Tony Oliva: “I was born in Cuba but Minnesota is my home”

Tony Oliva came to the United States from his native Cuba in 1961 to play baseball.  His plans then were to make enough money as a ballplayer to move back home and buy a farm.  However, the 1959 revolution and U.S. President John Kennedy signing a permanent embargo on Cuba in 1962 changed all that.

Tony Oliva
Tony Oliva

“My dream was to come here and play baseball,” said Oliva during his keynote speech at the April 18 Green Card Voices (GCV) auction and dinner at the University of St. Thomas downtown Minneapolis campus.  “Fifty-five years later, I stand here with my family.”

GCV is a non-profit organization that “shares personal narratives” of immigrants, whether naturalized citizens, permanent or temporary residents, refugees, asylees or persons with temporary visas.  Over 100 personal accounts have been recorded and shared on their online digital library, YouTube and two traveling exhibits – Oliva’s story is a recent addition.

“This event is special,” said Oliva before his speech.

The Minnesota Twins signed Oliva, who played 15 seasons (1962-76) and worked with the team in various roles since he was forced to retire from baseball due to knee problems.  He currently does analysis on the Twins’ Spanish radio broadcasts.  He also met and married his wife here.

“That young lady is still with me,” he bragged.

“I’m very proud to be American as I am very proud to be Cuban.  I was born in Cuba but Minnesota is my home.  I love Minnesota,” he told the audience.

It’s hard for immigrants who come to this country alone without family:  “I lived alone for many years (but) I played baseball.  When you play baseball, baseball becomes an extended family.  I had no place to go but back to my room,” remembered Oliva.

Oliva told the audience that he is just like many immigrants who came to the U.S. “looking for their dreams.”   Immigrants “come to work, and work very hard.  A lot of people think you come to the United States to get things handed to you,” he pointed out.  “Most of the people who come here with the idea of a better life and help their family back home.”

“Everybody wants to come here legally,” said Oliva.  “They don’t want to sneak in.”  But getting accepted for a visa isn’t always easy, he pointed out, even if you apply for a work visa.  Furthermore, immigrants often take jobs that Americans don’t want, he noted.  “Ninety-five percent of the people are good people and work very hard to come [here] and take care of their family.”

President Barack Obama announced last year to remove the remaining barriers that would lift the embargo and restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba.  Before his appearance, the MSR asked Oliva about President Obama’s decision.

“I’m not a politician,” said Oliva.  “I don’t know why it is taking so long. I never understood why Cuba and the United States didn’t have a better relationship.  I’m so glad that they finally talking and finding a way to have a relationship so people can go visit and work together.”

It will be good for tourism as well, added Oliva.  “A lot of Americans would like to go there, and a lot of Cuban people would like to come here to visit and go back. “I really hope that they can get everything straight.

“I think it will be better for everybody,” concluded Oliva.

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com