May 8, 2016

Olga Prats and Her Family

Maria Olga Prats Respall
Benito H. Prats  had only one sibling, his younger sister Maria Olga Prats Respall. They were six years apart. Olga studied to be a teacher and after graduation was posted at a public primary school in Hatuey, on the outskirts of Santiago de Cuba, about 200 miles east from Camaguey in the late 1940s and 50s.

Born in 1924, Olga, married José Luis Martínez Pérez (no relation to Mariana Martínez, Benito’s wife) in a grand church wedding in Camaguey November 12, 1952, about a year and a half after Benito and Mariana's wedding. Olga was 28 years old and Jose Luis was 35. The wedding announcement, complete with a large photograph of the bride, appeared the following week in the local newspaper.
Wedding at the Holy Cathedral
There is another nuptial to review for the wedding season this month, a month that has seen a prodigious number of large wedding ceremonies.
This wedding of youth and love occurred the morning of this past Wednesday with a Mass of the Veils at the Holy Cathedral Church. The contracting parties were the educated and lovely mademoiselle Olga Prats Respall and the very chivalrous young man José Luis Martínez Pérez.
Newspaper Photo of Olga Prats
Miss Prats Respall arrived before the altar after having plucked murmurs of admiration as she slowly walked the nuptial aisle. She was looking very beautiful.
 She was dressed in an exquisite gown decorated with silk faille with a short veil neatly attached, held with small citrus-blossom adornments.
In her hands she held a delicate bouquet in which was found that distinct design that floral artists from La Orquídea Gardens use to mark their work. It was interwoven with blindingly white flowers.
In her progress up the nuptial aisle she was preceded by the charming child Isabel María Vega y Silva, daughter of the esteemed couple Mr. Armando Vega and Mrs. María Teresa Silva de Vega.
Musical accompaniment during the ceremony was under the direction of the Reverend Father José María Joaristi on the harmonium accompanied by chamber music by the Alvarez Brothers. The Ave Maria was sung in exquisite voice by Miss. Teresita Blasco Larín.
José Luis Martínez and his wife Olga Prats, 1954
Vouching for the groom and bride [at the civil ceremony] were Mrs. Felicia Pérez de Martínez and Mr. José Prats Amat [their mother and father, respectively].
And vouching in the Mass of the Veils were Mrs. Eduviges Respall de Prats [for the bride] and Dr. Benito Prats Respall, representing the father of groom Antonio Martínez Díaz who was away from the city that day.
The civil marriage contract was signed before the Notary, Dr. Luis R. Sala Céspedes, at the church immediately after the religious blessing.
Witnesses for the bride: Dr. Alberto Fernández Medrano, Mr. Agustín López Rodríguez, Mr. Joaquín Ventura Martínez, Dr. Manuel Beyra Alemany, Mr. Aquilino González Menéndez, Dr. Raúl Respall Hidalgo.
Sisters-in-law: Olga Prats and Mariana Martínez Prats
Witnesses for the husband: Mr. Elio Hernández Madruga, Dr. Chalon Rodríguez Salinas, Dr. Rogelio Santos, Dr. Heberto Aróstegul de la O, Mr. Rafael Ramiro, Jesús Centeno Bravo.
A large number of the select group at the Catholic temple, proceeded to the bride’s parent’s residence where they were treated to a splendid buffet supper. 
The now-married Martínez Prats left that same day via airline to Havana, where they were to pass the first days of their honeymoon.
Our congratulations to Olga and José Luis.

Notice that the announcement says José Luis’ father Antonio Martinez Diaz was not present. When asked, Olga said that he had a pharmacy at Mordazo, a small town about 200 miles west of Camaguey in Villa Clara Province and he could not close it for the three days it would take to travel and attend the wedding. He was a lovely person, she said, and very good to her and her husband, but very dedicated to his work.

Olga, standing, with her parents at her house in Hatuey
In the 1960s Olga and Jose Luis returned from Hatuey to Camaguey, and moved in with Bertha Respall in her grandmother’s Rufina Pereira’s old house with their two daughters, Teresita and Carmen. In college Teresita studied medicine and Carmen accounting. Teresita followed in the footsteps of her uncle Benito. She tells of as a child being fascinated with and studying the medical books he left behind in his shuttered practice in that old house, No. 53 Avellaneda Street. Teresita graduated with surgery and obstetrics specialties and practiced in Camaguey and Ciego de Avila for many years.

Olga’s parents Pepe Prats and Eduvigis Respall
with Olga and José Luis.
The author of this story
is in front. Olga is awaiting Carmen.
Both Teresita and Carmen married in Camaguey, and then divorced. They have one child each, both boys, and the boys count in Generation Three of the Maryland Prats generation numbering system.

Unlike his brother-in-law Benito, José Luis embraced the Communist Revolution and did not flee the island in the 1960s like Benito and his family did. Decades later when the Revolution proved to be worse that what it replaced he regretted this, but by then escape was much more difficult and they had Eduvigis’ advanced age to consider, and after she died, their own. Teresita and Carmen in hindsight wish they had left with their cousins in the 1960s, but that initial decision had sealed their fate and they stoically accepted and carried on with their lives.

Teresita, José Luis, Olga, Carmen, and three cousins, 1965
Until 2009, Olga’s family was the only close relatives the Maryland Prats still had in Cuba. Teresita and Carmen, despite their education and good employment, were living in what we would call poverty and their sons, who were brought up as brothers in their shared home, saw no future for themselves in Cuba. When José Luis died in Camaguey in 2007 just shy of his 90th birthday, it was time to abandon the island. Luck and their Spanish roots provided a way out.

Luck was with Carmen and her son. They won the U.S. visa lottery, a President Clinton invention, in 1997. Carmen was married when she applied. It took 12 years for the U.S. paperwork to be completed and she, with by then her former husband, and their son arrived in the U.S. as legal immigrants in 2009.

Comrade José Luis Martínez
For Olga and Teresita, it was their Spanish roots that got them out. Olga’s father José “Pepe” Prats Amat was born in Spain. Spain considers persons born in Spain Spaniards for life, as well as their children and grandchildren. Prove a parent or grandparent’s citizenship and you will be issued a Spanish passport. With a foreign passport, you did not have to get permission from the Cuban government to leave the island, and with a Spanish passport you could travel without a visa not only to Spain, but to any European country, most Latin American countries, and to the U.S. and Canada. Benito by phone and mail tracked down and paid for a certified copy of Pepe’s 1893 birth certificate from Spain. He sent that to Camaguey with money to certify Cuban marriage and birth certificates that would show their lineage. And many months later Teresita and Olga had a way out. It was only Teresita’s son who had no legal way out — great grandsons do not count.

Olga Prats in 2016 at 90 years of age
Teresita would not leave without her son. But Olga did, in 2012. She flew to Miami (where her daughter Carmen lived) via the Bahamas on her Spanish passport and requested asylum on arrival. Teresita’s son knew that if he got to the U.S. he would be granted political asylum, but the U.S. does not grant visas to Cubans or allow them to apply for asylum overseas. His only choice was to arrive illegally and be automatically granted immediate legality (another President Clinton invention). The only way to do that was to travel the illegal immigrant land route the long way around via South and Central America to Texas, He got to the U.S. border in 2014, presented himself to U.S. immigration, had his papers in 24 hours and booked a flight to Miami. It took him close to two years to complete the trip — another story for another day — but as soon as he got to Miami Teresita was free to abandon her homeland, and she did.

Today there are no more Prats relatives in Cuba. Teresita lives in Madrid. In Spain she can practice medicine with her Cuban credentials. Carmen and her mother Olga live in Miami Beach, Florida. Also living in the Miami area are Teresita and Carmen’s sons. Teresita’s son is a Mechanical Engineer, but loves oil painting. His portraits and abstracts fetch hundreds of dollars each. Carmen’s son recently married and at this writing they are looking to buy a house in the suburbs, like the Maryland Prats did so many years ago, finally free to follow their dreams.

P.S. Olga Prats became a U.S. citizen in 2018.

Rufina Pereira at her 99th birthday. Serving the cake
are her great granddaughters Teresita and
Carmen Martínez Prats

The teenagers Carmen and Teresita Martinez
A party in Camaguey in 1981
Carmen Martínez, Eduvigis Respall, Bertha Respall, José Luis Martinez, and Olga Prats