Eighty-four year-old Orestes Perez came to America two years before the nation celebrated its bicentennial, fleeing his native Cuba first to Madrid, Spain in 1970.
What drew the native-born Cuban to America's shores was the music he listened to as a young boy, growing up on the eastern side of the island.
"I used to listen to American radio because I could get it on stations in Miami and New Orleans," said Perez, who lives with his wife and grown son Miguel and his family in the Tate County town of Coldwater.
Despite the rich musical tradition in his native Cuba, with its calypso beat and jazz influence, Perez was drawn instead to the sounds of great composers like Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington, Count Basie and orchestral leaders like the Italian-born conductor Arturo Toscanini.
"Arturo Toscanini's Orchestra was one of my favorites," Perez said of the longtime music director of the NBC Symphony Orchestra.
Born in 1933, Perez's father was a member of Cuba's hard-working middle class.
"My father had a business trading in furniture," added Perez, of the time in Cuba's history before the Cuban people were governed by the military junta of late Cuban strongman Fidel Castro.
As for himself, Perez flew a Piper J 3 as a crop-duster pilot, spraying the country's rice fields.
As Perez came of age in the 1950s and 60s, he became a fan of the so-called "Rat Pack," which consisted of "Ole Blue Eyes" Frank Sinatra, Peter Lawford, Sammy Davis, Jr., Dean Martin and Joey Bishop.
As a young man, Perez began collecting vinyl record albums, whenever he had a spare nickel to spare.
It's a tradition that he continued while in Spain and after coming to this country in 1974.
With a wife and a growing family to feed, Perez took any job that he could find, working as a truck driver near the Miami airport and other odd jobs.
Yet, it was always the music that helped him while away the days.
After a hard work week, Perez would pop open a cold beer to relax and listen to the sounds of jazz and orchestral music.
"I love the musicals — all of them from Hollywood movies to Broadway," Perez said. "I have the 'Sound of Music' and 'Camelot' and all the other classics."
It was his love for music that helped Perez learn and understand the English language. He has slowly mastered its nuances and often multiple meanings. Perez is still learning the art of speaking the language of his adopted country.
"I learn English by reading the subtitles on close-captioned television," Perez said.
Yet, the language of music is universal. It needs no interpretation.
Over the past 20 years, Perez painstakingly converted his extensive vinyl collection to compact disc, carefully cataloguing each selection. There are now more than 3,000 musical pieces in his collection.
As Perez slid a Marlboro cigarette between his sinewy fingers, he talked animatedly about having a music expert examine his vast collection in order to determine its worth.
A fan of the Action Auction on WKNO, Perez also enjoys shows like "Antiques Roadshow," which features art and music expert Mark Wahlberg in New York.
"I saw where one lady had a complete Nat King Cole collection of records that sold for $500,000," Perez said.
Perez said he wants to obtain a value for the collection so that he properly cares for his wife Rosa, 74, before he passes away.
"I have a big collection," Perez said with more than just a hint of pride. "I want someone to be able to enjoy it as much as I do."
Perez is willing to part with his collection — at the right price.
"You can enjoy a picture from Picasso and pay $1 million for that picture," Perez said. "But you can't enjoy that like you can music."
Playing host to a reporter, Perez brewed a pot of strong Cuban coffee, slowly stirring in sugar and then the thick, brown, syrupy mixture into a shot glass.
His grown son Miguel stopped by to say hello and help interpret for his father.
"For as long as I can remember, he has had all those records," Miguel said. "It makes him happy."
Robert Lee Long is Community Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 662-429-6397, Ext. 252.