My maternal family left Cuba within months of Fidel taking over. They left by airplane thinking they’d be back by Christmas. They took only their bodies. One of my aunts came naked on the plane. Everything had to be left behind. The house in Miramar, the beach house in Varadero, the furniture, the clothes… everything. My youngest uncle had to stay behind as an infant because he did not have ‘the right papers.’ Papi (my late-maternal grandfather) went back for him and reunited his boy (my Godfather) with the family.
America opened its arms to my maternal family back in the early 1960s. They briefly settled in Amityville, New York before relocating in Puerto Rico. While on the mainland they were given clothes, schooling and were able to move into a home at the onset of winter. Papi, a lawyer back in Cuba, worked long hours on Madison Avenue. It was rough and tough, yet better than the life that would be with Fidel in power.
On one side my family are refugees. On the other, on my paternal side… we have been here since my ancestor, a young man, landed in Jamestown, Virginia in the late 1600s. I belong to different cultures. I have family that fought on both sides of the Civil War against each other. Mom and Dad came together and so many cultures were mixed into one.
Growing up in Puerto Rico in the 1980’s and 90’s in Cuban family within the Puerto Rican culture was special. I am proud of my Cuban heritage. The family focus is a common one. Education brings empowerment and we must be there for each other. Stay focused on your goals and work hard towards them. These are common values which many share. People like Gloria and Emilio Estefan, renown artists and pillars of America also came from Cuba. Mrs. Estefan became one of the most recognized singers with her Cuban-Miami fusion sound co-created with her husband producer, Emilio. Both were awarded by U.S. President Barack Obama the highest civilian honor in the country back in November, the Medal Of Freedom.
The Estefan’s used much more than talent and skill to achieve not just commercial success, but entrance into the hearts of Americans. Trailblazers in their own right, they were able to stand on the shoulders of giants and shine forth hope, enthusiasm and empowerment through rhythm and beat. Mami (my maternal grandmother) would play Gloria Estefan on her home record player when my sisters and I were younger. It was cool. It felt good to dance to the music that resonated with the Cuban and American side of my roots. The Miami Sound Machine is in my blood. I don’t personally know the Estefan’s, yet they feel like family. Do I know her heart? I feel like I do. Mrs. Estefan has a been a most incredibly active member of her community decade after decade and seems to never have forgotten where she started. Humility flows from them like a silent strength.
With that said, I consider how the U.S. congress continues to maintain an embargo against Cuba. My sister went to Cuba earlier this year. She went into the old home in Havana’s Miramar neighborhood, took pictures and continued on. She witnessed young woman prostituting themselves openly. It was a bit depressing to see the disunity on the island.. the double standards for different people and the stagnation of a rich culture doing what it can to ‘keep on keeping on.’
With the end of the embargo I think about how to jump start the youth without fluttering the feathers of the ‘powers that be.’ An initiative to connect the youth internationally can be created by constructing skateboarding parks within the island. These parks create a neutral geographic place where people from different cultures, races, faiths and socio-economic backgrounds can band together under a form of fun and exercise. Skateboarding happens to be an incredible executive function skills activity and it aids in the rapid rewiring and toning of hemispheric neural connectivity which is part of a comprehensive ‘early intervention’ instructional approach for children with special needs, such as autism.
It matters not to the practicing skateboarder if the one showing her how to best ‘drop in’ onto the skate bowl has a different political affiliation. This is just skateboarding. We fail forward fast and keep getting better. We talk about skateboarding and getting better at it. Gloria Estefan and her husband Emilio catapulted out of Cuba and changed the world with their sound. Perhaps it is time to end that which serves not and allow bottom-up change to happen to empower youth with hope and enthusiasm on the island. They came to us… now we can go to them.
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