As we sang God Bless America I became aware of forms beneath the water. It was land beneath the water; my new land. My eyes began to scan the horizon looking for Miami. No signs of land above the water yet.
I looked at the top of the head of the little boy beside me. His sobs had subsided and now he stared straight ahead at the back of the seat in front of us. He had told me his name was Ignacio and I remembered my American friend Marilyn who called her neighbor Ignacio “Ineichio”. I wondered if this child would ever hear his name pronounced correctly again; I wondered if he would ever hear his mother calling his name softly to wake him in the morning for another day of school; if his last memory of his mother would be the woman with the jerking shoulders – human turned marionette by the force of her grief. He had screamed for her helplessly as a militiaman pulled him away from the glass of the pecera (the fish bowl) and led him towards the door in the opposite direction smiling like Tom the cat when he had Jerry the mouse just where he wanted him. This little gusano was going to pay.
The cabin became quiet. To our left ocean turned to city in one moment, catching us all off guard. Flat land. Strange land. Oh my God! No turning back! No turning back! Somebody help me!
I know what it feels like to lose my mind, for I lost it descending the airplane steps; metal steps leading to concrete.
I was to look for a man named George. A stranger. Fourteen years of protection from strangers and now my life was in a stranger’s hands. Look for George. Look for George. How do I find George?
A place full of children; girls in a cafeteria; a chain link fence; boys on the other side of the fence. Some girls and boys holding hands through the fence. Brothers and sisters who had just lost their parents being separated by a fence! God help me please! So much pain! God where are you? I want to go back.
I don’t know how long I was out of my mind, out of my body, but somehow someone made sure I got to my final destination, Clarita and Ruben’s apartment in Miami’s Little Havana. My new foster home. Why did they call it that? It looked NOTHING like my Havana!
Half a century has passed and Cuba is again becoming a tourist destination though nothing has changed. The Cuban people are subjugated by a merciless regime that once purported to be Communist and today seems to be flirting with its own version of Capitalism- Capitalism without a shred of democracy.
I say to myself, enough already! Quit looking backward! There is nothing to be gained. For the most part I manage. I stay in the present. But sometimes…the scab comes off and oozes the accumulated pus of decades and I find that like Sara in the bible, a part of me is frozen, like a pillar of salt. It is a child standing still in the desert, craned neck looking behind her with a longing that only a child having been stripped of everything can know.
I, too, who left Cuba 50 years ago at age 13, find myself wondering about the looking back. Why do it? I think we do it because in reality it is not that we are looking back, but that we are looking into part of our innermost being. For even though on a personal level my life and that of all the other 14,000 plus unaccompanied children continued on, in freedom, Cuba is still under the grip of Castro communism. So the scab that forms only hides, but does not heal, the deep wound of having lived during our formative years through the political and ensuing emotional roller coaster days of the beginnings of the now fifty three year old oppressive regime. Furthermore, I ask, will this introspection bring any healing? On one level, it is healthy in so far as it is honest, for it acknowledges that the wound is still festering and does not pretend to hide the fact. Can we really heal when our nation has not healed?
Elena, thank you for your thoughtful and provocative comment. I imagine that you have seen that charter flights to Cuba will be leaving from several airports. Although not yet officially for tourists, the tourists will not be far behind. The sun, the surf, the beauty of our island, will soothe their souls. I suspect many will not know of the blood and the tears shed in their new paradise. Can we heal when our nation has not healed? Good question!
Thank you so much for your message!
Perhaps we have to consider the fact, that to walk beyond, not watching, nor even a glance to the past, is the same thing of going back, because, anyway, at the end of this long path, we will find our roots, our love, our primal scream.
Thank you, Martin. I think the past has much to teach us. The trick is learning the lessons without dwelling on the past to the point of losing ourselves or hurting our necks….Saludos!