MINNEAPOLIS — For years, Emmanuel Lamur had heard stories about relatives in Cuba he never had met.
The Vikings linebacker was born in West Palm Beach, Fla., in 1989, five years after his father, Jean Albert Lamur, moved to the United States from his native Haiti. Jean was born in 1955, and was 1½ years old when his mother left for Cuba.
“My mother was not married, and she was 16 when she had me,” Jean Lamur said. “I went to live with an aunt and an uncle, and she went with my grandfather to Cuba (in 1957) because he was looking to find work and he was taking care of her.”Back then, Cuba was open, and it was just like going to any other country.
”Then came Jan. 1, 1959. Fidel Castro’s revolutionaries took over and Cuba became a communist nation, closed off to the rest of the world. Jean’s mother, Sonia, could not leave the country, and her son could not visit.As a boy, Lamur learned that his father had no memory of Sonia. Finally, in August 2000, when Lamur was 11 and traveling restrictions had been relaxed, his father was able to go to Cuba and meet his mother.
She had years earlier married Fernando Martinez, who died nine years ago, and become Sonia Martinez. When Jean arrived with his wife, Carolle, it was an emotional reunion between mother and son. He also met for the first time the four sons and two daughters his mother had with Fernando.
Lamur was able to see pictures and hear more stories about his relatives over the next 17 years. Then a big family reunion for last February was planned.A traveling party of 19 spent four nights in Camaguey, Cuba’s third-largest city with a population of 321,000, to visit relatives. Among them were Lamur, his parents; his brothers, John and Sammuel; and his sister Rose.”It was a great experience,” Lamur said. “It was very emotional. For so many years, I had heard of my grandma and never got to see her and my other relatives. I’m definitely thankful for that. It’s a blessing to think of that on Thanksgiving.
“The visit was in February but had a holiday feel to it, John Lamur said. Plenty of Cuban food was served.
“It was like a mini-Thanksgiving,” he said. “The whole aura was like Thanksgiving. All the family was there, and we were just happy to be in each other’s presence.”While Jean and Carolle had been there 17 years earlier, it was the first visit for the other 17 in the traveling party. They met more than 20 Cuban relatives.
The Cubans speak Spanish, as do Jean and Carolle, so they were able to help translate. Sonia Martinez, 79, still speaks some Creole, the predominate language in her native Haiti. That helped her in communicating with Lamur and his brothers and sister, who speak Creole.
“My grandma had heard of it, but she really didn’t have any idea about (the NFL),” Lamur said. “Football for them is soccer, but when we showed her pictures, she was full of joy. There were tears of joy.
“Lamur said the greatest joy he experienced was seeing his father interact with a mother he at one point had not seen for 43 years. “I can’t even imagine going that long,” Lamur said. “It definitely touched me to see my dad with her. I can’t even explain the feeling.”After Jean relocated to Florida, he became a sanitation worker in West Palm Beach, eventually becoming a supervisor. At one point, he was able to get in touch with an aunt, Janie, who had made it out of Cuba to Miami in 1984, and learn more about his mother.
By the 1990s, Jean was able to correspond with her. The visit eventually was set up for Jean to go to Cuba in 2000.”We met at the airport, and it was so emotional,” Jean recalled. “We were holding each other and just crying and crying. Everybody was crying there, even people who were just there at the airport.”When he brought his family to Cuba last February, Lamur’s father said it was similar experience to 17 years earlier. This time, the visitors stayed at a nice home that was rented. As for Martinez’s living conditions, Lamur said they were spartan.
“That’s something she’s been struggling with, and it’s kind of like in Haiti,” Lamur said. “My dad wants better for them. That’s his mom.”The three Lamur brothers last year founded the Lamur Charity, and there is a possibility something eventually could be done to help Cuba. The charity’s work has included replacing stolen football uniforms for a youth team in South Florida, handing out Thanksgiving turkeys last week, and delivering food supplies to Haiti after Hurricane Matthew.
“The foundation maybe could do something for Cuba down the road, absolutely,” said John Lamur. “I believe these countries need help. I know I plan to return to Cuba.”Jean plans to return in December for another visit with his mother, and Lamur also has an interest in going back at some point. In addition to meeting relatives, Lamur enjoyed the natural beauty of Cuba and was intrigued by the architecture and the streets full of American cars from the 1950s.
“You see it on TV, but this is actually real life,” Lamur said. “We (visited) old schools. It was awesome. The cars were all antique style. It was crazy thinking about how they have the same motors and how they were able to keep them running all these years.”Lamur would love for his grandmother one day to be able to come to the U.S. and see him play in an NFL game.
“That would be a dream come true,” he said. “That would be so amazing. Oh, my goodness.”
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