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Text Illustrations
In the Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, VA, there’s a special display for a rickety, home-made aluminum kayak. This tiny, makeshift boat seems oddly out of place in the midst of displays for impressive Navy vessels and artifacts from significant battles on the sea. But a bronze plaque tells museum visitors the story behind this kayak’s heroic makers. In 1966, an auto mechanic named Laureano and his wife, Consuelo, decided that they could no longer live under the oppression of Cuba’s totalitarian regime. After spending months collecting scrap metal, they pieced together a boat just barely big enough for two small people. Then Laureano jury-rigged a small lawn mower engine on the back of the kayak. After months of planning and on a moonless night, they set out into the treacherous straits of Florida with only their swimsuits on. They had enough food and water for two days. After 70 hours, the U.S. Coast Guard rescued the couple just south of the Florida Keys. Was it worth the risk? Laureano said, “When one has grown up in liberty, you realize how important it is to have freedom. We live in the enormous prison which is Cuba, where one’s life is not worth one crumb. Where one goes out into the street and does not know whether or not one will return because the political police can arrest you without any warning and put you in prison. Before this could happen to us, we thought that going into the ocean and risking death or being eaten by sharks, is a million times better than to stay suffering under political oppression.”

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