From Carlos C. Cruz: I was born 56 years ago in Guanabacoa, Habana, Cuba. My wife was born sometime later in Cabanas, Pinar del Rio, Cuba (exactly how much later I cannot tell, for fear that I will not live to write the end of this letter). I was introduced to the church in 1968 when my wife, her sister, her mother and her cousin Maritza were baptized. I would like to thank the legion of missionaries who taught me discussions 1 through 1001, and especially Elders Archer and Ballard who baptized me on August 13, 1972.
I was not the first Cuban baptized, but I have been here long enough to see the enormous growth and impact of Cubans and other Hispanics in both our church and community. There were many Cubans already baptized in the church when I was baptized. Among them, those who are still living and active are Teresa Fernandez; Avelino Corzo; Domingo and Gloria Gomez; Angel and Elsie Urquiola; Angel and Catalina Batista; Lydia Balanza and her daughters Viviana and Margarita; Anibal Fong; Rolando, Luis and Alina Vazquez; Jose Calixto Lopez; Alberto Menendez; Diana (Ochoa) Fonner (a United States born daughter of Cuban immigrants); Juan, Espy and Adela Rubio; Isabel Aguirre; Ursula Izquierdo; Maria (Arce) Miranda (my mother-in-law); Maritza (Miranda) Allen (my wife's cousin); and Maria Amelia (Miranda) Cruz (my wife). Many of their spouses, parents and in some cases children have since passed away. I'm sure there are other names which I have forgotten to list. If so, please forgive me for I, too, am getting old. There are many other names and faces that I still remember, but who have since simply fallen away.
During these years I have seen the Hispanic membership in South Florida grow from a handful of members in a dependent Sunday School (part of an English speaking ward) to where we are now two Spanish stakes, and the third stake -- the "English" stake -- which has more than 50% membership of Hispanic heritage.
I served as Branch President of the Rama Hispano-Americana de Miami (Spanish-American Branch of Miami) from 1973-1975. This branch was the cradle of all the Hispanic activity in the South Florida area. I was not the first Hispanic branch president. Salvador Lacayo (from El Salvador) was the first Hispanic Branch President when the branch was still a dependent branch. Then Darian Anderson (an American who had served a mission in Brazil) served as the first president of the independent branch. I followed him, and was the first Cuban branch president of that branch.
I have seen so many come and go, I sometimes feel like some of the prophets of the Book of Mormon, who saw the people cling to the gospel during hard times and then lost the spirit during times of prosperity. When I was first introduced to the church, the Cubans were a majority of the Hispanics in the church (in this area). Unfortunately for us Cubans, because we have been here longer than other Hispanics, many of us now enjoy a higher economic standard. The number of Cubans being baptized today is much smaller than the number of Hispanics from other countries.
Our stake president (a Columbian married to a Cuban) once remarked that Cubans are hard to baptize, but once they cling to the gospel they are hard to shake loose. This is so true. Many of us, whose children and grandchildren are being born into the church, and who are faithful to the gospel, will someday be able to see the fruits of our faithfulness. I hope to see the day when the borders of Cuba will be opened to the gospel. Where we, our children and our grandchildren can go take the gospel to a hungry Cuba. Not just hungry for food, but hungry for the everlasting gospel.
We are prepared for that. We now have Cuban born and US born children of Cubans who have served as missionaries, Bishops, members of Stake Presidencies, High Council members, High Priest Group Leaders, Relief Society Presidents, Elders Quorum Presidents and many Priests, Teachers, Deacons, Laurels, Mia-Maids and Beehives who are getting ready to fill those places. We are prepared to someday return and share the gospel of Jesus Christ with our countrymen. I only pray that I can be alive to see that.