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How I left Cuba in a boat, was a refugee in Guantanamo bay and created my business in Miami. 

By  Alexis Martin

On Wednesday, August 31, 1994, I left Cuba in A boat. This experience changed my life forever. I went with dreams and aspirations I could not fulfill in my birthplace. The night or Thursday, September 1, 1994, was terrible for us. A storm hit us; our boat was banged against the water like thrown from a higher altitude.

At times we could see the moon reflection "down there", seconds later, hit the water with a deep sound of metal hitting the water, making you jump from your seat.

We were not welcome.

The storm had returned us to Cuba. After arriving in Cuba, all tired and shaken up. A state security guard reminded us we were not welcome in that area of Cuba, a beach reserved for the elite and their families. In retrospect, this guard reminded us why we were leaving a country with no future or place for people like us. Different political ideology or even just for the mere fact of wanting to do more with our lives were just not enough to fit this society.

We were all scared by the whole ordeal of losing our water, food, and even followed by sharks visible within the ocean waves. So much so I clearly remembered the sunlight reflecting on the sharkskin. It is a miracle all 9 of us survive, so to see most of my friends leave the beach was understandable. I stayed with another friend, and the next day we tried again. Due to our location (near Havana), the US coast guard picked us up in 24 hours.

Me (black shirt) at Guantanamo Bay 1994

The rescue

I was picked up at sea by the US coast guard Monday morning, September 5, 1994. I felt a rush of excitement. I could not believe I had h the possibility of going to the US. Ever since I was a teenager, I dreamed of this day! Even after been forced into the military service in Cuba, I would go to English night school before coming home.

Me (behind the Monitor) Teaching computers at the refugee center in Guantanamo Bay

Arriving at Guantanamo bay

We were transferred to other boats and travel on them from the western part of Cuba (Havana) to Guantanamo Bay in eastern Cuba. Upon arriving at Guantanamo Bay, a government representative read a written memorandum from the US president (Bill Clinton). We will be allowed into the US under no circumstance.

Some people felt discouraged by this; however, we all knew we would end up at Guantanamo. For me, Guantanamo meant a steppingstone an opportunity to get to the US. I spent 13 months in Guantanamo bay doing voluntary work with the US military and world relief. I was finally accepted by immigration to come to the US, and they brought me to Miami, where I had family waiting for me.

Guantanamo Rafters

Me at Guantanamo Bay Cuba (Third standing up from the right with the black shirt)

In Guantanamo Bay, I used my time by volunteering with World Relief and the US military. I was teaching a computer class at the refugee center. I also took English classes and I improved my English.

 Years back in Cuba, my friends and I will write down the lyrics of rock songs, and we will clandestinely listen to US FM and TV stations from Florida. My English was good, and I offered my translation services to the coast guard. I felt a duty to pay back since that very first day.

World Relief Certificate.

Welcome to Miami

Shortly after arriving in Miami, I worked in construction and doing odd jobs until I was able to get a job at a hospital as an orderly in a surgery room. I got my first professional job doing computer tech support for a food chain in Miami and later working for a stock market software company. I always had dreamed of having my own business, and by 1997 I was on my own doing computer networks and other computer related jobs.

MyCubanStore is born

In December 2002, my wife and I created Mycubanstore.com with the idea of selling Cuban memorabilia; instead, we discovered the popularity of the Guayabera shirts. I worked part-time in this new venture until it grew and was profitable.

We started shipping guayabera shirts from a small room in our house, and we will pack the orders and place them in the car. Since I had two jobs, we will drive to the Miami airport (which opened late) and drop the delivery cargo.

Our service had always been our main distinction from day one we decided we wanted to offer a bit more for our customers. We implemented a 365 days return poly and free shipping options since day one. We moved from our house to a small warehouse and then to a bigger one and so on. We had always grown our business organically with the customer in mind, be honest, and offering real value for our customers. Our guayaberas are very popular worldwide, and they are trendy at destination weddings and other celebrations.

MyCubanStore.Com Warehouse today.

Conclusions

I became a US citizen at the exact time I was able to. I always felt a duty to pay it forward and not forget the sacrifices I made to get here. This country has always been the last hope for people in search or refuge. Therefore, I genuinely hope it remains like that.

As a nation, we need to continue to have a heart and see potential in every human being regardless of race, ethnicity, and economic status. We all have aspirations and unique abilities, and I genuinely believe here in the US, a person can fulfill its dreams for its benefit and the benefit of humanity.

I'm forever grateful for this great country, I have a great family I love, and a business I feel very passionate. One time I remember telling a friend how grateful I was of his country.

He replied by telling me, not my country Alexis, is our country, and I honestly had always felt this way!

The best way to predict your future is to create it.

Abraham Lincoln

Alexis Martin


I'm a first-generation Cuban immigrant. I have a passion for everything Cuba. I love to share our culture and my expertise in the world-famous Guayabera Shirt. On December 18, 2002, I sold my first Cuban Guayabera shirt online. I fell in love with the process and the fact that this is a business, you always have to be willing to learn. Many things have changed since then, new software services, new concepts. At Mycubanstore.com, we had been able to ride different market waves. We are always humbled and grateful for this privilege of building a future in this great country.

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  1. Boy what a great story Alexis. You had what it took to get to the United States. I only wish that there would be another 2 million people like your wife and you. Your loyalty and love for this country shows. We never forget where we are from, your country Cuba what I saw on September 24, 2018 was full of loving Cubans that welcomed us Americans with open arms. I remember the bus driver and the tour guide of course both Cuban men who were a delight to listen to. I hope one day I will have the opportunity to visit Cuba for a longer period perhaps to talk with the same bus driver and tour guide. Both men were well educated in fact the tour guide was a teacher I believe of English. I met another middle aged man an artist who had made a wooden piece of art of Che Guevara. I couldn’t copy and paste some photographs that I took. What a piece of beauty the artwork made out of wood. I believe the Cuban person already knows adversity before anything else. I’ve read extensively about the time period from 1946 to about 2000. The Cuban people are strong for all of the pain Cubans went through during that time period. Yet through it all, with you, you have more loyalty then what I have seen even for people that have served in the US military. You and your wife are success stories most definitely. You and your wife took adversity and turned it into hope and prosperity. You were a young man when you came and that alone your youth is remarkable that you had the insight into what you really wanted to do in your life. I commend both of you for that. Your store is much bigger than I thought, and one day I will be walking through the entrance of your store to buy some shirts. I have a friend who actually teaches at the Miami Dade College I believe not to far from your store. You are a good friend Alexis. Your product is superior to any other shirt I know.

    Warmly,

    Pedro

    Peter Robert-James Sheldon

    1. Hello, Thanks for your kind words. We are grateful and never forget were we come from. Yes my store is very close to Miami-Dade college in Kendall come by anytime.

  2. Wow, what an incredible story, I admire you for what you have accomplished. We are truly blessed. I also left Cuba in the early 60s as a young 4 year old. My parents and I started our lives here and have been blessed ever since. This is a great country we live in I have always taught my children how blessed we are living in such an incredible country full of freedom and opportunities. God bless.

    1. Thank you Sr., Indeed this is a great country, its up to us to remind our kids about this. There is lots of noise constantly about the country many issues but this is also what makes it great, everyone has a voice and a platform. Thanks for reading my blog have a wonderful day!

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