Carmelina Inchaustegui, 77, of Miami, died on Jan. 17, 2021, following an almost monthlong battle with COVID-19. She’s among hundreds of thousands of Americans who have lost their lives to the disease since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020.
Inchaustegui immigrated to the U.S. from Cuba in the early sixties, shortly after Fidel Castro took control over the island on Jan. 1, 1959. The Cuban Revolution unleashed the largest refugee flow to the U.S. in history, and Inchaustegui was one of over a million Cubans who fled the island and came to the U.S. in search for a better life.
Like many Cuban exiles, she settled in Miami. Her daughter Jennifer de Castroverde told Yahoo News that she was a staple of the Cuban exile community there and was known and loved by many: “She was known by the rich, by the poor, by the politicians and even the criminals.”
JENNIFER DE CASTROVERDE: My name is Jennifer de Castroverde, and I am the daughter of my mother Carmelina Inchaustegui. My mother passed away from COVID-19. She so loved me unconditionally. My mother was such an unconditional force.
She didn't judge people by how much money they had in their wallet or what the clothes they wore. She judged people by their character and the size of their heart. And my mother was caring and giving until the end. My mother, she was my best friend.
My mom came from Cuba in the early '60s when Fidel Castro came into power a year after my grandparents and my mother and her sister, my aunt, traveled here to Miami. And they never returned home. And they were part of one generation that became many generations that became exiled from the island.
They left their home. They left their friends. They left their family. They left everything to start a life here in the United States.
So Miami is peopled with a lot of exiled Cubans. And my mother was kind of a little bit of a figure in that society. And so there's a restaurant in Miami called Versailles. At the Versailles window, it's a little window where you go, and you get the-- you know, the very famous traditional Cuban coffee.
This is a place where the Cuban culture, the Cuban community, come together. And what you'll find are generations of individuals who are still talking about Cuba. They're talking about Cuba in the past. They're talking about Cuba now.
They're talking about politics. They're talking about music. And it was my mom's favorite place. She was a local favorite.
My mother never had it easy when my father left when I was young. She had to find any job to work in order to pay our way. And she figured out how to get me through private school, how to get my brother through private school.
I ended up going to a very prominent university for my master's. She set up a foundation, and she worked every job to get me there. One job that my mother did for many, many years was she worked for Language Line. She was a 911 translator.
My mother was quite an anxious person. So I found it quite ironic that she would sign up to be a 911 translator 'cause, you know, having that job could be very anxiety-provoking. And she didn't see her job as just a way to support me. She saw her job always as a way to connect to people and to help people.
So I went to the supermarket to get some stuff for my mom to take it to the hospital for her. And as I was in the checkout line, I saw this rack with these dolls on it. And there was a doll with blond hair and little pigtails.
So when I saw the doll, something told me, well, I can't physically be there with her, so I'm going to take her that doll. Maybe she'll feel like she's close to me. The doll stayed with her the whole time. And it was as if I was there with her. And it was just a doll that cost $10, and it's the most valuable thing I have now.
So that whole year when people were dying, I just went about my day, you know? I would look at the news at night, and I would see that number and, of course, I felt incredible empathy for all of those souls. But now-- now, I look at that number and I go, oh, my god, there's thousands of people out there who feel what I feel.
She taught me how to just be in the moment. And she believed that that was important if you are to be a mother. And I am the mother of an eight-year-old.
And she would always tell me, Jennifer, you had your life. [LAUGHS] Now you are a mother, and you must move forward for your child. You have to be a pillar of strength for your child. And that is the thing that, for me, is the greatest lesson I learned from my mom is how to be a great mom.