Patty Leon, Columnist.
I recently read an inspirational article in the Washington Post about a Cuban immigrant named Angela Alvarez who at 95 years old was just nominated for a Latin Grammy Award for best new artist. Alvarez was 14 when she wrote her first few songs and was already a proficient piano and guitar player.
After high school, Alvarez told her dad she wanted to be a singer, but as was typical in that era for Cuban women, he told her she could only sing for family, not the world.
She married young and had four children, three boys and a girl. Her husband worked in the sugar industry, which was, and to a smaller extent still is, a huge cash-cow for the Cuban government.
As Fidel Castro started to gain control, the family decided to flee to the United States. The government wouldn’t allow her husband, Orlando, to leave the country. They said he must stay and work.
In 1962, she took her kids to the airport, but Alvarez wasn’t allowed to leave. The government said she was missing certain necessary paperwork. Alvarez made the tough decision to let her kids, ages 4 through 15, to leave Cuba for the U.S. by themselves, as was allowed at that time. She would join them as soon as she could, which turned out to be a few months later.
Alvarez had to secure a job so she could pay to reclaim her kids, who were living in an orphanage. It was two years before she was able to visit her kids on weekends. During those orphanage visits, Alvarez would sing to her kids and other Cuban children so they could be reminded of home.
Her husband arrived in the U.S. in 1966, and they lived together as a family in Baton Rouge. Life was good until 11 years later when her husband died from cancer at the age of 53. Her daughter later died of cancer in 1999.
Through all the turmoil, Alvarez said it was music that fed her soul and kept her going. She wound up writing 50 songs but only performed for family or close friends. That is until her grandson, a music composer primarily inspired by her singing, flew Alvarez to California and recorded a 15-track album simply called — Angela Alvarez. Her grandson is also good friends with another well-known Cuban immigrant, actor and producer Andy Garcia. The duo knew Alvarez’s life story was worthy of more than an album. Garcia went on to produce a documentary about Alvarez called “Miss Angela.”
Alvarez made her first live performance at the age of 91. The album and documentary were released in 2021. Garcia encouraged her to audition for the role of Tia Pili in the 2022 “Father of the Bride” remake — which he stars in — and she got the part.
According to the Post, Alvarez is attending the 2022 Latin Grammy Awards tomorrow, in Las Vegas with her grandson, and she is scheduled to perform.
I felt this story in my heart for several reasons.
First, you are never too old to chase after your dreams. Don’t let your age, a number, take away from what your heart desires.
Secondly, use all of your life’s experiences to tell your story. If Alvarez would have stayed silent instead of using her songs to cope with loss, grief, love, failures and successes, we wouldn’t have her music inspiring others. Find your voice, find your passion and do it!
Lastly, here is another example on how anything is possible in the U.S. if you put in the work and do what is right. This woman sacrificed being without her kids for a little over two years and had to work and endure hardships, learn a new language in a new land, and fight hard to get her kids back. Then she kept fighting as a single mom until her husband was to be able to join them.
I can relate to her story because my parents also fled Castro’s regime in 1959. They came here legally.
When mom and dad boarded the plane, they had to show documents, X-rays of their lungs, and medical records. They also had to show proof that they had family already in Miami that was willing to pay the fee to claim them at the Freedom Tower in downtown Miami (our version of Ellis Island).
They went to school to learn English, got jobs, became American citizens and lived their best version of the American dream!