“A vision is best taken on by the culture of a people when it is not forced,” I say to Fidel.
In Spanish, they told the two young teenage sisters to take off all their clothes. The two girls refused. A standoff ensued at the Jose Marti International Airport in Cuba.The authorities said they needed to check if they were carrying ‘contraband.’
Their mother and father had looked to get them on a flight out of the country after the new, ruling leadership had ordered these girls and many others to work in the sugar cane fields under the Cuban sun. The girls were adamant in their position and refused to comply. Anything could have happened at that moment. Ultimately, the authorities relented and allowed the young girls to board the flight to American soil.
My maternal grandfather and grand uncle had a thriving law practice in La Habana. Life was good for my family but it came to an abrupt end when Fidel Castro and his band of visionary rebels forcibly took over the island under threat of murder and harassment. There was a new sheriff in town. His name was Fidel Castro. Music and dance ceased. People’s living wages plummeted. An enormous ‘brain drain’ of Cuba’s intellectuals fleed before the iron curtain of Castro’s disjointed picture of disproportioned communism shuttered culture and economy, freedom and liberty and ultimately, self-expression itself.
My grandfather, Enrique, took his wife and seven children to the United States and eventually settled in Amityville, New York for a few years, before relocating to the U.S. island of Puerto Rico. Winters were rough in Amityville. ‘Papi,’ as we all called my grandfather, was no longer a working lawyer with his own thriving firm, but was now selling insurance in New York City by the sweat of his brow. His two oldest children, the two teenage girls who withstood the Cuban authorities would go to work with him in the city, bringing in what income they could generate. Life had become tough, yet even so, the community of Amityville opened up its arms to my family with clothing and schooling for the children…my aunts and uncles.
Castro’s legacy could have been a different one if he would have refrained from violence and physical force to exact his vision, which in the historical opinion of my family and I, was completely unfruitful. Can a revolutionary’s vision gain traction if it forced upon a people? Do we win hearts by pointing guns and making them disappear into thin air if they do not comply? That is what Castro’s regime did. Eventually, in the years that ensued, people took it upon themselves to escape any which way they could across the Florida straits, even if it meant going by inflatable tubes and braving stormy seas and ever-present sharks.
Now we are in a new era. President Obama’s overtures to thaw relations between the U.S. and Cuba has been met with mixed feelings by many within the Cuban-American community. Is it possible that a start had to be made somewhere? Was the Presidents graciousness in flying into Cuba an error? Does the President of the United States of America suffer from his words eroding the magnanimity of his action in placing his feet on Cuban soil? I think not. Is it not just as possible that the government of Raul Castro had no idea on how to break the impasse and our president’s actions were but the first foray into changing a dynamic which was simply impoverishing Cuba? Positive disruption had to be made to break the current socio-economic trajectory of Cuba and that process has begun, in deed. Not all cultural seismic shifts are recorded or immediately registered, and yet, they happen from time to time. If the cultural and economic exchanges continue to flourish between the U.S. and Cuba, time itself will look back and see that a new storyline was initiated which began to pave the way for the betterment of its peoples. One where the vision of what could be is brought on not by force and violence, but by increasing socio-economic opportunity.