In the late '90s, a 5-year-old boy named Elian Gonzalez found himself at the center of an international tug-of-war. On Thanksgiving Day in 1999, Elian was found floating off the coast of Florida after the boat that was taking him from Cuba to the United States sank. His mother and 10 others drowned.

Relatives in Miami opened their arms to Elian. Marisleysis Gonzalez, his 21-year-old cousin, became Elian's primary caregiver. "I guess he saw that mother figure in me," she says. "He was always attached to me."

As the months wore on, Elian's story became the focus of a fierce international debate. Some believed he should stay in the United States, while others thought he should return to his father in Communist Cuba. "We just wanted the best for Elian," Marisleysis says.


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