Familiar Faces on Florida Memory

Every October, archives across the United States celebrate Archives Month. This year, the State Archives of Florida is focusing on how archives change lives. Join us throughout the month as we share stories about the impact the Archives has had on staff and patrons like you!


As our blogs this month have demonstrated, sometimes you can find more in the Archives than you anticipated. Recently, the State Archives received an email from Orestes Ortega III giving names to previously unidentified faces—his grandparents and aunts. After seeing the photograph on Florida Memory, he wanted to share with us the history of his family’s journey to the United States. Together with his aunt Maritza, who is shown in the photograph, Mr. Ortega shared their family’s story with us.

Explaining the photograph’s significance to him, Mr. Ortega says, “My grandmother showed me this photograph when I was a boy and it is well-known in our family. It is something of a point of pride for my grandparents. This image has always been so important to me. Their decision to leave in such crazy circumstances, a pregnant wife, two small girls, and a rickety little boat, has always inspired me. I am here today because of the moment in that photograph.”

The Ortega family and Armando Rodriguez wait on a Coast Guard boat at Key West (April 11, 1961).

The Ortega family and Armando Rodriguez wait on a Coast Guard boat at Key West (April 11, 1961).

This photo shows the family of Cuban mechanic Orestes Ortega, Sr. (wearing a hat) waiting in a Coast Guard boat with ex-Castro captain Armando Rodriguez (seated back). Ortega’s oldest daughter, Maritza (far left holding a doll), his wife, Aracelia (who is five months pregnant with the couple’s son, Orestes Ortega, Jr.), and youngest daughter, Meca (center) joined him to escape from the rising political instability of mid-century Cuba. Ortega and an old mariner named “El Isleño” hid a small boat, Jocuma (pictured), near a dock and waited for the right time for the Ortega family to leave the island.

One evening in April 1961, Ortega decided to take his chances. This would be their third attempt to escape from Cuba. With El Isleño’s help, Ortega placed his young family and some supplies into the small boat before setting off for the United States. They left Cuba around 6:00 pm as the sugar mill horn blew.

The drifters spent two nights at sea, and on the third day Ortega saw something on the horizon. Their boat had been badly damaged, they were running out of food, and their compass was damaged. Luckily, what Ortega saw was an American-owned oil platform. After landing on the platform, they were transported to South Florida to start their lives in the U.S. This image was captured on April 11, 1961.

What have you discovered in the Archives? Share your story with us in the comments below. If you come across an unidentified person you recognize in our collection, please email archives@dos.myflorida.com and include a link to the image.

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