Dear Ms. Michel:
I have posted a response to your other message of his date. Since this message provides specific names and a range of dates, it is most helpful.
My grandfather was named Jose Alejandro OBEN y ALVARES born in Ponce, Puerto Rico and travelled to Cuba before 1916 as he and my grandmother married quite young. He was still in Puerto Rico during he 1910 census but living at that time only with his mother. His father was a man of the sea and my grandfather would say his father had come from St. Martin but I did find OBENs in the 1917 census of St. Thomas, French quarter, some mulattos and one was Caucasian and spoke French. My grandfather would say that his father spoke a foreign language but it was not English or French. I sometimes think it could have been Yiddish or Ladino.
My grandfaher did often sing "La Mora" to my grandmother, of the moorish eyes. "Back in Syria, there is a moor girl, whose eyes are lovelier than the brightest shining star. . ." It is a famous Cuban folk song, but I must say my grandfather was overly fond of it.
I found a physical resemblance to my grandfather in a picture of Freda Mary OBEN, the writer who wrote about Edith Stein among other subjects and who, like Ms. Stein, converted from Judaism to Catholicism. Ms. OBEN has those compassionate eyes (not moorish, by the way), wispy very straight hair and possibly big ears, I could not tell in that picture.
My grandfather had a beautiful sense of humor and I could write forever about all his positive qualities. He did serve in he Cuban army, as I have written in the other response. Think of it, some of the first men to serve in the Cuban military after the republic was formed ate my grandfather's French pastries and confections! During the Depression, my mother helped the rest of the OBEN e HIERREZUELO family to survive by making candies at home, wrapping them and selling them!
By looking at Ms. OBENs picture I would say that she may have some Sephardic or Middle Eastern ancestry, as she has dark hair and eyes as well as ruddy skin color, in my opinion. In that manner she differs from my grandfather, who had lighter complexion, hair and eyes.
My mnother was named Ophelia (may her soul be at rest) so I see a similarity with a name you provide. It is also a custom in my family to give the women "traditional" names, which I used to think was related to slavery but now believe to have Sephardic roots. My aunt was Rosa Delia, a Sephardic name, and we have Idalia, Ursula, Urulina, etc. For that reason I have assumed the name Leah, so as to feel free from the "crypto" or hidden culture which includes giving derivative names of biblical names --in this case, Leah.
The timing appears correct for an uncle to have come to Cuba during the beginning of the 20th century or even earlier, as my grandfather used to say he went to Cuba when he was 9 years old, and he could have gone there twice. However, his father would have been the uncle you name, not my grandfather who was an only child.
As I have written many times and in the first sentence of my article, "Tranatlantic Exile: A Case Study", my grandfather would tell us of visiting the islands before he came to Cuba, pointing with great pride to the valor of the Haitian people. You can find the article at www.kulanu.org in page 11 of the Spring 2005 newsletter. The listings can be found on the left side of the website of this publication on Jewish diversity in the Caribbean.
Thank you for your interest in our family. This means so much to my brother and to me, who remember our grandfather so fondly.
Ines ("Leah") Diaz y Oben
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