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Connecting with the past

Briarwood owner tells Rotarians of Cuban heritage, family’s plight

Cuban kids

ABOVE: Cristy Brown, left and Rosy Conto, sister and mother of Chris Daniels, pose with some Cuban youths eating candy the women brought to the island during their January visit. FRONT PAGE PHOTO: Local businessman Chris Daniels, right, sits with his mother, Rosy Conto and sister, Cristy Brown, in front of the Dupont house in Varadero, Cuba, in January. Mr. Daniels told Bellefontaine Rotarians during a Monday slideshow presentation of his visit to the island nation where his family once owned a large farm. (PHOTOS | CHRIS DANIELS)

Exploring your family history can be a journey of self-discovery that sometimes requires a physical journey.

That was the case for local Briarwood Sporting Club owner Chris Daniels who recently took a trip with family members to Cuba to learn more about his roots.

Mr. Daniels told Bellefontaine Rotarians Monday he visited the Caribbean island in January with his mother, Rosy Conto and sister, Cristy Brown.

The local business owner’s grandparents, Jorge and Alicia Rodriguez, once owned a prosperous 2,000-acre sugar cane farm and cattle ranch in Jimaguayu, which is located in the Camaguey province about 345 miles east of Havana.

During the 1960s, the Communist government under dictator Fidel Castro confiscated the family’s farm and possessions, the former Tampa Bay Buccaneer football player told club members.

Fearing their children would be indoctrinated into the country’s Communist system, he said, they sent four of the family’s seven children, including Mr. Daniels’ mother, to the United States in 1962. The grandparents followed with two more children a couple years later.

The family, which was in the top one percent financially in pre-Castro Cuba, now found itself living in cramped quarters in a small house in Lake Okeechobee, Fla., with no connections and unable to speak English, Daniels noted.

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