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Posted August 08, 2008 by Cubana in Cuban American Culture

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By Miguel Perez

Think of the house of your childhood, the one that you haven’t seen in many years but still brings back very good memories. And then consider that it has been turned into a police station and that the bedroom you once shared with your brother is now the cell. There are bars on your bedroom door!

Think of the other house, the one on the farm where you were born, and then consider that it has been turned into a secret military school. Nowadays, no one knows what really happens inside the gates of a farm you remember as a picture-perfect place to grow up—paradise on earth!

Would you like to go home to see that again? I would. It sounds like a good plot for fiction, perhaps a good movie, right?

Wrong. It’s my life story. I was born in La Salud, a small town in the Havana province of Cuba. The house is real. I saw it again on a video just the other day.

What is known now as the Maximo Gomez School is what I remember as La Finca Gladys (The Gladys Farm), named by my grandfather after one of his three daughters, my aunt Gladys. I remember it as the land confiscated by Fidel Castro’s Communist regime after my family was forced to flee from Cuba in the early 1960s. After supporting Castro’s rise to power, my grandfather had been jailed for opposing the regime’s march toward communism.

I was only 11 years old when I left the house and the farm that have since become a police station and a military installation, and I never have returned. As a way to honor the sacrifices made by my parents and grandparents when they brought me to the United States and saved my life from decades of Communist repression, I have vowed to stay out of Cuba until my homeland is free.

But for the past 46 years, with each passing second, I have longed to see La Salud again. There is no other place I rather would visit than that very poor agricultural community in the heartland of Cuba.

Yet every time I get a glimpse—whenever someone visits Cuba and comes back with a videotape of my birthplace—I get terribly depressed.

The failure of the Castro dictatorship is nowhere more evident than in those sad images.

While the rest of the world has progressed tremendously in the past five decades, my hometown has regressed at least a century. You see widespread poverty. You see more horse-drawn carriages than cars. You see streets that never have been repaved and homes that have turned into shacks. You see people who have lost their fighting, entrepreneurial spirit. Gone are most of the bodegas, pharmacies, bar-restaurants and many other businesses. You see a once-thriving community now on the verge of becoming a ghost town.

The images are too painful to watch, yet I keep reaching out for more glimpses of my birthplace. It is human nature: When you can’t have something, you want it even more. And so I keep hoping to see more videos of La Salud, especially if they show images of the police station that was once my home and the military school that was once a beautiful farm and my childhood playground.

Unfortunately, fearing a repressive reaction from regime officials, most of the Cuban-Americans who have visited my town have been reluctant to videotape even the exteriors of government installations—except for the fellow who recently managed to shoot video of some of the farm from the bell tower of the Catholic Church, the tallest structure in town, which gave me the opportunity to see the farm again.

Think of a fenced and very safe jungle of trees bearing all sorts of tropical birds and fruit, a magical place that brings you wonderful memories. That’s how a portion of the farm where I grew up in the 1950s was, but it was leveled and replaced with dorms for military students.

I know. It sounds like fiction too far-fetched even for a movie. But it’s my life story, and among Cuban-Americans, it’s not unique.

When they return from visiting Cuba, most Cuban-Americans say they have been through very traumatic and depressing experiences. And the rest of us share the feeling just by watching their videos.

To find out more about Miguel Perez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate.

  1. Follow up post #1 added on August 08, 2008 by manfredz with 464 total posts

    I know that this may sound harsh but the best advise I can give you is “get over it”.  The Cuba you left behind is long gone, and when Cuba continues to change the old one you remember still won’t come back.
    When the Iron Curtain in Europe collapsed and Germans were free to return to/visit East Germany, former Germanic areas of Poland and Czeckoslovakia etc, many were also shocked to discover what had happened to the homes they had in their early memories - just like your home - long long changed, and not for the better. The ones who strived hard to leave any emotional attachments behind,hard as that was, had much less traumatic experiences when they went to visit their old homes.

  2. Follow up post #2 added on August 08, 2008 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    Yikes. That’s some harsh advice. I have given that too over the years but it’s hard to “get over it” when somebody like Fidel Castro takes everything away then the US has a stupid failed Plan A Embargo that does not work so the victims are left to suffer decade after decade.

    Cuba consulting services

  3. Follow up post #3 added on August 08, 2008 by manfredz with 464 total posts

    i know its harsh, and i didnt give it lightly.  We personally didnt have any property in East Germany but had relatives who did (as well as having relatives on the other side of the wall). Although they were glad to see us, it wasnt a pleasant experience, especially for my parents who saw what happened to places they knew well from their youth, so I can sense what the author and others who lost everything for just being in the way went through , and for many many families that was all they did “wrong” - (I dont have the same sympathies for those who lost everything for being part of the Battista machinery though)
    Reason i suggested it is that is that, in my opinion, its the only way to have a pleasant visit to your homeland. You cant change whats happened and what’s happening, but I think everybody would like to have a pleasant visit to their homeland and I think its the only way you can.

  4. Follow up post #4 added on August 08, 2008 by Mako with 172 total posts

    Manfredz advice sounds harsh, but it is sound. I am friends with many Cuban families that were forced to leave with nothing but one suit case and the clothes on their back. They look forward, they can’t look back

  5. Follow up post #5 added on September 03, 2008 by Ernesto

    The current position of many cuban americans not to go to Cuba until Castro is gone, actually make Castro stronger and powerful, if every Cuban living in exile made the commintment to visit their homeland this year, Castro will probably had to live the country.  Is it fear or proud?  Is it memories or hope?
    Marti came back to his homeland, to die but he came back.  He did not said I won’t go to Cuba until the Spaniard are gone.

  6. Follow up post #6 added on September 04, 2008 by manfredz with 464 total posts

    Again drawing from my German days, most Germans wouldnt have wanted to visit their old homelands in East Germany, Poland or Czeckslovakia.  The Communist beaurocracy, border guards to check tehm and police state atmosphere would have destroyed any pleasure they could have gotetn from visiting; but once teh Iron Curtain was history , and those factors gone, the interest was there with many.
    Maybe the same applies to former Cubans. If so I can understand.  Although i was always glad to visit our relatives in East Berlin, I never enjoyed going through the border checkpoint - very intimidating atmosphere.  I’ll never forget shaking one time when they wanted to examine my wallet to make sure that money therein was same as I’d put on my currency declaration, even though i wasnt smuggling.  Such was the atmosphere.
    Am sure visiting Cubans get a much more thorough passport control and customs check than we tourists do (but to be fair to the Cubans, ams sure also bring into Cuba many more goods that aren’t really for personal use)

  7. Follow up post #7 added on September 08, 2008 by Yolanda Hamby (formerly Diaz)

    No matter whether one exiled Cuban wants to return but won’t or another exiled Cuban returns and spends $ in Cuba, we all have our motherland in our hearts and minds..we miss her. My mother is from the old school (82 yrs. old). She came in 1959 as did I. She has said all these years that she would only return (to visit) if Castro and his commies were out of there. I, on the other hand, would love to see my country one more time before I die..Im 64yrs. old and long to see my little hometown (Sagua La Grande) and later on the Isla de Pinos..so much so that I get on Google globe and look at the pictures, the waters, etc..such sadness comes over me, so close and yet so far away..however, I’m realistic, even if Cuba were free again, and we could go back, it will never, ever be the same…I cry about it when I see what has become of such a beautiful, cosmopolitan, wealthy city as Havana..(mafia and all). What a true paradise. It will be
    forever in my heart… : (

  8. Follow up post #8 added on September 08, 2008 by Mako with 172 total posts

    Yolanda, Yours is a very sad story Why don’t you go back for a visit? Why are you depriving your self. The little bit of money you spend there would not go to enrich the regime and the bearded dude is going to take a “dirt nap” some time soon any how
    “Live every day as if it were your last as some day you will be right”, It would be horrible , if you were never to realize the dream of seeing your home one more time

  9. Follow up post #9 added on September 08, 2008 by Yolanda Hamby (formerly Diaz)

    Thank you for your kind words..it is a long story why I can’t go back. If I did, I would have lots of problems returning to the US, my home since 1959..I am doing some things to try and be able to go to Cuba but yet be able to return to my home for the last 49 years (USA) without any problems…My father who is 91 has lived in Yucatan, Mexico for years. Last time I saw him was in 1971. Yes, sad story indeed but there are so many of them…Castro was our own holocaust (on a smaller scale from that of the Jews). By the way, there also was a big Jewish colony in Cuba as were the Arabs, they were mostly merchants in a part of Havana where my mom and I used to go shopping..however, they were friendly to one another, they never had any problems. True Cubans!! : )

  10. Follow up post #10 added on September 08, 2008 by Mako with 172 total posts

    Yolanda, PLEASE apply for a visa to Cuba . Time has healed a lot of wounds on their side . On the US side there still a political agenda motivated by the most useless emotions ,hatred and anger.
    I am not sure what you apprehensions are, but in my many trips to cuba , I   have always found the Cubans respectful and eager to talk to those people who have become memories of the past. I think you would be pleasantly surpised It is a govenment with great challenges but people with more resoucefulness than I have ever seen. I am hoping to return hext week with hurricane Ike aid

  11. Follow up post #11 added on September 09, 2008 by manfredz with 464 total posts

    ironic that you should mention the jewish community.  In January when I visited Havana with my 81 year old mother, we hired a guide to give us a church and cathederal tour since mom was interested in that and the guide also stopped at the Havana Synagogue - was my first time in one. Quite intresting.  Don’t think they get many visitors and mayby for that reason they made us feel so welcome

  12. Follow up post #12 added on September 13, 2008 by Yolanda Hamby (formerly Diaz)

    manfredz, so glad you were able to see the synagogue. I was raised in the Catholic Church. My church as in many of the small towns was located in the “center” of town (Sagua la Grande), in the park where everyone went on Saturday nights, Sunday afternoons. The females would walk in a circle the perimeter of the park one way. The males would stand by the side and they would “eyeball” each other. This was a ritual since we were not allowed to date (even at a proper age) without a chaperone. So that was the way we “flirted”. (just a bit of trivia about our customs of that time-early 50s and before). They also had a gazebo where they sometimes had local musicians give small concerts. So these parks were the “heart” of the social life in those small towns..Such customs, eh?! Anyway, it brings a smile to my heart to go to Google Earth and zoom in to the park in the center of town..who knows, I may get to see it one more time and walk it….I have faith.

  13. Follow up post #13 added on September 13, 2008 by manfredz with 464 total posts

    yolanda.  hope things work out so that not only are you able to but will be able to enjoy going back.

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