I have lived for 49 years in the Washington, DC Metropolitan Area, and Cuba has never left me. In the winter time, during all the desolation associated with the inclement cold weather, the snow, the trees without leaves, the lack of sufficient sunlight, Cuba is always on my mind. When I am in the mood to listen to a live band play a Benny More ballad or a Cesar Portillo de la Luz bolero, I get in a Cuban state of mind. When I wanted to find a lifetime partner, I chose a cubana to navigate our life journey “labios con labios, alma con alma.”
And, yet, the only way that I would return to Cuba would be if democracy were restored to it. As long as Cuba has an unelected totalitarian government in place, I am not inclined to go back. Why would I return to a country with a government that my family fled from? It’s illogical and undignified. And, if I were to go back, it would be to reconnect with the place where I and my family came from. It would not be to move permanently to Cuba.
But the question that continues to haunt me is “if I have no plans to ever move permanently to Cuba, why do I keep writing and worrying so much about it?” And I’ve decided that the best way to deal with this question is to list the different types of Cubans and Cuban-Americans, and determine where I fit in. I recognize the difficulty of this task, as every group described below has exceptions that deviate from the norm.
1) The Old Guard (1959-1979). This is the generation that left everything behind because they could not live in an enslaved country. They knew what freedom was like, and they were unwilling to compromise for anything less. They suffered the most in exile because they always thought that their stay in a foreign land was a temporary nuisance. This is the gang who celebrated each New Year’s Eve with chants of “next year in Cuba.” They never integrated into the American culture because they saw no need for it. Learning and embracing a foreign language and culture as adults was not an easy undertaking. And when they realized that going back was not an option after the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, they transformed Miami into the Cuban Mecca where Spanish was the main language, Cuban-Americans were in charge of most businesses, banks, and public offices, Willy Chirino was the Miami-Sound King, and they built a shrine to La Virgen de la Caridad along Biscayne Bay. Miami could never replace the Cuba BC (Before Castro), but it came close. Illustrative of this group is Angela “Nana” Alvarez when she sings “Un Canto A Mi Cuba” (A Song to My Cuba) — which is full of nostalgia for yesterday’s years in her homeland. See http://vimeo.com/83364803.
2) The Children of the Old Guard (1959-1979). This is the group that I fit in. Yes, we had to learn a new language and integrate into an Anglo-Saxon culture, and it was not easy. But, it was not as difficult an undertaking – considering that I was 11 years old when I left Cuba – as the one that our parents had to go through. After the first year, our English was good enough to get around. And after attending school and joining the labor force in this country, this generation of Cuban-Americans achieved so many milestones and earned so many awards that it gained the respect of other groups. Their values were Christian-based, which they inherited from the Old Guard – respect for the elders, lending a helping hand to the needy, getting ahead based solely on merit, and placing the family on a pedestal. This group was willing to do anything within a legal framework to discredit the Cuban regime as payback for the hardships that the Old Guard had to bear. They supported the keeping of the U.S. embargo, they would never dream of going back to Communist Cuba except for humanitarian reasons, and they disagreed with the easing of the travel and remittance restrictions that President Obama implemented in 2009. They will visit the country of their parents and grandparents only after the holding of internationally-monitored elections – but with the understanding that they would respect the will of the Cuban people (even if they elected a socialist government).
3) The Good Samaritans of the Old Guard (1959-1979). This group wants to trade with the enemy because they think that by doing so they ease the burdens of the Cuban population. They are well intentioned, but their actions prolong the suffering of Cubans. They think that the U.S. embargo is a historical dinosaur, and they welcome President Obama’s looser travel and remittance restrictions. Nevertheless, the Cuban Government officials go out of their way to reap the benefits from the travel and remittances sent by these Cubans. $5.1 billion in remittances in 2013 goes a long a way to increase the political repression in the island – in fact, arbitrary detentions increased from 2,074 in 2010 to more than 5,300 in 2013.
4) The What’s-In-It-For-Me Crowd. There are two groups that fit these category: Cuban-Americans (1959-1979) and those currently living in Cuba.
a) Cuban-Americans (1959-1979). Their main goal is how to make the biggest profit by trading with Cuban officials. Alleviating the suffering of the Cuban people does not concern them. Considering that their God is green in color, this is a mercenary group that embraces a “money talks” mentality. The majority in this group does not speak Spanish, and Cuba is a distant place with a strange culture and music that is best to keep on the back burner.
b) Those Living in Cuba. This group grew up with the Revolution and was fed a Marxist-Leninist ideology. They are willing to do whatever makes their lives better (resolver). This self-centered crowd will steal from their employers, engage in prostitution, commit incest, and participate in the illegal drug trade. Teamwork is not in their vocabulary, which explains why there has not been a “Cuban Spring” similar to the one that sparked revolutions recently in the Arab world. If democracy were restored to Cuba, it would take several generations to make these Cubans into productive and socially-responsible citizens.
5) Human-Rights Activists. This is a very honorable clique who deserves our respect and admiration. They have spoken truth to power repeatedly, received brutal beatings, and served long prison sentences to restore freedom and democracy to their homeland. Orlando Zapata Tamayo, Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, and Laura Inés Pollán Toledo paid the ultimate price by giving up their lives. Dr. Óscar Elías Biscet González, Dr. Guillermo Fariñas, Berta Soler, and Yoani Sánchez fight arduous battles to engender a homeland “con todos y para el bien de todos “ and a “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” Their challenge is that there are too many of the “what’s-in-it-for-me” type to spark a revolution in the near future.
6) Cubans Who Came to the United States after the Mariel Boatlift (1980 to the present). They are totally different from the Cuban-Americans of the Historic Exile (1959-1979). Gone are the Christian names, which were replaced with Abidemi, Jameika, Ulunani, Nadiv, and Najjar. They also embrace the hedonistic philosophy of “what’s-in-it-for-me.” So, they favor the lifting of the U.S. embargo, they travel to Cuba within a year of their stay in the United States, and they send remittances to their Cuban relatives as often as they can. Restoring democracy to Cuba is not on their roadmap, as they never lived in Cuba BC. They do not consider themselves to be political refugees at all, although they enjoy the benefits that come with this designation. Instead, they come to the United States solely for economic reasons. While there are always exceptions to every category, there are not too many in this group.
I feel Cuba every day of my life. But the Cuba in my mind has ceased to exist, and the one I dream of for Cubans is too far in the horizon for comfort.