One of the greatest things about growing up Cuban American is learning from our parents or grandparents how lucky we are to live in the greatest and freest country on earth. Having experienced firsthand what if felt like to lose everything, from their country to their freedom, they embraced the liberty America offered and made sure we never took it for granted.
‘Paradise’: What my Cuban grandparents taught me about the promise of America
Thinking about what my grandparents went through, it is a shame to see a declining number of Americans who are proud of our country.
What are the first thoughts that pop into your head when you think of the United States? For some, it’s that our country is unjust and corrupt.
For my maternal grandparents, who escaped Fidel Castro’s Cuba, the overriding thought about our country is that it’s “paradise.”
My grandfather, Tomás Rodriguez, was born in Itabo, Matanzas province, Cuba in 1929. And my grandmother, Nereida Rodriguez, was born in Guanajay, Pinar del Rio province, Cuba in 1933. Life was good and prosperous for them before Castro came into power, even during Fulgencio Batista’s dictatorship.
Revolution forced my grandparents to flee Cuba
They told me that they never thought of leaving their country because they loved their people and their culture. But once Castro overthrew Batista’s regime in 1959, my grandparents feared for their lives and their family. They managed to escape and have lived in America ever since.
I’ve been intrigued by my grandparents’ story since I first heard it as a kid. I decided to interview my mother’s parents because many of us born in the United States, including myself, tend to take what we have for granted. Reflecting on our conversation, four lessons stuck out:
Communism is evil. In the 20th century, close to 100 million people were murdered under communist regimes. That is an unfathomable number of people. It’s enough to make the words “communism” and “murder” synonymous. And communism in Cuba was no different.
My grandmother recalled that Castro began killing people almost immediately after taking power. “He started killing everybody who used to work for Batista, in any type of position in his government,” she said. “And he would kill innocent people in a firing squad against a wall.”
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