I recently saw a documentary about Cuba’s Pedro Pans. In the documentary there is an interview with Carlos Eire, author of Waiting for Snow in Havana, a book you might want to read if you haven’t done so yet. In that interview Carlos says that at least a couple of times a month he sits at his desk, turns on his computer and looks at a satellite image of his childhood home in Havana. “For me,” Carlos says, “Cuba is like some other dimension, like another planet, because I can’t go there. So checking in with this and seeing that it is a place on earth to me is just mind boggling.”
Cuba is a place on earth.
But in the heart of the exile, Cuba is a memory.
It is a memory of the bluest of skies and clouds that are shape shifters. Of standing immersed in the salt water of its clear and warm blue ocean and joyfully offering up the body to bake in its merciless sun. It is a place where uncommon friendships flourished in the hearts of young children and where it was easy to become inebriated by the combined smells of Cuban food and Partagás cigars and the enchantment that permeates its music.
But Cuba is also a real place on earth.
It is a place from which I was once banished by other people’s choices and a place that will not welcome me back now because I choose to speak about its history and not its story.
So I have to wait until “things change” and I wonder….when?
When will our exile be over?
When will our people be free?
And what will that freedom look like?
I thought it might happen in February of 2008 when Fidel announced he was stepping down from the presidency of the State Council and his position as Commander in Chief and appointed his brother Raúl to take his place. I didn’t hear about the announcement for hours after it happened, because here in the Northwest Cuba may as well be the moon. I sat at my computer and watched the short-lived celebrations of my countrymen in Miami for the day or two that hope dared to reside in our hearts. Cubans took to the streets in their cars, on foot, waving their Cuban flags, and wearing expressions on their faces that could only be understood by a man savoring the first drops of water after being lost in the desert for too long. The exiles tried to scream across the ocean to their countrymen. “Now! Seize the moment!”
I tried to imagine what the Cubans in Cuba were feeling that first day without the looming shadow of their dictator in almost half a century. Did the air on the island feel different? Could they breathe deeper? I hoped the Cuban people would take advantage of the sudden weakness in the power structure and rise. That they would wake up from their fear induced stupor and take to their streets and reclaim them. Instead, the Cuban people remained at home. They remained silent. What else would they do? Learned helplessness. Stockholm Syndrome. How could David make sure that Goliath was truly dead?
So we wait. Carlos Eire looks at satellite pictures of his house in Havana. I wait for THE email to come. And we continue our amazing lives in our new country while a piece of our heart held captive by a beautiful island awaits its freedom.
In the decade of the 60’s, “When” was before the end of the year. As in: “Fidel is going to fall before the end of the year.” That was the mantra that would gain intensity starting Thanksgiving celebration each year, and come to a disappointing halt on the following January 1. Years ago I stopped thinking that there would ever be a “When”. But then reality set in. As the song goes, “Nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky.” So though I know that the Fidel and Raul Regime will come to an end, I find it impossible to ever again speculate again about “When.”
Fifty years of waiting for the other shoe to drop is a long time! I hope we live to see “the day”. The man has no idea how to rule or how to die.
It is indeed a feeling we carry with us…will we walk our country of birth before we die? I have friends that are visiting Cuba now, as we speak, who had sworn they would never go back to visit the island until Castro was gone…but they’ve given up on waiting…so they just left to relive their past and call it “an adventure”…they don’t know what to expect.
I’m sorry to say, I continue to be an idealist and I would not enjoy going back with “fear” and disappointment at what I will re-visit. I feel that change may not be too far on the horizon, call me a dreamer…but that’s the only way I could conceive returning.
I think it is hard for some to wait. My writing my memoir and my work with Martin has ensured I will not be able to visit until Cuba is free. After having experienced how difficult it was to leave the island in the first place, not only for myself but for the rest of my family I have never trusted that I could go back and visit and be allowed to leave again.
I hope for change. But I couldn’t let my yearning to return get in the way of speaking my truth. Perhaps one day we can return together.