"So when are you going to Cuba?" I feel like that’s been the million-dollar question people have been asking me now that the U.S. has finally reopened the island nation to American tourists.
To finally have a chance to travel freely back to my family’s homeland, to be able to see with my own eyes the beaches that my mom played on as a child, the home my grandparents once called their own, sounds like a dream come true. And while it’s a trip I hope to have the opportunity to take in my lifetime, it certainly won’t be anytime soon.
I’ve heard the stories of the beautiful Cuba that once was — the same story being told through the happy news coverage painting a promising picture of Cuba and its future, I know the other side of the story — the side that most people aren’t talking about.
While I never experienced it first-hand, I know the painful Cuban exile story and all that they faced since Fidel Castro and his regime came into power more than 50 years ago. I know about the homes that were taken away from families, and everything they had to leave behind.
When my family left Cuba in 1966, they were allowed to take only one set of clothes with them. My mom, who was just 12 at the time, often recalls when the only doll she tried to take with her was taken away at the airport while another guard forced my grandmother to leave her wedding ring behind.
Still, they were the lucky ones.
I know the stories of parents of friends, who while waiting to be granted political asylum tried to escape the island, only to be caught and thrown in jail. I know the stories of those, like my grandfather, who risked their lives fighting in the Bay of Pigs in 1961.
To visit Cuba without taking these stories with me would be impossible. To be happy about the U.S. embracing Cuba before the regime has proven to make any significant change for its people would be a lie. To ask my family to be hopeful after everything they’ve experienced would be unfair, because right now, to them, it feels like everything they went through didn’t matter, and I can understand the pain in that.
Dan Le Batard, a Cuban-American journalist, hit the nail on the head in an article he wrote for the Miami Herald following President Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba back in March.
“My parents are exiles, not immigrants. It is an enormous difference. They didn't come to this country looking for money. They left money behind and came here to risk poverty. They did so because they were exiled from a land they didn't want to leave and still miss, a land they will not visit until this regime is ousted or they see real change that can be trusted.”
My family is not bitter. In fact, my grandmother couldn’t be a prouder American, thankful for everything this country has afforded her children and grandchildren.
We all understand that the Cuban embargo wasn’t working, and that if there’s any hope of Cuba ever being free, we have to open doors and make efforts. But you can’t blame us for being weary. And because of that, I’m content in staying the 200 or so miles away in Miami, at least until we see real change for the people of Cuba.