As the world reacted to the death of Fidel Castro, Frank Martin’s thoughts weren’t about the man who ran Cuba for half a century. They were about his family who left their island home so he could have better opportunities in this country.
The University of South Carolina men’s basketball coach was in New York City Saturday with the Gamecocks for their win over Syracuse, along with several members of his family, when news of Castro’s death broke.
“I don’t wish for anyone to die,” the Miami native and son of Cuban immigrants said. “I just reflected on how lucky I am that I didn’t have to live under his regime.”
Martin talked about his family history and the Castro government at Monday’s USC men’s basketball press conference, after tweeting about the Castro news over the weekend.
Martin grew up in Miami after his parents and other family members fled Cuba — like thousands of other islanders — after Castro’s communist regime came to power in the 1959 revolution.
Martin’s parents met each other in the United States, and he grew up in a home where “I learned English after I started school, not before.”
“This great country took in a family that didn’t speak a lick of English, and didn’t give them anything for free, but gave them an opportunity,” Martin said.
Martin made the most of that opportunity, becoming a major-college basketball coach. An uncle went from carrying boxes on the south Florida docks to a top position with the port of Miami.
However, Martin said Monday that Cuban-Americans of his generation haven’t given Castro that much thought.
“Is he a tyrant? Yes. Did he murder people? Yes. Do I spend time thinking about him? No.” Martin said of the late Cuban president. “But, now, my grandmother can rest in peace.”
Asked about San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who wore a t-shirt with Castro on it to a press conference last week, Martin said Kaepernick has the right to express his opinion.
But he added, “Anyone who can applaud (Castro) is uneducated about him. If you did not stand for Castro in Cuba, you would be in jail.”
Even after Castro’s death, Martin said Monday he is unsure if he would want to go to Cuba now.
“I only know the country through my family’s eyes, not mine,” Martin said. “I think I’d be sad to see what it is now, compared to what my family told me about it.”
Still, he hopes his surviving relatives will be able to do “what my grandmother and grandfather on both sides were not able to do,” and see once again the homes where they grew up.