Miami has dozens of Fidel Castros
For the past 18 months, Fidel Castro has searched for a job driving vans or small trucks in Hialeah. He has a clean driving record, and his resumé includes more than a decade behind the wheel. "I know every alley in this city," Castro declares, his upper lip quivering indignantly. "I don't need a GPS. I am a GPS."
But he's rarely called back for interviews, even when friends refer him to potential employers. So he continues delivering flowers for a wholesaler 20 hours a week. The 47-year-old struggles to make his $350 monthly rent for the apartment he shares with two other former balseros.
He has come to believe his name is the problem. Potential employers assume he's either a prankster, a wacko, or a mouth-foaming commie. It's like finding work in New York's Chinatown when your name is Mao Tse-tung. When his parents, who lived in Cuba's Pinar del Río, named him for the young leader in the first years after the revolution, they apparently didn't consider the boy's employment prospects upon his defection to the United States.
"I am not a Communist dictator," the van driver insists. He's scrawny and slightly bug-eyed, resembling a Hispanic Steve Buscemi, and wears a grubby white T-shirt and a Velcro-clasped Yankees cap. "I think Fidel Castro is shit like everybody else. Why else would I be here? But it's my name, man. I'm not going to change it for nobody."
Though only nine people named Fidel Castro live in the United States, according to HowManyOfMe.com, a recount is clearly in order. There are 13 listed in the Miami-Dade white pages. Five reside in Hialeah, but others are strewn from Doral to Miami Gardens. One lives in Fort Lauderdale.
Florida corporate records reveal Fidel Castro owns 24 businesses in the state, from Castro Landscaping and Maintenance Corporation in Miami to a computer-programming operation in Tampa. In South Florida, guys bearing el jefe máximo's name are ready and willing to tow your car, install your drywall, and revamp your corporate image.
Fidel Castro has been a defendant in five lawsuits filed in Miami-Dade County and a plaintiff in three. He has been sued for not paying his credit card bill and has inherited money from his aunt Teresa. In 1993, the parents of a minor Fidel Castro sued Dade County Board of Commissioners for vehicular negligence, a case that was settled out of court.
In 2001, a broke, Hialeah-residing Fidel Castro declared bankruptcy, jilting creditors such as Sears, Ford, and Banco Popular.
At least one Fidel Castro has removed himself from the ranks. In 1995, he filed papers in Miami-Dade family court, changing his first name to the less-despotic Christian.
Perhaps the difficulty of life with the name of a hated dictator can lead to antisocial behavior. That would explain a veritable Fidel Castro crime wave that has seized Miami-Dade in the past two decades. Since 1981, 11 local men with that name have racked up criminal charges.
Fidel Castro has been booked three times for begging and once each for sleeping in a public place, disorderly intoxication, consuming alcohol in a store, and marijuana possession. In 1999, a wild-eyed, mentally unstable, brick-wielding 65-year-old Fidel Castro threatened two Miami cops. He dropped the brick only after they pulled their guns. He spent 364 days in prison for aggravated assault.
In 2007, Fidel Castro, a homeless Puerto Rican man missing all of his teeth, fled and fought back when police officers tried to cuff him for aggressive panhandling. They found a crack pipe in his pocket.
And in June 2008, cops charged Fidel Castro with cocaine possession after they watched the bearded 54-year-old Cuban, who boasted an Afro and "dirty" teeth, according to a police report, drop a small baggie of crack on the street.
South Florida's Fidel Castros tend to be transient, making them elusive interview subjects. New Times called every one in the local phone book, first asking for them by only their first name.
Conversations generally continued this way: "¿Quién?"
Exasperation and dead dial tones often followed.
"Fidel Castro está en Cuba," one man patiently explained. New Times was called an "idiota" after asking for him at the Cuban Food Market on Calle Ocho, which is listed as his work address in the white pages.
But not all local Fidel Castros are reclusive. A Miami Lakes house, identified by the SUV parked out front with an "El Comandante" novelty license plate, is the site of Fidel Castro-on-Fidel Castro bonding, Fidel-on-Fidel screaming matches, and, occasionally, Fidel punishing Fidel for incurring a speeding ticket in the family vehicle. It is the home of the only Fidel Castro father-and-son duo in South Florida.
The oddity's genesis came in May 1956, when the revolutionary Castro was still a dark-bearded, charismatic guerrilla leader traipsing through Latin America with BFF Che Guevara. His name was not yet synonymous with heavy-handed oppression and imposed poverty.
So Ramón and Oilda Castro, two peasants in the Cuban province of Matanzas, paid homage by naming their son Fidel. They would later christen a younger son, Raúl, after the dictator's brother and current Cuban president.
The Matanzas-born Fidel defected to Miami in the early '70s, bringing his parents with him. He got a job driving semi trucks and wasn't exactly ashamed of his name: His rig's CB radio code was "El Comandante," and he bought the matching novelty plate.
But there were myriad unexpected disadvantages of being named for a notorious tyrant. In the mid-'80s, he was driving a truck through Texas when a state trooper pulled him over. The patrolman reached for his cuffs as soon as the truck driver told him his name. He spent a few hours in jail, the family lore goes, before cops discovered their prisoner really had lost his license as he had claimed.
In 1990, the truck driver and his wife, Maria, had their first son. At the time, Oilda Castro was dying of cancer, so she was given the honor of choosing her nieto's name.
She struck again. Fidel Denny Castro was typed into official existence at Miami Beach's Mount Sinai Medical Center. The kid even shares a birthday, August 13, with the Cuban dictator.
Now 19 years old, Fidelito recalls attending Miami Lakes' Barbara Goleman Senior High School, where he was elected everything from homecoming king to best dressed. "Kids that didn't even know me would vote for me," he recalls, "just to be funny."
But there are drawbacks. "I applied for months to a Starbucks where my friends were working," he says. "The managers always threw out the applications, thinking it was a prank."
Worse, his Facebook account was abruptly removed last year. Site administrators demanded documents proving his identity. Rather than deal with the invasion of privacy, he changed his online name to Fidel Castro-Germanotta — adopting Lady Gaga's surname.
Castro has bounced between Florida International University and Miami Dade College as a journalism major. He thinks his byline might help a career in print. "If you were reading a newspaper where there was a story written by Fidel Castro next to one by, say, Sarah Rodriguez," he ruminates, "you'd probably think, Let me see what Fidel Castro has to say."
But, he adds, the name stops here: "I would never curse another child with this stigma."
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