Yale Historian Discusses 'Learning to Die Everywhere' at SHU Forum

Dr. Carlos Eire

Dr. Carlos Eire

News Story: February 1, 2011

t is a wonderful irony: Dr. Carlos Eire specializes in the Reformation and Early Modern Europe: the distant past, in other words. It is as if, he concedes, he were trying to get as far from his own past as possible. And now he has two remarkable memoirs that chronicle his boyhood in Cuba and his subsequent life in exile. The Riggs Professor of History and Religious Studies at Yale University addressed an enthusiastic audience in the Schine Auditorium on Wednesday, February 23rd. The event was cosponsored by the Human Journey Core Curriculum; the College of Arts & Sciences; the Department of Philosophy, Theology and Religious Studies; MARS; and DES.

Carlos Eire was part of the so-called Pedro Pan airlift of children from Castro’s Cuba in 1960. With little more than the clothes on his back, the 10-year-old took up a new life in Miami, where he was taken in by a kindly Jewish family – who insisted he ride his bicycle to Mass every Sunday and gave him money for the collection. This was followed by placement in what he calls a home for juvenile delinquents: a brutal experience. Eventually, he joined an uncle in Illinois and then his mother was permitted to leave Cuba, and they settled in Chicago. There, he and his brother took on the role of care giver for their handicapped mother working full-time jobs as teenagers to help put a roof over their head and serving as her bridge to this foreign culture.

Over the course of his life, Dr. Eire has been called Carlos, Charlie, Chuck and finally Carlos again: putting on and pulling off identities: dying to one “self” and giving birth to another. It is the automatic job description of the exile, he reflected, and then he realized that all immigrants go through such changes and, finally, all human beings. Thus, his first memoir, Waiting for Snow in Havana was followed by Learning to Die in Miami.

A deeply religious man, he sees the touch of divine providence in every aspect of his life, and the dying he refers to is always the occasion of a new birth. It is the genius of Western Catholic life, he feels, to connect this world with eternity; it is that continuity that confirms the meaning of this life.

It was in Prague, some years ago, that he visited the Museum of Communism. He wondered at the time whether he was “a visitor or an exhibit,” and his memoirs are an attempt to answer that question. His first volume won the National Book Award for nonfiction, and Learning to Die has been optioned for a film.