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From Cuba to Baseball to Banking

FIRST-PERSON

Posted: June 8, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: June 8, 2014 2:00 a.m.

Robert Suarez playing baseball for Burbank High Varsity Baseball in 1972. One of the people met after fleeing Cuba was once fellow ball-player and then Dodger coach, Preston Gomez.

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Although a family tale assures a different story, I was born in central Cuba in 1954.

An only child, my early years were passed seemingly uneventful, as my time, when not in school, was consumed by street pick-up baseball, Caribbean rhythms, and rainy night ghost stories.

This innocence began to fade in the 1960’s, first, with the havoc caused locally by the ineffectively supported 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion and, then, with the tensions of the 1962 Missile Crisis.

I still recall with child-like surprise and amazement how street baseball would be startlingly interrupted by the sound-barrier breaking noise from the roof-top fly-bys of the MIG fighter jets from the Soviet base nearby.

As subsequent communist government policies put many of my family in prison, my parents would choose the path that had been carved by many other “pre-military” age children before me: Just shy of 15 years of age, I would be sent to Mexico in 1969 in a last ditch effort to reach the United States as others did to free themselves from the central planners of Cuba’s regime.

In Cuba at the time, boys were required by law to enter military service at age 15; girls at 17.

Had I been older than 15 at the time, I would have not been allowed to leave the Island until after my 27th birthday.

The events and people mentioned next would have been different, if at all - this is where my family tale becomes relevant, plausible and remarkably coincidental.

While a documented visitor, my time in Mexico would be spent reading literature and pleading my case for a visa to enter the United States at the American Embassy.

The risk of deportation under then Mexican federal laws would keep me from attending school, holding a job, and receiving government subsidies, all benefits that were deliberately reserved and preserved exclusively for tax-paying Mexican citizens.

Thus, the $20-a-month room I rented for seven months from a generous local family in Mexico City would be paid for with funds that my father would manage to exchange through the Cuban underground.

Granted entrance to the USA as a political refugee, thanks in part to my father’s relationship with once fellow ball-player and then Dodger coach Preston Gomez, I learned the new language while playing baseball at Burbank High School.

With guidance from my parents, who had followed my footsteps to Burbank a year later, I went on to play ball at Glendale College and earn a B.A. in Psychology from California State University - practically stumbling into a job in banking after an ankle injury ended my baseball dreams.

I would go on to invest nearly forty years in the financial industry. My career includes positions as senior vice president and chief information officer at several well-known banks in Los Angeles and Orange County.

A fervent believer that rewards must be earned from ability, teamwork and transparency in lightly regulated markets, I now run my own consultancy from my homes in Canyon Country and New Orleans, Louisiana.

My first marriage in 1980 blessed me with three good-looking, bright, emotionally vigilant and amazingly passionate children – two of them have since gone on to extend the family’s preference for a broad perspective on social topics with a results-based college education.

Soon to turn 60, my children continue to add to the joy that I, with Linda, my wife of 17 years, find in my life.

Son Erik climbs high peaks and transcends valleys now under bluer skies.

Emily, who strives daily for balance between her nursing career, music dreams and first-time motherhood.

Robbie, who tests video games seemingly around the clock at his home near D.C.

Jesse, who navigates the political and funding challenges that intellectual property law can bring in Northern California.

And, of course, Kari, who as the “Coach" in the Signal’s Hot10, keeps us all informed and proud of local sporting events.

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