55 Years Later, US Official Prepares for Emotional Return to Cuba

Alejandro Mayorkas fled Cuba when he was 1 year old.

October 27, 2015, 6:38 PM
PHOTO: Mayorkas shows off a photo of his mother, grandmother and mother's aunt standing on a beach in Cuba.
Mayorkas shows off a photo of his mother, grandmother and mother's aunt standing on a beach in Cuba.
ABC News

— -- He fled Cuba when he was only 1 year old, but this week Department of Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas makes an emotional return to the island, 55 years after his family escaped to the United States.

"We came to this country as political refugees, my father did not want to live nor raise his family in a communist country," Mayorkas told ABC News. "We came to the United States to be able to live in a democracy and my father wanted for his children like so many parents do a better life than he himself had enjoyed."

In 1960, his family fled Cuba for Miami and settled finally in Los Angeles.

"My hope has always been to return to Cuba with my father, to see where he was born, where he went to school, where he lived the stories he would tell me in his youth," Mayorkas said. "Most unfortunately my father passed away a few years ago and so I will be returning to Cuba without him and that is difficult."

Mayorkas, the highest-ranking Cuban American in the Obama administration and second in command at DHS, will be traveling to the island tonight and staying through Friday to meet with his Cuban counterparts.

He is the third administration official to visit Cuba since President Obama announced the restoration of diplomatic ties last December. He will be accompanied by Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske.

The visit represents the tightening of ties between two countries once so far apart. On the agenda: paving the way for more trade and the resumption of flights between the U.S. and Cuba.

But Mayorkas also plans to visit a few places of historic importance to his family, including the family cemetery, and the steel wool factory his father once owned.

"I'm a little nervous about my emotions," he said. “I miss my parents a great deal, they are with me every day in my heart and I think it will be an inspiring visit and a visit that is filled with pride. It will also be with a broken heart."

"I will carry my father and my mother with me as I do every day. I will carry them for most in my mind during the days I have the privilege of being there," he added.