Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
I’ve been wanting to visit Cuba forever to see where my family is from and to match the stories I grew up listening to to the real places.
Now that Cuba is finally open to American tourists, 2016 finally might be the year where I visit my mother and father’s birthplaces: Cienfuegos and Pinar del Rio, but I won’t be going for pleasure like so many tourists are these days who are falling for the “Cuba is the hot spot to travel to” propaganda.
Instead, I will be going to connect with my roots and to help the people. Anything as small as bringing a care package with clothing, toiletries, shoes, toys, or food would go a long way. The Cuban people need our help. It's the charming country everyone is making it out to be.
Thanks to a handful of celebrities like Katy Perry and publications like GQ, Cuba has been painted out to be these like the glorious ruins of Rome. But that's not reality.
Migration from Cuba to the United States is up 80 percent this year. It’s the highest level in a decade, according to The Washington Post. About 45,000 Cubans have fled the island this year, one of the largest exoduses since the 1980s. Entire families have gotten into makeshift rafts to make it to the United States for freedom.
The sad part is that few make it. Can you imagine yourself with your family climbing onto a rickety raft with no navigation, no lights, no engine, and just praying to make it on land in the sake of freedom and a better life?
Eventually, though, these families run out of water and dehydrate, they drown or worse, they watch their loved ones get eaten by sharks.
So I wonder why has travel to Cuba become so popular? What are people hoping to see? The truth is, most of what tourists will be exposed to is controlled.
Pop singer Katy Perry a few weeks ago wrote on her Instagram that Cuba is a “Disneyland for creative minds and to go there before it changes.”
Say what Katy? Really? Disneyland? Visit before it changes?
Change is what Cubans have been waiting half a century for. Half of the older generation, including my grandparents and parents, had to flee because the government took everything from them. Their homes, their belongings, their rights, including their freedom of speech. If you opposed the government, you were jailed or worse, killed.
Today, I see my grandfather at 93 and my Tia Abuela at 84, living the last of their years here in exile with the bittersweet memories of a place they’ll never get to go back to. It breaks my heart.
Then there’s GQ, which put together a provocative fashion editorial titled “Let’s All Go to Cuba” with Cuban-American actor Bobby Cannavale, who starred in this year’s Marvel Comics' Ant-Man, and former Victoria's Secret model Ana Beatriz Barros.
The article literally started off saying, “It’s the trip we've been waiting to take for more than fifty years — too bad pesky geopolitical realities (thanks, Cold War!) kept getting in the way. But now that Obama has thawed relations and conga'd with Raúl Castro, we hopped on the first available flight.”
The images throughout depict the two sexily clinging onto one another in various spots that hardly show Cuba. Meanwhile in the news right now, there’s an estimated 2,000 Cuban immigrants stuck inside Costa Rica's northern border with Nicaragua. They fled Cuba and were on their way to the United States but were blocked until December 28, according to The New York Times.
Since then, Central American officials have reached a deal to allow the first of thousands of stranded Cuban migrants to continue their journey north toward the United States. With so many Cubans wanting to leave Cuba, does it really make sense that this island is an It spot?
I ask you to see the truth. Visit Cuba, have fun, but know that what the Cuban people need now is help. Send a message across your social networks and friends.