we drove about three blocks, from our company, but still in the industrial zone of Hialeah.
Miguel had rented a small wooden house, it wasn’t much he told me, but it was a house, and he was so very proud, that now he could walk to work, and was no longer a burden to Totico.
I gave my old recliner chair to Miguel as a present for his new place, and he quickly reupholstered it.
Miguel said America was amazing, he only had to look in people’s trash piles, and he found furniture better than what he ever had in Cuba. He had found a television in someone’s junk pile, and he tested the tubes at a local 7-11 store. To replace the bad tube only cost him $2.79, and he had a good television set.
Miguel and I worked at API five days week and a half day on Saturday.
I had started a small side business of buying and processing platinum aircraft spark plugs, so when I needed help, I picked Miguel up on Sunday mornings and brought him to work with me.
At the time, I paid Miguel $25.00 in cash every Sunday that he worked.
One day Miguel told me that the cash I gave him, he paid for his food bill and the rent, and he was putting his entire other salary in the bank and saving it.
Miguel began working for me every weekend, and as the platinum sparkplug processing business started to grow, in 1968 I built a small 1800 square foot building on 97th Avenue in the town of Hialeah Gardens. Now Miguel now came to work with me in the evenings as well as on the weekends.
Every Sunday morning I would pick Miguel up and we would stop at local 7-11 to buy food for our favorite lunch, two oval cans of Portuguese sardines in tomato sauce, which we put on soft hot dog rolls.
One day, as we were driving to work, Miguel proudly told me that he had just bought a house in Coral City. I was stunned, I thought I had heard that Coral City was a new and very pricy development somewhere near Miami, I questioned him, but Miguel insisted that he had bought a house there.
It turned out that Miguel had indeed bought a house, but there was a slight mix up in words, it was in Carol City, which was a very low cost modest community in the Miami area.
Once he moved into the house, I went to see it, and I was surprised to find that it was a nice three bedroom cement block home with a built in carport.
Within 6 months Miguel had enclosed the carport and made it into an income producing rental apartment.
A few years later, Miguel sold that Carol City house and bought another house, this one was in West Hialeah. On West 32nd Street near 3rd Avenue. This Hialeah house was much nicer, and it was in a growing Latin community. In that West Hialeah area, the Cubans were all buying the modest houses and fixing them up.
This house had a big mango tree in the yard and plenty of room for family parties and pig roasts. It was at this point that I realized that Miguel the hillbilly from Cuba was a lot smarter than I was, when it came to dealing in real estate.
Miguel told me that on one very hot Sunday afternoon, he and his wife Orphalina were out for a drive. As they passed by a White Castle Restaurant. Miguel’s wife suggested they stop and he get two large cold sodas.
Miguel parked and went into the restaurant, and he thought he had asked the attendant for two sodas, but due to his Spanish accent the waiter thought he said sopa which in Spanish is soup.
Miguel, embarrassed to say anything to the waiter, returned to the car with two cups of hot bean soup instead of cold soda.
His wife was very mad and yelled at him. She said “I always knew you were stupid. I don’t know why I married you”.
That was too much for Miguel, and soon they were divorced.
Miguel moved into an apartment building at 3341 NW 99 Street Hialeah Gardens just off 103 Street and the Palmetto Expressway. Orphalina remained with the kids in the West Hialeah house.
As it happens, I was also divorced at about the same time as Miguel and living in an apartment complex in Miami called Taho Springs, which was located on 79th Avenue, so now it was convenient for Miguel and I to hang around and socialize by going to his relatives homes and various Latin restaurants together. By now Miguel and I had become very close, and we were almost like brothers.
Miguel still worked with me in the evenings and on weekends, and he sometimes brought along his father to work with us as well.
By the 1970’s, many things were happening with my parts rebuilding company.
When the opportunity had come my senior partner refused to buy the building we were renting in Hialeah, consequently we were forced to move to North West Miami, at a tremendous expense to the company.
The blunder was so great, that by the end of the year, my partner Dave passed away of a heart attack, and his son Don and I ended up buying the Company.
Miguel was still working for us, and was then heading up the starter and generator rebuilding department.
One day Miguel approached us, he wanted us to hire his young stepson Jorge.
I explained to Miguel that it was never a good situation, because if Jorge didn’t work out, we would have to fire him, and Miguel would be mad.
Miguel promised he wouldn’t get mad, so against my better judgement we hired Jorge. As expected, after a few months, Jorge started missing work, so my partner Don fired him and Miguel got mad.
Miguel became very bitter about it, so much so, that it affected the entire company, it was to the point were ready to fire him.
My partner Don knew Miguel was my friend, but I could see that we now had a serious problem and I might have to fire my best friend.
I thought a lot about it, and eventually I had a good idea.
I felt it would be a good opportunity for Miguel to get out of our company and go into his own business.
I had a friend named Mike Winters who ran a company in Hollywood Florida called “Carpro”. Mike was rebuilding automobile solenoids which our company purchased from him, so I spoke with Mike, and he said that he was willing to sell the solenoid rebuilding part of his business for $3600.00.
When I suggested it to Miguel, understandably he became very nervous, so to calm him down, I offered to set the company up with 3 partners, Mike Winters, Miguel and myself, with each partner putting up $1200.00. I said I would lend Miguel the money and I would also let him use part of the building in Hialeah Gardens for free, until he got the business going.
Miguel was so scared, he was crying. He said, “You just want to get rid of me.”
I told him, that in a way he was right, I knew he was upset about Jorge, and my helping him set himself up in his own company was the best move for me and for him, I told him he was guaranteed to be successful as Carpro and API would be purchasing product from him, eventually I convinced him to do it.
Miguel started his solenoid rebuilding business, calling it “Automar Electric”, and my friend Mike at Carpro and API became his first and biggest customers.
I eventually lent Miguel the funds to buy Mike share out, and I gave Miguel my share of the company for free. After all, Miguel was my friend.
By 1980, Miguel was prospering in his rebuilding business, and he met a lovely women named Raquel and they moved into her Miami apartment together.
I had met my present wife Katherine, so Miguel and Raquel, Katherine and I, now started going everywhere together.
We always had parties at each other’s home, with Miguel always roasting the pig’s Cuban style. Everyone was convinced he was an absolute artist at doing it.
When we had business functions at API, Miguel would come over and roast the pigs for us in the API back yard.
Miguel would start cooking the pigs first thing in the morning, and he would open a bottle of Johnny Walker Red scotch. By 3 in the afternoon the pigs were always perfectly done and Miguel was pretty well cooked himself.
As time passed, Miguel continued operating his solenoid business using the Hialeah Gardens building free.
At API, my partner Don and I would lease new automobiles, and when our two year lease was up we could buy the cars back cheap. I would always let Miguel buy my car at my cost, so Miguel always drove a two year old Oldsmobile that was like new.
When API developed a new division called “Rebuilders Supply of Miami”, we discussed with Miguel about setting up a separate distributing company to service the growing Hispanic trade in Miami.
At first Miguel agreed, and we named the new venture “Alamacen Marquez”, but as time went on and Miguel learned all of our sources, I detected a change in his attitude
Miguel said that he felt he didn’t need partners anymore, and he wanted to dissolve “Alamacen Marquez, so rather than have hard feelings we did.
By the 1980 most of Miguel’s family was now living in Miami with the exception of his sister Rosa who was married to a Communist in Cuba and Miguel’s brother, Jose Ramon, who they called Mongo.
On April 20, of 1980, Fidel Castro announced the “Mariel Boat lift”. He said anyone wishing to leave Cuba could.
Miguel saw an opportunity to help get his brother Mongo to America. But overnight, the entire Miami Cuban community started buying every boat that floated. They all wanted to go to Cuba and bring their family here.
Miguel, drove to Key West, where he met a fellow who had just bought an old 25 foot fiberglass boat, he had the intentions of picking up his family in Cuba.
The fellow needed a boat captain, and Miguel said he was a captain, and he negotiated with the fellow to pilot the boat to Cuba.
Miguel’s only request was that he could bring his brother Mongo back with them, when they returned.
The 25 foot boat already had 3 full 55 gallon drums of gasoline aboard, and was ready to go. So with only the boats compass to guide him, Miguel and the fellow left Key West in an evening flotilla and headed to Mariel Cuba.
Miguel’s intentions were to follow the other boats in the flotilla that knew their way to Mariel, but during the night, the seas got very rough and Miguel lost sight of the other boats. To make matters worse the boat’s owner was very scared and giving Miguel a hard time.
Miguel said, the guy nervously lit up a cigarette, and Miguel thought the boat would blow up from the gasoline fumes. They had a violent argument and Miguel was ready to throw the guy overboard. Miguel vowed he would never return to Miami with that guy, if they ever survived the trip.
Miguel told me that in the morning, he was surprised to find they were entering the Port of Mariel, just as perfect as could be.
Once he was at Mariel, Miguel went to look for his brother Mongo, but the Cuban government had other plans.
The soldiers were now loading all the people that wanted to leave on any boat, they were mixing in criminals from the jails and inmates from the asylums with the regular people, so all the small boats that had come from Key West had to leave with anyone the soldiers put onboard.
Once all the small boats were gone they loaded all the remaining people on big shrimp boats that had come to Cuba with the intentions of making money hauling the Cubans to Miami, but now there were no paying passengers.
Miguel was loaded on a terribly overloaded shrimp boat with hundreds of other Cuban refugees, and then the boat was put to sea towing a disabled small boat behind it.
During the crossing to Miami the small boat being towed, took on water and capsized, drowning the people aboard.
All the hundreds of other refugee’s on the big shrimp boat went to the side to look, and the big shrimp boat started to tip over itself.
Miguel realized that the ship was tipping over, so he picked up a piece of wood and started swinging it to get the people to return to the other side of the boat.
Eventually they all did, and the big shrimp boat righted itself. Miguel had saved it from tipping over and drowning everyone.
About a week after the trip, Miguel received a call from his brother Mongo. He was in a refugee camp located at Fort Indian Town Gap in Pennsylvania.
That evening Miguel and his family had a meeting, they had no idea, as to how to pick up his brother in Pennsylvania, so they came to my house to discuss the problem with me.
I volunteered to take them to pick up his brother Mongo. I opened up a map, and I planned out a trip for us to first go to New York by plane. Then to rent a car and we could drive to the fort in Pennsylvania. I was the only one with a credit card that could rent a car.
Once the plan was laid out, Miguel’s entire family wanted to go on the trip, but we eventually ended up with Miguel, his brother Jorge Luis and Miguel’s daughter Maggie.
The entire trip went perfectly with one exception, when we were about 30 miles from the Army Base, I decided to stop at a roadside restaurant for lunch, and as we went inside the restaurant, I was talking to Miguel in Spanish. The waitresses heard me and decided not to serve us. It appears Pennsylvania was not ready for Cubans.
It was the first time in my life that I had actually ever been discriminated against by someone. Before Miguel, Jorge and Maggie even realized what was going on, I got up and we left.
We had lunch at Fort Indian town gap, and it only took a couple of hours and Miguel’s brother “Mongo” was released to us.
Miguel’s brother Jorge had brought a suitcase for Mongo to use, and both Jorge and Miguel, were practically tripping over each other to give him the suitcase. I could see it was a happy day for them. Had Miguel known at the time, all the problems to come with his brother Mongo, I am sure he wouldn’t have been so happy to pick him up.
Once back in Miami Mongo went to work for Miguel, at the solenoid rebuilding company, and Miguel taught him everything about the rebuilding business.
After a several months, there was some friction between Mongo and Miguel’s other employees, and then I detected there was also some friction developing between Mongo and Miguel.
One evening I was at a party at Miguel’s house and Mongo was there, and as we were leaving Mongo said he wanted to show me something. He opened the trunk of his car and he had an Israeli Uzi sub machine gun there, I knew he was headed for trouble.
Shortly after that Mongo decided to leave Miguel’s company, and he moved in with a
Girlfriend, and then I was told he opened up a small rebuilding shop using her money.
I never asked, Miguel what happened, but I think Miguel was relieved that his brother was finally gone, it was also apparent to him that Mongo was up to nothing good.
I later learned that Mongo was very much involved in drug smuggling, and I was told by one of Miguel’s employees Oscar Hernandez, that he and Miguel went to visit Mongo at his rebuilding shop, but they became very nervous when two bad looking characters came in carrying a cooler which they hid in the back of the building. Oscar said he and Miguel excused themselves and quickly left.
Oscar told me that the following week the shop was raided by the DEA and Mongo was arrested, and eventually sentenced to 30 years in prison.
One day Miguel informed me that he had purchased another home. I wasn’t surprised.
He said that old residential home was located in an industrial zone in East Hialeah, It was very near his first rental house and very near where my company API had been located. The house was a one story but very big, it was located on East 10th Lane in Hialeah.
Miguel completely renovated the house dividing it into two apartments making a duplex. Miguel and Raquel moved into one side and he rented the other side to his sister Marcia.
I didn’t realize it at the time but Miguel had made a very strategic move in buying the property, as it was zoned industrial.
Now by the 1980’s, whenever Katherine and I traveled, to Mexico or New Orleans,
Miguel and Raquel would accompany us. We were very much like one big family, and we went everywhere together.
While Miguel spoke some English, Raquel didn’t, so they were very self conscious about it, and it they preferred traveling with us, as we took them to places that they never would have gone on their own, and I went out of my way to show them as much about America as I could.
In the late 1980’s, Miguel was doing well selling rebuilt solenoids and small parts. The processing of platinum sparkplugs had pretty much stopped, as platinum sparkplugs were used on gasoline aircraft engines and airlines had all now converted to jets.
I had paid off the mortgage on the Hialeah Gardens building and my only costs were the water, the electric bill and taxes and maintenance, which amounted to about $2800.00 a year.
It was then, that I decided it was time to talk to Miguel about paying some rent, as I had never charged him anything.
I said to Miguel that he had been in the building for many years and I hadn’t charged him any rent, I was paying all the taxes and maintenance bills out of my own pocket.
I asked Miguel if he could see his way clear to pay me some rent.
I could see Miguel was very disturbed by my question.
After a long silence, he asked me. “How much to you think this building is worth?”
I said, this entire building is worth $1250.00 per month.”
Miguel went ballistic, and he said “You are crazy if you think this building is worth that much.” I said, calm down, the building is worth $1250.00 per month but I don’t expect you to pay that much. “How much do you want me to pay?” he asked.
I told Miguel, you can pay whatever you are comfortable with, how about $400.00 per month. I felt if he paid that amount would allow me to pay the bills and taxes.
Miguel begrudgingly said he would pay me the $400.00 a month, but I could see he wasn’t happy about it.
Well Miguel paid the rent for about 3 months.
One day he invited us to come to his duplex in East Hialeah, the one that was located in the industrial zone, Miguel said he wanted to show me something.
So Katherine and I drove over to Miguel’s house.
To our surprise, right behind Miguel’s house, there was a whole brand new concrete building being built. It was being built with a two bedroom apartment upstairs and a workshop built below it.
Miguel had shrewdly designed the new building on concrete stilts. He intended on illegally enclosing the bottom floor after the official inspection. Then he was going to move his rebuilding company into it.
He had done all this right behind his duplex which was where he was living, and he had never said a word to me about it. He now simply said he was moving out of my building, and into the new building he had built.
His said that he would move in to the upstairs apartment and then rent out the duplex he and Raquel were presently living in.
On one hand I was a little bitter about what he had done. It was not the money, it was the fact that he had hidden it, and not said anything.
Within 30 days, my wife Katherine, and my good friend Bob Martinez, from Orlando, helped me clean up the Hialeah Gardens building, and I rented it to the first customer that came along for $1250.00 per month, which was exactly the price that I had told Miguel the building was worth.
By moving out, Miguel had really done me a favor.
But the fact that he never told me of his intentions, the breech of friendship, didn’t sit well with me. I was kind of disappointed in Miguel, as I had always been honest and up front with him in helping him along.
I could see something was going on inside Miguel’s head, and nothing was ever going to be the same between us again.
Business was now very good for Miguel as he was now selling to most of the Spanish speaking small rebuilding shops in Miami, and by 1990 he bought another house on 761 East 54th Street in Hialeah and moved into it with Raquel. He rented his former upstairs apartment to his daughter Maggie.
Katherine and I went over to see the new house on 54th Street. It was a nice house, with a giant Florida Room to have parties in, and as usual Miguel had another illegal rental apartment in use behind the house.
Katherine and I still attended the Marquez family functions, at their new house and when Hermon Escheverria the son of Totico Escheverria ran for councilman in Hialeah I went out and campaigned for him, and he actually won. (Hermon was the son of Totico the fellow that had introduced Miguel to me.)
Miguel always called me for business advice, and I gave it to him, but I never felt the same, something was different about him.
Then one day, when I was liquidating some merchandise, Miguel stopped by to look it over.
He spent the entire morning looking, and he offered me $3000.00. It was a small sum but I agreed.
I spent two days neatly packing everything up in two large pallet boxes, and Miguel came by and we loaded it into his panel truck.
About a week passed, and Miguel called me. He said he decided that he didn’t want any of the merchandise and said he was returning it. It was all very disappointing to me, but I told him to return it.
He sent it with his employee Oscar, returning the two large boxes of material.
As we unloaded it we saw that he had jumbled everything up, and quite a few items were missing. Miguel had removed about 30%, and was returning everything else to me.
This was the man that I had assisted in getting started in America.
From that day forward, I never spoke to Miguel again.
Around 2005, Raquel called me one evening to tell me that Miguel was very sick.
She said Miguel had always refused to marry her. She said she was bitter about it, but even though they had broken up their relationship she always went to help him.
She again called me around 2007, to tell me Miguel had passed away.
I have never regretted my knowing Miguel and his family, just disappointed.