Cuba native of Shadyside blossomed in adoptive country |
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Cristina Ortega Valdes took a risk when she left Cuba for the United States.

It was a “brave” move that daughter Cristina Valdes said she’s always admired.

“When they had to leave Cuba and establish themselves in the United States, it took some guts,” Valdes said of her parents. “She fell in love with the United States, and it became her home.”

Cristina Ortega Valdes of Shadyside, formerly of Squirrel Hill, died at her home Friday, Sept. 18, 2009, surrounded by her family. She was 87.

Mrs. Valdes immigrated to the United States in 1960 with her husband, Oscar Valdes, whom she had met through her brother. The two men were classmates while both studied engineering.

“He kept coming to visit her brother and would stick around even when her brother wasn’t home,” said Cristina Valdes, of Ellicott City, Md. “She finally decided that maybe he wasn’t there to see her brother.”

They married in 1955 and five years later chose to leave Cuba because of the volatile political situation that erupted when Fidel Castro took power. They lived in Miami until 1963, when Oscar Valdes was hired by the Pittsburgh steel mill for which he had worked in Havana.

The couple lived in the same house in Squirrel Hill for 41 years before moving to Shadyside last year.

Mrs. Valdes and her husband became citizens in 1970.

“My wife was very patriotic, and she felt very good when she sang ‘America the Beautiful,'” Oscar Valdes said. “She was a very proud American, and she loved this country.”

In addition to her patriotism, Mrs. Valdes impressed upon her children the importance of helping others.

“I remember once we were getting into the car in front of our house and a young lady came walking by,” her daughter said. “I don’t think my Mom knew her (well). She knew her from the church, and she stopped her and insisted she get a ride with us.”

Mrs. Valdes worked part time as a substitute teacher for Pittsburgh Public Schools and then as a Spanish language facilitator at McKeesport High School.

She was active in her church, St. Philomena in Squirrel Hill, before it closed in 1993 and then with St. Paul Cathedral, where she helped with the religious education program. Mrs. Valdes volunteered at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System, Highland Drive Division.

“She would go to pray with the veterans every Friday and socialize with them and make sure they had company and knew people cared about them,” Cristina Valdes said.

In addition to her husband and daughter, Mrs. Valdes is survived by three sons, Oscar J. Valdes of Oswego, N.Y., Carlos Valdes of Flynn, Mich., and Jose Valdes of Houston; another daughter, Maria McGee of Cleveland; two brothers, Juan Ortega of Orlando and Wenceslao Ortega of Miami; a sister, Sister Maria Ortega of San Antonio; 17 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

Two brothers, Jose and Alfonso Ortega, preceded her in death.

The family will receive friends from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. today at John A. Freyvogel funeral home, 4900 Centre Ave., Shadyside. A Mass of Christian Burial will be at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday in St. Paul Cathedral, Oakland.

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