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Artist Mandy Macias: A Palette of Strong Colors

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New Year’s Eve, Havana, Cuba, 1959.

Mandy Macias was a typical seventeen-year-old high school student, captain of her volleyball team, living at home with her parents and two older brothers, paying attention to her studies, and hanging out with friends. The family tradition was to usher in the new year with members of her extended family, always a large get-together of uncles, aunts, and cousins.

Mandy recalled, “On the way home that evening, there was something different about the city. Normally bustling with nightlife, Havana’s streets were eerily silent and absent of people.” In the pre-cell phone era, they had to wait until the next morning to find out that a political coup had taken place: Fulgencio Batista was out and Fidel Castro was in. Within a few days, armed military personnel seemed to be everywhere, invading all aspects of Cuban life, and even patrolling the high school Mandy attended. Interrogations, communist brainwashing, public trials, and televised firing squads became the new norm of the revolutionary era.

Mandy’s father realized he had to get his family away from this regime. By June 1960 he and Mandy’s mother and oldest brother had obtained visas for the United States. Bureaucratic complications led to Mandy having to wait until November to join them. Her brother, Jorge, was delayed another year, having relocated in the interim to live with relatives and work in Spain.

Mandy said, “When we were all finally reunited, it was a cause for celebration and thanksgiving. Because we had studied English in Cuba, we fared pretty well as newcomers, but there was still a tough adjustment period. My father and mother had to take menial manual labor jobs, and I, understandably, missed my home, my friends, and the rest of my family we’d left behind. But it was a matter of safety and freedom; we had no choice but to start over.”

After obtaining her high school diploma, Mandy found work as a babysitter for various families and enrolled in night classes to learn Italian, calligraphy, and bookkeeping. She added, “My hopes of attending college to become an architect had to be put aside so that I could help my parents financially. My father was washing dishes in a pizza restaurant. My mother was helping take care of another mother and her child and doing sewing on the side to bring in money. ”

A few years later, Mandy became a licensed beautician and eventually established and purchased her own salon business in Miami. About the same time, she reconnected with a friend from Cuba, Ernesto Macias. She commented, “We’d known each other in high school and kept in touch after he moved to New Jersey to work and attend university.”

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