I Feel Cuba Every Day

Cocktail in Portofino

I have lived for 49 years in the Washington, DC Metropolitan Area, and Cuba has never left me. In the winter time, during all the desolation associated with the inclement cold weather, the snow, the trees without leaves, the lack of sufficient sunlight, Cuba is always on my mind. When I am in the mood to listen to a live band play a Benny More ballad or a Cesar Portillo de la Luz bolero, I get in a Cuban state of mind. When I wanted to find a lifetime partner, I chose a cubana to navigate our life journey “labios con labios, alma con alma.”

And, yet, the only way that I would return to Cuba would be if democracy were restored to it. As long as Cuba has an unelected totalitarian government in place, I am not inclined to go back. Why would I return to a country with a government that my family fled from? It’s illogical and undignified. And, if I were to go back, it would be to reconnect with the place where I and my family came from. It would not be to move permanently to Cuba.

But the question that continues to haunt me is “if I have no plans to ever move permanently to Cuba, why do I keep writing and worrying so much about it?” And I’ve decided that the best way to deal with this question is to list the different types of Cubans and Cuban-Americans, and determine where I fit in. I recognize the difficulty of this task, as every group described below has exceptions that deviate from the norm.

1) The Old Guard (1959-1979). This is the generation that left everything behind because they could not live in an enslaved country. They knew what freedom was like, and they were unwilling to compromise for anything less. They suffered the most in exile because they always thought that their stay in a foreign land was a temporary nuisance. This is the gang who celebrated each New Year’s Eve with chants of “next year in Cuba.” They never integrated into the American culture because they saw no need for it. Learning and embracing a foreign language and culture as adults was not an easy undertaking. And when they realized that going back was not an option after the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, they transformed Miami into the Cuban Mecca where Spanish was the main language, Cuban-Americans were in charge of most businesses, banks, and public offices, Willy Chirino was the Miami-Sound King, and they built a shrine to La Virgen de la Caridad along Biscayne Bay. Miami could never replace the Cuba BC (Before Castro), but it came close. Illustrative of this group is Angela “Nana” Alvarez when she sings “Un Canto A Mi Cuba” (A Song to My Cuba) — which is full of nostalgia for yesterday’s years in her homeland. See http://vimeo.com/83364803.

2) The Children of the Old Guard (1959-1979). This is the group that I fit in. Yes, we had to learn a new language and integrate into an Anglo-Saxon culture, and it was not easy. But, it was not as difficult an undertaking – considering that I was 11 years old when I left Cuba – as the one that our parents had to go through. After the first year, our English was good enough to get around. And after attending school and joining the labor force in this country, this generation of Cuban-Americans achieved so many milestones and earned so many awards that it gained the respect of other groups. Their values were Christian-based, which they inherited from the Old Guard – respect for the elders, lending a helping hand to the needy, getting ahead based solely on merit, and placing the family on a pedestal. This group was willing to do anything within a legal framework to discredit the Cuban regime as payback for the hardships that the Old Guard had to bear. They supported the keeping of the U.S. embargo, they would never dream of going back to Communist Cuba except for humanitarian reasons, and they disagreed with the easing of the travel and remittance restrictions that President Obama implemented in 2009. They will visit the country of their parents and grandparents only after the holding of internationally-monitored elections – but with the understanding that they would respect the will of the Cuban people (even if they elected a socialist government).

3) The Good Samaritans of the Old Guard (1959-1979). This group wants to trade with the enemy because they think that by doing so they ease the burdens of the Cuban population. They are well intentioned, but their actions prolong the suffering of Cubans. They think that the U.S. embargo is a historical dinosaur, and they welcome President Obama’s looser travel and remittance restrictions. Nevertheless, the Cuban Government officials go out of their way to reap the benefits from the travel and remittances sent by these Cubans. $5.1 billion in remittances in 2013 goes a long a way to increase the political repression in the island – in fact, arbitrary detentions increased from 2,074 in 2010 to more than 5,300 in 2013.

4) The What’s-In-It-For-Me Crowd. There are two groups that fit these category: Cuban-Americans (1959-1979) and those currently living in Cuba.

a) Cuban-Americans (1959-1979). Their main goal is how to make the biggest profit by trading with Cuban officials. Alleviating the suffering of the Cuban people does not concern them. Considering that their God is green in color, this is a mercenary group that embraces a “money talks” mentality. The majority in this group does not speak Spanish, and Cuba is a distant place with a strange culture and music that is best to keep on the back burner.

b) Those Living in Cuba. This group grew up with the Revolution and was fed a Marxist-Leninist ideology. They are willing to do whatever makes their lives better (resolver). This self-centered crowd will steal from their employers, engage in prostitution, commit incest, and participate in the illegal drug trade. Teamwork is not in their vocabulary, which explains why there has not been a “Cuban Spring” similar to the one that sparked revolutions recently in the Arab world. If democracy were restored to Cuba, it would take several generations to make these Cubans into productive and socially-responsible citizens.

5) Human-Rights Activists. This is a very honorable clique who deserves our respect and admiration. They have spoken truth to power repeatedly, received brutal beatings, and served long prison sentences to restore freedom and democracy to their homeland. Orlando Zapata Tamayo, Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, and Laura Inés Pollán Toledo paid the ultimate price by giving up their lives. Dr. Óscar Elías Biscet González, Dr. Guillermo Fariñas, Berta Soler, and Yoani Sánchez fight arduous battles to engender a homeland “con todos y para el bien de todos “ and a “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” Their challenge is that there are too many of the “what’s-in-it-for-me” type to spark a revolution in the near future.

6) Cubans Who Came to the United States after the Mariel Boatlift (1980 to the present). They are totally different from the Cuban-Americans of the Historic Exile (1959-1979). Gone are the Christian names, which were replaced with Abidemi, Jameika, Ulunani, Nadiv, and Najjar. They also embrace the hedonistic philosophy of “what’s-in-it-for-me.” So, they favor the lifting of the U.S. embargo, they travel to Cuba within a year of their stay in the United States, and they send remittances to their Cuban relatives as often as they can. Restoring democracy to Cuba is not on their roadmap, as they never lived in Cuba BC. They do not consider themselves to be political refugees at all, although they enjoy the benefits that come with this designation. Instead, they come to the United States solely for economic reasons. While there are always exceptions to every category, there are not too many in this group.

I feel Cuba every day of my life. But the Cuba in my mind has ceased to exist, and the one I dream of for Cubans is too far in the horizon for comfort.



14 thoughts on “I Feel Cuba Every Day

  1. I’m not even Cuba, at least by birth, but though assimilation from early childhood I am with B. I also know from personal contact, that all of your abc’s of Cuban are not a one size fits all, and in each catagory there are many who do not quite fit the label. I know of early exiles in favor of all I disagree with, engagement, dialog, etc. I know recent arrivals who are as hard line anti-Castro as I could ever be, but they, unlike me put have lived their convictions and have put their bodies on the line, and so many others are still there fighting our fight because we cannot, and how many are there that we know nothing of? Dr. Oscar Biscet, las Damas de Blanco, UNPACU members, Hablamos Press, on and on and on, beyond what we know. They, with our support and assistance will reclaim a free Cuba, and we must not fail in our efforts to help them. There is only one Cuban people, one Cuba, God willing, united, there will be Cuba libre.

  2. Cuba, as our parents described it, as we have “remembered” it, is dead. Never to return. Even if the two bastard brothers died today, NOTHING will change. Three generations of Godless communists have been raised on the island; that evil virus will take another three generations (if not more) to cure, if at all.

    I think it’s time for all of us to stop this self-flagellation and start thinking and worrying about THIS country, OUR country, where we live, where we eat and sleep, where we raise our children, where we make our livings. America is our country. Cuba is gone. Forever.

  3. “Cuba is not dead, but for the most part, it’s no longer in Cuba.”

    What’s left of Cuba is fading memories coupled with bittersweet nostalgia. My generation, who came over in the first few years of the diaspora, have no memory of it. Our children only have what we have transmitted. But that is not Cuba, la Patria. Castro’s victory, sad to say, is complete. He will pay for it beyond the veil, certainly, but he has completed the task that the Valeriano Weylers and Angel Castros could only have dreamt of…

  4. George, I totally understand feeling weary and disheartened. Lord knows it’s a depressing picture. However, sometimes one has to keep up the fight, as it were, not necessarily to win the battle but for the sake of one’s dignity and honor. We should not be like all those countries that have forgiven Castro, Inc. most of its huge foreign debts because they figured they’d never get repaid anyhow. We are different from those countries, who were morally wrong to aid a totalitarin tyranny in the first place and stupid enough to give material aid to an inveterate deadbeat, meaning they deserved to get stiffed–actually, they deserve worse. Furthermore, if we, too, “forgive the debt,” we are letting evil get away with its crimes and encouraging future evil. I cannot say that I will never despair of the whole business and turn away from it, but I’m still not ready to give up.

  5. Asombra, don’t misunderstand me: I’m not willing to forgive these fucks one thing they’ve done to the island and to the people. It’s just that I’m tired of the fifty-five year three-ring circus with no end. NOTHING ever changes in Cuba. NOTHING. My heart is not in the fight anymore.

    Our REAL fight is right HERE with those elements in our society, the miserable leftist Democrats and their ass-kissing RINO accomplices, that want to turn America into what Cuba has become: a third-world shithole.

  6. The Cuban-Americans from the Old Guard have been the stalwarts of the fight to restore democracy to Cuba. But most have already passed away or are dying in hordes. My generation has carried on this fight to honor the hardships that the Old Guard had to bear, and because we are better equipped to navigate the local and federal bureaucracies. We cannot count on our children to pick up the baton, as their knowledge and passion for a Cuba BC (Before Castro) is limited or nonexistent. Considering that my generation has momentous civic responsibilities to the United States and our own families, is there any justification for us to be spending so much time on Cuban issues if most Cubans in Cuba look at Cuban-Americans as people who can’t be trusted and as members of the Miami Mafia and/or Batistianos? To gauge the differences, you only have to look at the divergent views that these two groups have regarding the retention of the U.S. embargo. I acknowledge that my generation has much in common with the Cuban human rights dissidents — like Dr. Biscet. But these human rights dissidents represent a minority view in Cuba. They don’t have the support to spark a “Cuban-Spring” revolt. So, what is left at the end of the day? I say that Cuban-Americans should continue to exert pressure on our elected officials to ensure that Cuban business transactions are executed according to American laws. If Cuba has a poor credit record, it should be required to pay cash for all business transactions. In addition, my generation should demand our elected officials to revise the Cuban Adjustment Act. If the Cubans who came to the United States after the Mariel boatlift did so for economic reasons, they should not be taking advantage of the benefits afforded by this law to political refugees. To do so would be discriminatory to other groups. This means that we should allow the Cubans living in Cuba to decide what system of government they want to have now and in the future.

  7. Asombra, I am with you. This is as much a battle for the freedom of Cuba as it is a battle for our dignity and honor. Especially the dignity and honor of those who shed blood and gave their lives for the freedom of my parent’s homeland. If we give up the fight and move on to other battles, the memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice will disappear, as if they never existed. It will become as if their suffering never happened.

  8. Very noble sentiments, very noble. Unfortunately, having “dignity and honor” about Cuba won’t save our asses here when the jackboots begin to kick heads.

  9. The ruling Castro people, having absolute power, abundant time to use it, and an effectively complicit or toothless international community, created a society in their own perverse and twisted image. The results were both predictable and inevitable, and we all know what they are. Many if not most Cubans deformed in the process probably cannot be set right, at least not completely. That means that even if the Castro regime were to collapse tomorrow, said Cubans would still be a problem as long as they’re on the scene, and that involves LOTS of people, especially among those below age 60 (who are obviously “the future” at this point). My feeling is that until practically all Cubans significantly contaminated by the Castro poison disappear from the island, Cuba will not truly or fully recover. Even then, what would emerge cannot be ascertained, and while it could hardly be worse than the current situation, it may not be what any of us would wish or prefer. The problem is that Cubans blew it really, REALLY badly, and all sorts of external circumstances only conspired to potentiate and prolong the disaster, like adding fuel to a bad fire–and fire, alas, burns and destroys.

  10. And yes, Alberto, the dignity and honor of those who shed blood and gave their lives, but also those, like our parents, who also gave up their lives, or what should have been their lives, and lost their world and their loved ones, at least for all practical purposes.

    There’s plenty of cause for disgust as well as “desgano,” but everything in life is not about winning or getting what one would have wanted–sometimes, it’s about not losing, not caving, not capitulating. It’s like that harrowing letter Humberto posted from the mother of Tony Chao Flores, whom she knew was about to be killed in the flower of his youth by men infinitely beneath him–she was devastated and would remain so, but knowing she couldn’t save him, she still told him to do the only thing that could be salvaged out of the tragedy: to die with honor and with dignity.

    It doesn’t even have to be that dramatic. It can be as mundane as an old exile, half demented, who still remembered his life in Cuba, his only true and real life, for what came after was only an approximation, an accommodation, a very expensive trade-off…a broken old man who would ask, repeatedly, if everything had been arranged for the return trip, the trip back home. That old man was my father, and I can’t forget that. I can’t let it go. I can’t betray it. I can’t.

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