Dealina Peon

Transcript of Dealina Peon
Interviewee: Dealina Peon
Interviewer: Dorothy Nygren, Chas Sirridge, and Roxanne Haveman
Transcriber: Roxanne Haveman
Place: St Gertrude Parish, 1420 W Granville Ave, Chicago, IL
Date: April 13, 2015.
Time: 31:00 minutes

Copyright © 2015 Edgewater Historical Society

RH: My name is Roxanne.

CS: And I’m Chas.

RH: We’re at 1420 West Granville on April 13, 2015 interviewing Lina Peon who comes from Cuba.

CS: Lina, can you tell us a little about your childhood and your early years?

DP: Okay… I am the youngest of my family, from my parents. I was born in the middle of the island where my family had a business, but after my father passed away mama moved to Havana for better schools. And then I was educated with the nuns and then I went to the school of teacher. My brother became an engineer – electric engineer – and I made my happy life in Cuba, always going together like um… we have a reunion by Christmastime – we celebrate Christmas Eve – and I remember those beautiful days, the whole family together, until Castro came to Cuba. I mean he’s Cuban but – when he just took over. Life changed for all of us… families… many sad memories, many things – people in prison, a lot of things – very unfortunate. And in 1961, my family decided I go first out because they began problems with the church – we were Catholic, educated in Catholic schools – there were a lot of things very unfair. And they decided before I ended in prison – because you know, as a young person you have your own ideas and you express yourself. And at that time you couldn’t do that.


Then I had the opportunity, I was going on vacation to Venezuela and I have [had] a visa to go there. That was my way to getting out of Cuba. And after I was there for a year we decided to come to the United States. Because the situation in Venezuela at that time was… Perez Jimenez [spells Perez Jimenez for interviewers] was deposed, like at the same time that Batista was deposed. And the situation there was really very insecure. And we were frightened. See – how would I put it – a ten year old girl knew more than we knew about life. Because you have the protection of the family and… fortunately, we have [had] a good family that took care of us. And thanks to the Catholic Charities, we wrote a letter and our situation and our impatience and they sent a visa and that’s the way that we came to the United States. My first stop was Miami but not to stay there… on the way to New York, where I have a job down there – a companion lady. But, family were coming from Cuba and [it] was at the time that the government – United States government – was distributing, sending people to different states. Then my relative came to Chicago. And then I was by myself in New York and I came in 1963 – April of 1963 I came to Chicago. Didn’t speak English – not a single word. I knew by subject, you know, the colors, the numbers – a little bit – but I couldn’t communicate. But we were very happy – very poor – we didn’t know how poor we were. But we managed and we walked to the public library for one hour classes.


Then, our nice teacher – she was a Jewish lady – and she said I am going to start teaching at the synagogue. I said – I didn’t know what she was saying but I knew “school” and I raised my hand. Then I went two days and one day to the Catholic Church and I have [had] five days of English classes. At that time we were living by Rogers Park. And St. Jerome was our church. I was very happy because since I was educated with the Catholic school nuns I knew Latin and I knew how mass was. But suddenly, it changed – I forget the year that they changed to English – late ‘60s, I think. Well, but I knew what was on and I was so happy we were going to church. Then we moved to, in 1968, I moved to Edgewater. And I continued going to school, learning how to speak English. And then we went to what is now… it was Loop College… and we didn’t say something – it was a lady [who] told us, “don’t say that you were teachers in Cuba because you know they don’t allow you to go to the college.” We don’t [didn’t] know anything! We didn’t say anything. One day the teacher said, “Both of you answer all the time very fast whatever I ask.” And then she said, “After the class finishes I want to talk to both of you”… my other friend, we were friends since the school years in Cuba. And she [the teacher] said, “You really have education only high school?” Then we say no, we opened to her and tell the truth. She said “Oh my god.” Well, that’s the problem when people don’t know how to speak English. They told us that you cannot say that you have an education and blah blah blah because they will not accept you in the school. Well, she helped us.


She said “You were teachers. You know that we are in need of teachers here? You speak enough English to go to school, to get into the university and get your degrees,” and that’s the way that we went back to Roosevelt University. Because we couldn’t go during the day because we had to work and support the family. And we continue studying and I remember I used the public library here, thanks to the public libraries because when you don’t have money, you know – we were so poor that we didn’t know how poor we were. I remember how I saved my pennies for the train because I was living by Winthrop and Thorndale – then it was a blessing because the train was there. And then I graduated but before my graduation I presented my papers at Notre Dame and they accepted me because I have the highest degree from Havana University and I was ending my master’s degree here. And when my mother came – it’s a long story. My mother came from Havana in 1971. It took me ten years to pull mommy out of Cuba. I had to become American citizen, then claim mama because every time that I claimed my mother they lost the papers in Cuba. It’s a long story but thanks to the lord my mother came. And when mama came Notre Dame was beautiful, I enjoyed working with those students – it was a beautiful atmosphere, but, what happened is, not enough money. And I have [had] my mother. Then I moved to Chicago Public Schools.


I thought they were going to be high school classrooms – no, they sent me to the elementary school – oh my god, I said. In the year zero I went to graduate from the normal school of teachers. Let me go back to the university to take courses again to see… to refresh myself. Well, to be honest to you, I didn’t learn too much in the way of the methods and everything, but it helped me tremendously with English, with techniques that you need to know and the procedures for education in the United States. I said, “Well, thank you Lord.” And that’s what people say to me – “you speak with [an] accent, but you speak very fluently.” I said, “Well, you know what happened to me, I never worked with Hispanic people, I just worked with – and at that time in 1960 you didn’t see too many business or – even the TV was not – I’d say that there were few hours in the Spanish TV – which I never paid attention to that because I wanted to learn how to speak English. That’s my main thing in my life at that time. Because [if] you don’t know what they are saying to you, how are you going to survive? How are you going to be in society? No. And I remember those days. Everybody in the family going back into history, we all in the family, the young people, were speaking English because they went to American school. It was me, the only one who went to Spanish nuns. Unfortunately [laughing] – no, I bless them, they gave good education, but not English. And then we decided who[ever] speaks Spanish in the house has to put a penny – it was a piggy bank, but it was not a piggy bank it was a can – we just put it down there. And guess who put more money, more pennies. Me. Because I was the only one who didn’t speak English. But one good day we were at the movies at Howard Street. It was a very famous movie from Sophia Lauren and it was… [thinking]… El Cid… Campeador… El Cid. It was a very historical, in literature… from Spanish literature. Oh my god! I understood what they said. And I start, “I understand English!” [laughing]. And they turned on the lights in the theater because, you know, you don’t make those noises, but I was so impressed that I could understand. See, it’s – you know, the Latinos are very noisy people – but, that day was the best day of my life.


And I live here in this city, in this area since 1968, in different places, and I enjoy – I remember going to St. Ita’s Church – see, that was the church for all Cubans at that time. The majority of the people in the neighborhood – foreign people – were Cuban at that time – in the ‘60s… ’63… ’68… until 1971,’72 there was a lot of Cubans here. And St. Ita was the best place to go. One teacher taught the priest how to speak Spanish, and he learned fluently. He passed away a short time ago, but… and then we ordered… we collected money and we ordered a statue of Our Lady of Charity to [from] Spain and that is still in St. Ita and the 8th of September – that is the day of Our Lady of Charity, we go to mass down there. But, my church is St. Gertrude. This is the place I feel very happy. I have a lot of friends in the church and I enjoy life in this community. I think… oh, I ended teaching at Senn High School. I specialized in special ed.


DP: For fifty some years, I am giving you a lot of things…

(Chuckling in background)

DP: (laugh) …

RH: Well, thank you so much. We love to hear your story.

DP: uh-huh.

RH: Well, uh, did you have brothers and sisters?

DP: I have only one brother. He’s dead already…

RH: I’m sorry.

DP: … But we were very close to each other. Very smart young man. He always was my protector. He became an electric engineer and I became a school teacher [laughs]. They laugh about it because, they, lazy people go on became school teachers. But, ah, we were very close. He could not get out from Cuba for many reasons. Y’know the political situations and family, but, ah, we always communicate. We always were in touch by phone, by letters and by 1990 I brought him an [unintelligible] invitation. They let him to come to see mama, before my mother pass away. It’s very sad. You know that he just died in Cuba. I couldn’t go there because very difficult situation. Here I am. We were together. I was giving him a lot of problems on my time (laughs).

CS: So, was your brother older or younger?

DP: Older than me. Older than me, yes.

CS: How many years older?

DP: Five…

CS: How many?

DP: Five years older.

RH: What do you remember of him when you were growing up? When you were a child?

DP: Huh?

RH: What you remember of him when you were growing up? When you were a child?

DP: Remember?

DN: Did you play with him? What are your memories?

LP: Oh, my goodness. We played, we were… . See in the year that I was born, five cousins were born. And we were five troublemakers! But I [unintelligible] was my cousin I was showing you [to Dorothy] Claudia.

DN: Mhmm.

DP: Oh, gosh, people were afraid of us. They say [laughing] the tornado is coming. But, y’know, it is very, very beautiful, my childhood. I can close my eyes, I can see our homes. My brother, we have a lot of friends because he was so nice, so sweet to everybody and the house was full of kids, girls and boys. And I guess I was always trying and people do not cheat on my brother because I learned how to play all games. Boys’ games, all boys’ games! I learned how to because that was my brother. But my cousins, we were all playing together and, one of my cousins lived in a beautiful home. I remember you have to pass a little bridge and the house was in the center: all gardens surrounded the house, ‘because she loved gardens. And there were windows like these [points to windows]. Oh, we have the most lovely time there. And we always sneak under the bridge to play, to play little houses. Beautiful, beautiful time with the family. We were very close, very close family. Very tight still. I have a second cousin that his father was born of the same year that I was born. He just went to Columbia, and from there he managed to communicate with me and we became very good friends without knowing. We didn’t know each other because he born in Cuba after I left. He is a doctor and he lives in Miami. And, oh, he [said], “Really, you are my auntie?” And I said, “Sure I am your Auntie.” See, this is the way how the family is tight. We are a very close family, still.

DN: Lina, you said that when you left Cuba you went to Venezuela for a year…

DP: Mhmm.

DN: … And then you came to the United States…

DP: Mhmm.

DN: to New York. How old were you when you came to New York?

DP: To New York? Twenty-six years old.

DN: Twenty-six years old. And that was just by yourself?

DP: By myself.

DN: By yourself. How old were you when you came to Edgewater, to Chicago?

DP: I think I was going twenty-eight.


DN: Twenty-eight. And you said you lived in Rogers Park first? [Lina nods] Then you came to Edgewater.

DP: Yes.

DN: That would have been maybe twenty, maybe…

DP: I am already fifty-two years in the United States.

DN: So you lived maybe the past twenty years in Edgewater?

DP: Well, since 1968.

DN: Since 1968?

DP: 1968 is uh… da-da-da-da… I’m wearing, ah, two-oh-, twenty, two-oh-five, no fifteen. In ’68.

DN: It’s almost fifty years.

DP: [at the same time as Dorothy] Twenty seven [years]. Yeah. Mhmm. The most time I have spent here. Yes.

CS: You mentioned that you had lived in Rogers Park before moving to Edgewater?

DP: Yes, ah yes. When I came to Chicago, I lived in Rogers Park for a few years.

CS: Was there any in particular reason why you moved to Edgewater?

DP: Yes, it was a very strong. It was a big change. Howard Street, um, Jonquil Terrace, that area. You know, the Gale School? Okay, it was a paradise to live there, you know, when we came and see [unintelligible] by nineteen, I think 1965… something like that, a big change came. Different people moving, robberies. I remember one of the reasons that I moved, they enter in my house and I said to myself it’s time you get out and we all move. We all moved to Edgewater.

DN: When you say we, who do you mean?

DP: My older relative.

DN: And that was?

DP: They were-

DN: Cousins?

DP: Yeah, they were first cousins because the auntie pass away, um and one niece and they just, uh, from here, you know, they improve they [unintelligible], they became professional people, they offered in other opportunities and they get out from Chicago. But the only one who stay here is me because what I said being a teacher, I didn’t want to go to Florida to be a teacher in Florida. I have certifications to be in Florida, but I didn’t, I don’t like Florida. See people say, why aren’t you leaving here? This winter and so, I love to stay here. I live most part of my life, Chicago is like my hometown. This is the reason.

CS: [Broken audio] Okay, so you said, you feel at home here?

DP: Yes, one-hundred percent.

CS: I just wonder, do you feel like you identify with one culture or another? Do you identify more as a Cuban or as an American?

DP: No, I am very happy with the American people. They were very nice to me, they helped me tremendously. My… we call America Mother because this lady, Mrs. Laverne was an amazing person. She helped us in many ways. And this is people who really didn’t know us. We have a lot of help. They help us to furnish our home because we didn’t have anything. I remember I used to work at Saks Fifth-Avenue, but not as a sales lady because I didn’t speak English. But I worked in lingerie department and I learned how to fix [makes motion of sewing with needle) all their lingerie. Mrs. Julia Brown, or Julia Zimmerman at that time, helped me. They taught me the business and said I can go to China. I can be a corset lady and they were American people.

DN: So do you feel like you’re an American now? You have had your citizenship for many years.

DP: Oh, in 1968 I became an American citizen. Yeah, in 1968 I think, and I feel home here. I never thought that you discriminate against me. I always thought that people… . I always said, “Please when I say something that is incorrect, help me. Don’t feel sorry. I need to learn. And, well, I don’t speak English perfect like you do.”


DN: I think you speak very well. Lina. Is there some part of your Cuban heritage that you feel is important to hold onto?

DP: Well, my Faith, my family’s faith. We’re all Catholic and that unites us. I think that is very important for the family, for human beings. You need something, your roots are important. I don’t pretend that I am a native American. Wherever I go, even I know the situation in my country, but that’s my country. That’s where my roots are and I cannot deny that. Even through all that I say to my family (laughs) because sometime we’re human beings. We say, “This person is pretending that they are a real American. Look at them. They don’t look like a good American.” And I say, “Yes, if I don’t open my mouth I can pass.” [Laughs] I am an American, but once I speak they know I have an accent. They know I am not an American, but I am very proud of my heritage. As well, I am very proud that I’m living in the United States. United State opened its doors. They didn’t have to, but they did and they gave me the opportunity of being in this country, to serve this society the best that I could. Like I said, I flew home.

DN: I can’t think of any better way to end the interview. It’s been a pleasure, thank you so much.

DP: Thank you so much. You’re welcome.

RH & CS: Thank you.

DP: I’m sorry, I am a big talker and I don’t know…