I can’t say I recall the first post I read on Babalú, but I do remember the controversy that was swirling around at the time that led me to finding the blog in the first place. It was the scandal that broke out when in 2006 the infamous Miami Herald editor Thomas Fiedler referred to Miami’s Cuban exile community as “chihuahua’s nipping at my heels.” As you can imagine, the racist remark caused an uproar in South Florida and ultimately led to his “retirement.” Someone emailed me a link to a Babalú post on the topic and from that moment on, I was hooked on the blog.
For me, Babalú felt like a home I never knew I had. Cuban exiles and their Cuban American children gathered in one place, expressing themselves freely and without fear, saying what we never dared utter in mixed company, but what we all felt inside. On Babalú I found the pride, the angst, the joy, and the sadness that is the life for so many of us who were born into and raised in the Cuban exile community.
Like so many other Cuban Americans, my Cuban identity and heritage, my “cubanidad,” was awakened in 2000 with the Elian Gonzalez fiasco. The young boy’s scandalous kidnapping by the Clinton administration and the subsequent response by the rest of America was indeed a wake-up call. We suddenly learned no one was going to help us fight our battles. We also sadly learned that many of those who claimed to be our friends, who drank Cuban coffee with us and ate our pastelitos were now out on the streets celebrating the gut punch the Cuban American community received.
I bring up these old feelings of betrayal not to lament them, but to explain what a sanctuary Babalú became for me and for hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of other readers. Since its first post on June 28, 2003, Babalú has been known as “the island on the net without a bearded dictator,” and that’s exactly what it is. Babalú is the Cuba many of us can’t remember and in my case, the Cuba I have never been able to see. It is the Cuba my parents grew up in, with the culture and the food and the music, that immeasurably enriched my life growing up. And I found all that at Babalú.
But then it got even better.
Just like I had found a home I never knew I had, I also found a family I never knew I had. I began exchanging emails with Val Prieto, the founder of Babalú, soon after I discovered the blog. In 2007, I attended Cuba Nostalgia here in Miami, where Babalú had its own booth for many years, and I got to meet Val, George, Henry, and a bunch of other members of the Babalú family. And then in 2007, I became a regular contributor on the blog, publishing my first post in October 2007. A few years later, I became the managing editor, and I’ve been happily and gratefully writing and managing the blog ever since.
Babalú is, of course, a labor of love. No one pays us to write, there is no real ad revenue, and we all pay for its existence out of our own pockets. But we wouldn’t want to have it any other way. Neither Val nor I ever envisioned Babalú as a vehicle to seek fame and profit. It was, and continues to be, a labor of love for all us. The love of our Cuba, our Cuban heritage, and above all, our love for freedom and liberty.
However, while I will never make a dime for all the countless hours I have spent working on the blog, I have been paid in other, much more valuable currency: friendships. Val has become my brother from another mother. His late parents became my parents. The rest of the Babalú crew are close friends as well; Henry, George, Carlos, Ziva, Humberto, Silvio, and many more. These friendships and the noble cause for freedom and our heritage we all fight for make it all worth it. In fact, I have received much more from Babalú and the Babalú family than I have ever given to the blog.
Babalú has also afforded me the privilege of meeting some incredible people. From Cuban political prisoners to Cuban musicians, from political leaders to media celebrities. It got Val and me an invitation to the Senate and to other incredible events. Babalú was even written into the congressional record of the U.S. House of Representatives. And it all came about because of the audacity and determination of some crazy Cuban Americans in Miami.
I don’t think any of us ever believed Babalú would be around for 20 years, but here we are. The blog came about during the early days of blogging and made its mark not only among Cuban Americans, but among the blogosphere as well. Babalú Blog has had its ups and downs. The trend away from blogs towards social media was at first a boon for Babalú, as it allowed us to reach a bigger audience. But once social media platforms began throttling our exposure and shadowbanned the blog (no doubt over our conservative, anti-socialist and anti-communist views), that made getting exposure much more difficult.
Nevertheless, we have trudged on because as I have mentioned before, Babalú is not about fame or profit, it’s about our love for Cuba and freedom. And as long as I and the great family of contributors we have can continue writing and posting on Babalú, we will be here for the 21st, 22nd, 23rd, and maybe even our 30th anniversary if we can make it that far.
Babalú has endured many adversities throughout its 20-year history. We have been lambasted by the media and critics for our political views, for being intransigents, for being “those people,” Cuban Americans who stand up loudly and proudly against the tyranny of communism. The funny thing about it all is that many of those critics have fallen by the wayside, disappeared or no longer around, but Babalú is still here.
And while I have spoken a lot about the blog and the wonderful people behind it, I wanted to leave the very best thing about Babalú for last: our readers. It is because of our readers that Babalú has been able to last for two decades. Knowing we have people who support us and who depend on us for real news and honest commentary on Cuba is the fuel that keeps the Babalú machine running. Without you, Babalú would have never lasted a year, let alone 20 years.
It’s not every day you come across a blog that has been in existence and consistent for 20 years. And it’s not everyday you come across a group of such incredible writers and readers as we have at Babalú,
¡Felicidades, Babalú! Que cumplas 20 años más.