At the beginning of this month, I had a conversation with my mother who asked me if I wanted to accompany her to visit her twin sister in Cuba. My mom is 87 years old, and she fears this might be the last time that she sees her sister alive.
I respect my mother’s wishes, and I would never disparage her decision.
My response to her was to beg her not to ask me that question again. I told her that it was against my core values to set foot on Cuba as long as there was a government that continued to oppress average Cubans mercilessly for the last fifty-one years.
Only when I am able to drink a Cuba Libre with authentic Cuban rum Bacardi in a Cuba that is truly Libre will I ever consider going back on vacation.
I love my aunt dearly. I was her favorite. My sister visited her last year, and, she spent a great deal of time telling my sister stories about the trouble that I got into when I lived in the island as a youngster. My sister was a bit upset, since she thought that our aunt should have been telling stories about her when she was growing up. Considering that she was the one visiting my aunt, my sister felt a bit slighted.
Nevertheless, I still have scars when we left Cuba and my parents had to turn all their possessions to the Cuban authorities as punishment for emigrating to the evil empire. They made sure that my parents left the island without a cent in their possession. They made us leave as criminals, as indigents, as the scum of the planet. Imagine how heartbroken my sister and I were when we left Havana and visited the Sears in Wisconsin Avenue and saw the plentiful and diverse supply of toys and clothes that we had not seen in Cuba for many years. Yet, our situation was not different than when we lived in Cuba – we belonged to a class that could only look at worldly possessions, but we could not buy or enjoy them.
I could not forget the humiliations that my parents had to go through by coming to a foreign country at age 42, without knowing the language or the culture. I have lived in the United States for 44 years. I’ve received 90% of my education in this country, and, yet, I’ve felt discriminated when I speak with a slight accent and have been denied promotions by managers who opine that I must think with an accent. My inconveniences were insignificant compared to the ones that they faced.
I deeply honor my parents for coming to this country, and taking my sister and me away from a Communist Gulag so that we could live in a land of freedom and thrive based on our talents and work ethic.
But I think that I would be too selfish and disloyal to my core values if I limited my magnanimity to my immediate family. You see, I treat all oppressed Cubans as my immediate relatives. When a political prisoner like Orlando Zapata Tamayo goes on a hunger strike and dies to protest the prison conditions, I grieve for him. When Tamayo’s mother tries to visit her son’s grave and is harassed by government-sponsored mobs, I get angry. When college students launch a march on the steps of the University of Havana to protest the state-sponsored apartheid system that is prevalent in Cuba and they are imprisoned, I realize that things will never change for the better as long as a Castro is in power. When I think back to the time when HIV+ gay and lesbian Cubans were forcibly quarantined until 1989 to treatment centers, I pray for the dawning of a more civil and tolerant society. When I see the courage displayed by political prisoners like Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet who has defied the Cuban authorities repeatedly and demanded the restoration of civil rights and liberties to his homeland, I thank God that there are still people left in this world who will stand up to oppression and are willing to die to bring back a Free Cuba. It makes me proud that we have our Frederick Douglas, our Martin Luther Kings, Jr., and our Malcolm X – but with a Cuban flavor.
Thus, I will always love my aunt and honor my mother’s decision to visit her one more time. But, I can’t be a traitor to my people’s suffering. They have no voice in their own country. I, on the other hand, live in a free society where I’ve used my pen to write prolifically about the injustices that are prevalent in Cuba and about the double-standard that is shown by the world community so often with the Cuban situation.
They ignore it for their own selfish reasons. Some want to invest in Cuba and make a financial killing, others are dying to smoke Cohiba cigars, others praise the Cuban authorities to get back at the injustices that they have suffered in the U.S. – they want to get even. Yet, they don’t care about the suffering that goes on in Cuba or about the Cuban people. They are miserable mercenaries that only care about what’s in it for them.
I have never lost hope that Cuba will be free again. I am constantly reminded of the famous saying that “evil triumphs when good people do nothing.” And there are too many good people who have made a difference. These good Samaritans have come from red states and blue states, from the conservative and liberal aisles of Congress. I believe that no one holds a monopoly on righteousness. To those friends of a Free Cuba, I extend a white rose of solidarity.
I will continue doing my grain of sand by alerting the world to the atrocities that take place in a country that is only ninety miles from Key West – a country in our own sphere of influence; a country that once was willing to launch a nuclear attack to our homeland and obliterate our way of life.
To those who are optimistic by the release of Cuban prisoners recently, I remind them that they have been sent into forced exile for their beliefs. I ask you to think outside the box for a minute and consider how Nelson Mandela would have felt if the price for serving a 27-year sentence at Robben Island had been his banishment from South Africa. What a travesty of justice this evil deed would have been for the reconciliation initiative that he led in his country.
Nothing has changed in Cuba during the last fifty-one years. Nothing will change for the better as long as our government officials turn a blind eye to this suffering and reward the oppressors.