...Harold Fernandez was different from most freshmen. Amory Blaine had been to prep school, and his mother, though not of the privileged class, had raised him to appreciate the treasures of Western culture. Harold had been raised in the streets of Medellín, Colombia, listening to tango and salsa lyrics that spoke of the harsh local realities of violence, drugs and prison. His American schooling was in a gritty factory town, West New York, N.J.
He also harbored a secret. He had entered Princeton using a fake green card and Social Security number that he had acquired in the immigrant black market, because he had been smuggled into Florida on a leaky boat crowded with illegal immigrants.
Relentless poverty had driven his parents to leave him and his younger brother Byron in Medellín as they scraped together a living in the United States. The parents missed their sons terribly and were desperate to have them escape what was then the world’s cocaine capital. The boys’ childhood neighborhood was lively with children kicking soccer balls, but Harold had twice witnessed young men being shot to death in drug wars; violence would ultimately claim six of his own relatives.
At age 13, he had not seen his father for four years or his mother for two. And so in October of 1978, he and Byron said goodbye at the Medellín airport to the two grandmothers who had cared for them. Even today, he can recall the sadness written on their faces; if the boys reached their destination, they might never see them again.
The boys made their way to the tiny island of North Bimini, where they and a dozen other migrants waited 12 days for the treacherous seas of the Bermuda Triangle to calm for their clandestine voyage.
Just before midnight one moonless night, the group clambered aboard a 25-foot wooden cabin cruiser that did not seem seaworthy enough to take them the 50 miles to the coast of Florida. As they huddled around the cabin table, the boat lurched and bounced over the waves. Harold remembers the terror in the grown-ups’ eyes. Soon almost everyone was seasick, dashing to the toilet to vomit. “Padre nuestro que estás en el cielo, santificado sea tu nombre,” they murmured, the Lord’s Prayer.
By daybreak the weary, battered travelers glimpsed the jagged skyline of Miami. When they disembarked, they staggered a few hundred yards to a public telephone, where they took turns calling relatives. The joyful lilt of his mother’s voice when she learned her sons were safe is still clear in Harold Fernandez’s mind. Yet he sometimes considers what his reckless crossing cost: years as an outlaw, with the fear that each day would be his last in America.
With steady work and fierce ambition, the boy weathered West New York’s rough-and-tumble culture to become valedictorian of Memorial High School and gain admission to Princeton. Whatever his back story, he was now required to thrive on this side of paradise...link to complete article
Dr. Harold Fernandez
link to article by Dr. Fernandez in the Harvard Alumni Newsletter:
The Other Side of Paradise - Spring 2008