International News

The Story of the Toy Cat that Escaped Castro Will Make You Cry

Cats on the internet are supposed to make us laugh like peanut butter on jelly is supposed to be delicious, but every once in a while a cat story comes along that makes us bawl our eyes out uncontrollably. While the cat at the center of this story happens to be plastic, the emotion is all too real. Over at Salon, Jose R. Alonso shares the story of Hebertico the plastic cat, the only possession he was allowed to take out of Cuba when his family escaped the Castro regime when he was a young boy. Hebertico remains a free American toy cat til this day, but will always bear a scar that's a reminder of the brutal ways of Castro thugs.

Alonso was born during the fall of the Batista regime and the rise of Fidel Castro's communist dictatorship. Alonso's father had been a soldier in Batista's army but was allowed to run his father's butcher shop during the regime. Though, the family ran afoul of Castro thugs when snitches ratted his father out for disobeying food rationing rules and sneaking extra food home from the butcher shop to feed his family.

The family finally decided to leave Cuba for America when Alonso was four, but refugees were only allowed to take the smallest of items with them. Alonso only escaped with a rubber toy cat he had named Hebertico that he had coddled since he was a baby. Though, Castro's soldier wouldn't even allow the cat out out in one piece:

On the day we left, we went to the airport where we had to endure endless lines to clear an infinite number of checkpoints. The stations served as a series of humiliating searches, which Cubans leaving the country were forced to undergo. Castro's government wanted to make sure these "gusanos" (worms or caterpillars), as we were called, did not leave with government property -- that is, money, personal jewelry, personal clothing or anything of value. In short, we were only allowed to leave with the clothes on our backs. The only jewelry my mother was able to take was her wedding band. My older sister was permitted one baby doll. I was allowed to take Hebertico.

However, one of the female "inspectors" was convinced that my mother was trying to smuggle more jewelry. After a rigorous pat-down that would shame any American TSA employee, the inspector took Hebertico from my hands and shook him rigorously. Not convinced that my favorite toy was not hiding any of Cuba's "treasures," the inspector took a pocket knife and cut a gash into Hebertico's side. I watched as this "Hero of the Revolution" performed his "duty."

Of course Hebertico wasn't hiding anything, and Alonso calls the slicing an act of spite.

After Hebertico made his first appearance in America at Miami's Freedom tower, his family eventually settled in New York. Though, Hebertico has since returned to Miami, as Alonso now lives here according to his Salon blog and keeps the cat in the top drawer of his armoire to this day.

You really have to read the full account to get the full effect, but a story about toys hasn't got us this emotional since, well, Toy Story 3. At the very least we think Alonso might want to get in contact with a children's book author.

[Salon: The toy cat that escaped Cuba]

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Kyle Munzenrieder