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Elian’s Miami Neighbors Understand

January 22, 2000

MIAMI (AP) _ Mirta Falcon says she knows the desires that must have driven Elian Gonzalez’s mother to give her life to put the boy on American soil.

Seven months ago, Ms. Falcon was the one wading from a Cuban beach toward a small boat bound for Florida. In her arms, she cradled her 2-year-old son, Antonio, gravely ill with asthma. He needed medicine that his mother says was not available in Cuba.

``A mother always wants the best for her children,″ Ms. Falcon said.

She and her children now live in a small Miami apartment building where all the tenants and many neighbors are Cuban. Elian and the relatives who are fighting to keep him live next door.

Elian’s mother drowned when their boat capsized on the journey from Cuba in November. The 6-year-old was found Thanksgiving Day on an inner tube off the Florida coast.

His father, still in Cuba, wants the boy returned. And Elian’s grandmothers were in Washington on Saturday to lobby Attorney General Janet Reno to let them take Elian home.

While reporters and onlookers crowd Ms. Falcon’s Miami neighborhood for a glimpse of Elian, Antonio, now 3, runs around the apartment lawn. When his lungs grow tense from asthma, his mother pulls out a machine through which the boy breathes in a vaporized medicine.

``I give thanks to God, truly, for being here,″ Ms. Falcon said.

But she said her daughter, from a previous marriage, still asks about her father back in Cuba.

``My girl sometimes asks me, `Mommy, do you think my dad is going to claim me?″ Ms. Falcon said.

She said she tells Yuliet, 10, not to worry about her father. He didn’t know they were leaving, but he wouldn’t have objected, she said. Antonio’s father now supports the family as a construction worker in Miami.

Ms. Falcon believes they and Elian have more opportunities in America.

``For him, the best thing is to be here,″ she said. ``I believe you have to go through it to know it.″

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