Beaufort’s Mujica family feels strongly about Fidel Castro.
They did not like the Cuban dictator who died last week.
“I don’t want to say I’m glad Castro died, but he ruined a lot of people’s lives,” said Ozzie Mujica.
People need to appreciate what we’ve got here. People need to understand what freedom is.
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Ozzie is the oldest of four children of Osvaldo and Noris Mujica, who arrived in Beaufort from Cuba in 1962. They came under a visa on one of the last planes out. They arrived with three children. All their wordly goods fit in a suitcase.
Osvaldo had a big job as a manager of a 65,000-acre cattle ranch for the Pingree family. The late Sumner Pingree Jr. left him in charge of the ranch when he and other Americans left Cuba in the wake of Castro’s revolution. Pingree told Osvaldo to stay until Castro took everything, and that he would always have a job for him.
That turned out to be in Beaufort. Pingree settled here, at first raising cattle on Huspah Plantation in Sheldon, and then Brays Island nearby.
“We were all in favor of Castro at the beginning because Batista was so bad,” Ozzie Mujica told me last week. His mother once prepared a meal for Raul Castro during the revolution.
“But after Castro took power, he turned communist and started taking everything,” Ozzie said. “Nobody owned anything and soon there ain’t no chickens, no eggs, no milk, no meat, no nothing. And everything was run down. No paint, no 2-by-4s, no shingles to fix anything, and it’s been getting worse and worse and worse for the past 60 years. It’s been a rotten business.”
He said Castro took farms and businesses from the people and turned them over to his cronies, who failed.
Castro took a beautiful way of life from the Mujica family, after their years of hard work and ingenuity.
But Ozzie, now the 70-year-old retired owner of Ozzie’s Cars of Beaufort, said Castro failed miserably.
“My life is very good,” he said. “My parents, brothers, sister, kids are all doing real good. Our life has been good.”
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The Mujicas stood out in Beaufort in 1962. A story was written in the Gazette about the town’s only Cuban family.
The Mujica children did not speak English. Ozzie remembers checking into Beaufort High School and discovering a big change in styles. But Beaufort could not have been nicer to the family, Ozzie said.
“The whole family is very grateful for how we were accepted by the people of Beaufort,” he said.
His daddy was raised in a sugar mill owned by the Pingrees, where Ozzie’s grandfather worked.
At 14, Osvaldo went to work at the officers’ club at the Guantanamo Bay naval base. At 19, he was assistant manager, meeting all the visiting generals and movie stars passing through for USO shows. He worked well with suppliers and commanding officers, and was invited by a former boss to move to America to run a country club. He was going to do it, but it would take several months to get a visa. In that period, he was approached by the Pingrees to take a job on the ranch for two months. That two months turned out to be 60 years.
On Dec. 15, Osvaldo and Noris will celebrate their 71st anniversary. The family that arrived as two adults and three children now numbers well more than 20. They were all together in 2015 for Osvaldo’s 90th birthday.
Their son Omar used to own Omar’s Muffler & Auto Repair in Beaufort. Their daughter, Lizette, is a retired Spanish professor at the University of South Carolina who has written college textbooks. She has recently moved back to Beaufort. Otto, the youngest, who was born in America, works with Allstate Insurance in Mobile, Ala.
After high school, Ozzie got a job in car sales with the Von Harten Motor Co. on Boundary Street. He was drafted into the Vietnam War, came home, got his American citizenship and went back to selling cars.
He still takes that citizenship very seriously. An American flag flies on a pole in his yard near Seabrook.
“This country is the best country in the world,” he said. “It kills me when I hear someone talking bad about it. People need to appreciate what we’ve got here. People need to understand what freedom is.”
He is proud of his Cuban heritage and what has been achieved in America through a strong work ethic.
But he feels no urge to go back to Cuba.
“This is my home,” he said. “I remember when Cuba was nice, beautiful and clean. I want to remember the way it was, not the way it is.
“My whole family and I are very proud to be Americans.”