In 1960, Cuba experienced a year of drastic change and shocking decisions made by its ruling government, decisions that would have long-lasting repercussions on the nation’s socio-economic landscape. The Cuban government, under the leadership of Fidel Castro, undertook a series of radical actions aimed at nationalizing the country’s major industries and removing foreign influence, particularly that of the United States.
From the moment I was born, freedom was a given. I grew up with the liberty to express my thoughts, showcase my talents, and voice my opinions without the looming fear of censorship. However, not everyone is as fortunate. Censorship of art and self-expression is akin to draining color from a once-vibrant canvas, leaving behind only muted shades of uniformity. Here’s why this resonates profoundly for me.
The value of education can never be understated. Among the kaleidoscope of Hispanic cultures in the U.S., the Cuban community stands out for its emphasis on higher education. According to data, at Pew Research Center, 30% of Cubans ages 25 and older have at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to 20% of U.S. Hispanics overall. This stark difference highlights the importance of education within the Cuban-American experience and how it has become a pathway to progress and upward mobility.
For many Cubans, education is seen as a form of social capital, a means to navigate life’s challenges and opportunities. This outlook has roots in the history of Cuban immigration to the United States. Fleeing a communist regime and seeking better opportunities, education became a non-negotiable aspect of life for many Cuban-Americans. It has been perceived as a tool to gain socio-economic stability, make significant contributions to society, and honor the sacrifices of those who came before.
A next-generation Cuban exile continues the legacy in ‘The Walls Have Ears’ at the American Museum for the Cuban diaspora
The vibrant city of Miami, steeped in its Cuban heritage, stands as a testament to the resilience and tenacity of its immigrant population. The American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora proudly announces its latest offering, “The Walls Have Ears” (Las Paredes Oyen), masterfully directed by Gabriel Bonilla and birthed from the pen of Miami’s own Robby Ramos.
“The Walls Have Ears” catapults us back to the fraught days of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Beyond mere historical retelling, this narrative dives deep into the human spirit, familial bonds, and the life-altering decisions made in the shadows of monumental events. Set against the backdrop of a tropical gulag, we witness a Cuban family’s destiny teetering precariously. Their story, replete with trials and emotions, prompts us to ponder: can familial love withstand the crushing weight of a nation in upheaval?
Growing up in a Cuban household is like living in a multi-layered spiritual universe. You might find yourself listening to tales of saints and sinners on Sunday, and then hear whispers of ancestral spirits and divine orishas by Tuesday. The interplay of Catholicism with older world folk spiritual practices like Yoruba and Santeria makes for a weaving of traditions that is as vibrant as it is confounding.
Sunday Mass and Monday Magic
Sundays in our household were pretty standard. We’d go to church, make the sign of the cross, go to CCD, and celebrate our baptisms and first communions. At home, a portrait of the Virgin Mary would serenely look down upon us. But as you turned a corner, there was an intricate bead necklace, or “eleke,” hanging gracefully next to rosaries. And if you dared to delve deeper, perhaps you’d find a hidden room or closet space dedicated to the orishas, complete with candles, fruits, and the rhythmic beat of bata drums.
The Protective Power of the Evil Eye
One of the most perplexing integrations of beliefs can be seen with the evil eye – or “mal de ojo.” This age-old symbol, believed by many to ward off negative energy, can be found hanging next to our family’s crucifixes.
Few can match the legacy and impact of Sam Verdeja in chronicling the tales of Cuban exiles and preserving the rich tapestry of Hispanic culture in America. As a multi-faceted professional, he has effortlessly impacted the worlds of publishing, community service, academia, and more.
Sam Verdeja exudes an unmistakable air of wisdom, evident in the thoughtful manner in which he speaks and approaches complex topics. There’s a warmth about him that is reminiscent of a beloved abuelo; a comforting presence that draws you in, inviting tales from his very colorful history over a shot of cafecito. With every word and gesture, he radiates the kind of wisdom that only a life rich in experience can bestow, making those around him feel both enlightened and cherished.
Pillar of Hispanic Media
Sam’s journey in the world of publishing is nothing short of phenomenal. His leadership as the Senior Advisor at Editorial Televisa, followed by his pivotal role as the Publisher and CEO of the Hispanic Publishing Group, underscored his unwavering commitment to amplify Hispanic voices. Under his stewardship, Hispanic Magazine became a beacon for the Hispanic community in the U.S., providing them with an English-language platform that resonated with their experiences and aspirations.
As a descendant of Cuban exiles, I grew up in the vibrant city of Hialeah, “La Ciudad del Progreso.” Born to hard-working parents who walked the line of middle-class aspirations, I was initially unaware of the profound disparities in socio-economic classes that existed in Miami. Our family ethos emphasized the value of education and the virtue of seizing work opportunities.
Weekends were sacred, invariably spent at the abuelos’ house. It was here, under the tutelage of my Abuelo Mingo, that I truly connected with my heritage. He instilled in me a deep appreciation for our lineage, highlighting the honor and privilege of being a descendant of Cubans.
My story speaks to a reality that many children of immigrants can relate to. Growing up in a new country, there’s often a delicate balancing act between embracing the new culture and preserving the traditions and values of the homeland. This balance is often facilitated by family elders, like my Abuelo Mingo, who serve as a bridge between the past and the future.