Exiles and Immigrants

I was listening to the podcast of yesterday’s Babalu Radio Hour show last night and today, and a part of the conversation between Val, George and Professor Carlos Eire really caught my attention (by the way, don’t be like me and wait until just a few weeks ago to discover how easy it is to subscribe to the podcasts of the show if you can’t catch it live. Go download it now!).
The topic was exiles instead of immigrants. Prof. Eire mentioned that Cubans who have left Cuba are a community of “desterrados” (literally meaning to remove the earth from). Basically, it means to be exiled. George later added that for some Cubans to consider themselves immigrants instead of exiles is a “slap to the face” to those who went through the pain of losing and leaving everything behind, and (to paraphrase), that those who consider themselves immigrants instead of exiles are resentful of their heritage. In other words, the arrepentidos that we all know and love (to argue with).
At first, I didn’t agree with George’s comment. However the more I thought about it, and after listening to that portion of the podcast a couple more times, I understand what George and the professor meant. Exile, using a basic definition, is to be forced out of your land. Immigration, by definition, is to willingly leave one’s country to settle permanently in another. Therefore, to be an immigrant is to renounce your native land in favor of a new and better place. Some associate renouncing your native land to renouncing everything associated with it, including past experiences of yourself and others. In that context, George made sense.
However, for Cuban-Americans, it’s a bit more complicated than the definitions above. Several polls, including recent ones, indicate that the vast majority of Cuban-Americans would not return to live in a free Cuba of the future. To me, that represents an evolution of the Cuban-American community from an exile state to one of acceptance and assimilation more commonly associated with the immigrant experience. After all, it’s been almost 50 years. This is not to say that Cuban-Americans who don’t want to go back to live in Cuba resent their heritage. Of course as anyone familiar with Babalu Blog knows, this can’t be farther from the truth. This is where I diverge slightly from George and what caused me to pause while hearing the podcast. Yes, there are many self-described Cuban-American “immigrants” who disdain the hard-line and much of their Cuban heritage, as George correctly noted. But there are many more who want to keep their newer roots in the United States and wouldn’t even dream of returning to live in a country that is vastly different than it was 50 years ago, whom nevertheless feel very strongly about a free Cuba, are vehemently anti-castro and are proud of their heritage.
In short and in summary, it’s OK and perfectly normal to be a Cuban immigrant, still be proud of your Cuban heritage and identify with the values of your parents and grandparents. One does not have to consider him/herself an exile in order to feel this way.