Scholar looks to inspire Cuban families to explore their own histories

A young girl looks through the book, "Lessons from Abuelo," which was written by former University of Miami scholar Andy Gomez. Photo: Joshua Prezant/University of Miami
By Ashley A. Williams

A young girl looks through the book, "Lessons from Abuelo," which was written by former University of Miami scholar Andy Gomez. Photo: Joshua Prezant/University of Miami

Scholar looks to inspire Cuban families to explore their own histories

By Ashley A. Williams
Andy Gomez, author of “Lessons from Abuelo: History of Cuba” and former University of Miami assistant provost, shares the facts and history about his beloved country in hopes of motivating others to do the same.

University of Miami former professor and administrator Andy Gomez has now become a children’s author and takes on the task of explaining Cuba’s politically charged history in a way that children and their families can easily explore. The book, “Lessons from Abuelo,” was inspired by his grandchildren and examines the history of Cuba in an accessible way.

“My goal is to have parents and grandparents sit around with their kids and tell their own stories using my book as a guide,” said Gomez, former director of the University’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies. “It is up to every family to interpret what I have written—that to me is the only thing I wanted to accomplish.”

Lessons from Abuelo

In responding to a few questions, Gomez shares his deep passion for teaching his grandchildren about Cuba’s history and the reason he encourages other families to explore their own histories.

What inspired you to write this book?

Well, some of my former students throughout the years have been asking me to write a book so that they can teach their children about Cuba. I’ve spent all my life in academia. I don't know how to write a kid's book, I thought. And then, about three years ago, a very dear friend says to me, “You’ve got to write a book. You’ve got write a book.”

So, when I came back home, I began thinking more and more about it. This book has been a three-and-a-half-year process. I started jotting down notes about the history of Cuba. And then one day I asked my wife, who recently retired as a math teacher after 42 years, to read what I wrote. She took a couple of days to read it. And she came back to me and said, “This is boring. You’ve got to bring it to life.” She had a very good point.

I wanted to design a book looking at specific points in Cuban history.

I remember the day I graduated with my Ph.D. from Harvard. My dad, who was a very simple man, said something that has stuck with me: “Don’t ever forget where you come from.” And I think all of us, not just Cubans, all of us must keep that in perspective. We must protect our history and teach it to our children, to our grandchildren.

What was the process of writing this book like for you? Did it rekindle any feelings from your past?

Oh my! I shed a tear or two. I went back and pulled pictures of when we were in Cuba. And I still have some memories as a little boy that I can recall very vividly—like when [Fidel] Castro came into Havana, my school, my first communion. But then there are things that I have no memories of.

I think the book serves multiple purposes for the younger generations, and it will engage them to investigate Cuba’s history and try to understand what happened in 1959.

My illustrator, Herman Henriquez, grasped my concept. I explained what I was going for and he said he was going to take me and my four grandkids in a time tunnel back to colonial times—and that’s what he did.

It’s up to every family to interpret what I have written and to tell their own stories, where they lived, why they left.

It’s been 64 years since Castro took over. We cannot forget about the past. It’s time for Cuban American families to begin to preserve our history and our culture.

How did you consider which parts of Cuba’s history to address in the book and which to exclude? Was this a challenging task to do?

It took a while. I knew I wanted to start the book addressing exile, because I think I wanted to begin from the early arrival of the Cuban American community. But I heard in the back of my mind, “the kids, the kids, the kids.” So, I decided to start the book picturing the Freedom Tower right across from Bayside—which represents a symbol of freedom in my community. If you’ve ever seen it, there are always doves flying around there. In the book, I made myself the old dove and the other four doves represent my grandchildren. The book starts with my oldest grandson, AJ, asking me why I left Cuba. It was the same question I had once asked my father.

Lessons from Abuelo
Andy Gomez and his grandchildren, Luca, Henry, and AJ, front left to right, and Jack. Photo courtesy Andy Gomez

Barbara Gutierrez, associate director of communications and public relations for the office of University Communications, was outstanding as my editor. We went back and forth about what to include, what not to include. I thought some topics were not necessarily needed to be discussed in a children’s book, but Barbara was great about helping me explain things in a way that even children can understand. She was able to see things that I could not see because I had been working at it for so long.

Since this is your first time writing for children, how did the children in your own life respond to the book?

This is a book to be used as a guide for families to tell their own experiences, nothing more, nothing less. I think families need to put that into perspective. My only goal was to see if I can tweak the dialogue, which is always dominated by the politics on both sides. So, we try to talk about our history and our culture. I sit down with AJ and Henry, my older two grandchildren, and talk about it. I like for them to be inquisitive. The little ones love the pictures.

This book is very special to me. This has been one of my most rewarding experiences.

How can people purchase your book?

People can purchase a book directly from me, and I’m going to tell you why. There is no intention to make money. But I spoke to several publishers and many of them wanted me to take this out, put this in, and I said no, no, no.

Subsequently, we decided to go with a little publishing printing company in Hialeah. They just finished printing some books that I will take with me to my Jan. 22 event at Books and Books.