A young Cuban-American’s take on the Cuban Embargo
Posted: 07 February 2004 05:15 PM   [ Ignore ]
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I have been thinking a lot lately about the U.S. embargo and its ability, real or perceived, ultimately to bring about a democratically-elected government in Cuba. In my most recent book, a personal memoir based on my first visit to Cuba, I hardly touched on the subject. At the time I was writing it, I didn’t think politics was as important as the personal drama I sought to analyze.  How wrong was I!  Nothing about Cuba can ever de-politicized, can it?

I left Cuba when I was 8 years old. Up until my visit, I thought very little of my country. I was too taken by my new adopted nation—by everything it gave me, by all the opportunities I had. Cuba, to my way of knowing, was a backward nation with a repressive form of government that stifled aspirations, hope and even happiness. The few times I thought about Cuba, I only thought about the bad things: having my hair forcefully trimmed at my elementary school; actos de repudios—acts of repudiation; the hardships; the hunger.

Why, I thought to myself, would anyone want to go back and visit?

As I grew older, my ideas of course matured, and my memories became laced with childhood nostalgia, as it happens to everyone. (I think it was Ernest Hemingway who said that memory is hunger.)  I often heard about the old house in the town in Boniato near the city of Santiago de Cuba. I often heard about my grandmother, now old, with cottony white hair and a face full of wrinkles, who every afternoon sat in the corridor of the house dressed in white cotton petticoats she still made by hand. She often asked any visitors from Miami about me, about my mother, about her other family members whom she hadn’t seen in more than 20, then 30 years.

And then one day it happened: we heard that my grandmother was living through her last stages of cancer.  She was asking about us almost daily.  Would she ever see my mom and I, whom she had not seen in twenty years!  Somehow, Fidel became a non-issue. 

We left Miami on a Friday afternoon and arrived in Boniato at the crack of dawn on Saturday. It took us almost 12 hours to arrive in a country that’ only 45 minutes away! By the time we got to our hometown, we thought we were living through a dream, which is a what Cuba is, a strange place where the past and the present both coalesce and become one. 

As I was to see during my week-long stay, Cubans seemed to live under circumstances that were, well, less than favorable. Homes had electricity, but blackouts underscored the strange realities of the peoples’ existence. When there was electricity, the light was so faint that everything took on a surreal pale glow that was nothing less than creepy.

Buses were filled to capacity, and the people on the buses usually hung from doors and windows, clinging desperately to each other by the hem of shirts or pants, whatever.

I devoted a very brief chapter to politics in my book. As I said, politics wasn’t as important to me as the personal drama I sought to rediscover. And yet the tragedy of the Cuban people as a whole and Cuba’ experiment in communism, or Fidelism, cannot be separated—complex as it may be, sad as it is—from political undertones.

It was then, on my trip to back, seeing this disaster all about me, that my ideas about Cuba began to change, and quick. The U.S. embargo hurts the people, not those in power. If the ultimate purpose of the embargo is to defeat Fidel by isolating him economically, socially and politically, it has failed in both rhetoric and in practice. Fidel, 43 years after his revolution, is still there, old and doddering, but still there nonetheless.

This, to me, is reason to enough to scrap this relic of the Cold War and come up with something better., And this should be done not because of Cuban politics but in spite of Fidelism and in spite, even, of the ire this view draws among many well-intentioned Cuban Americans in Miami. Further isolation makes no sense when the time is ripe to bombard Cuba with commerce, information and an influx of new ideas.

I may be naive about my opinions. What I do know, though, is that there is a lot of work to be done in a post-Castro Cuba. The realities of that future demand new, fresh, imaginative ways to bring about a peaceful reconciliation among Cubans.

I don’t have all the answers. What I do have is an open mind. Now is the time, more than ever, to breach this gap and cross that 90-mile stretch that to some of us is as wide as the universe. So I wrote in the book: “Go and visit an uncle. An aunt. A grandmother. Honor your past. Crack that barrier that exists. Rediscover yourself. The Cuba of tomorrow belongs to all of us.’‘

My parents lost Cuba once. Don’t let it happen again with this generation.

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Posted: 28 November 2004 11:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Jorge, you are an excellent writer, very thoughtful and thought-provoking.  There is a peacefulness in your words. 
I am a filmmaker, who, with two friends of mine, has made a film about the younger generation of Cubans and Cuban Americans.  Specifically, young artists and athletes - the film is titled, “Boxers and Ballerinas.”  None of us who have made the film are Cuban; we are outsiders.  Our commonality is that we, too, are young and have aspirations.  The goal of the film is to level the playing field, to show that there are good and bad aspects on both sides of the divide, and to question what freedom really means. 
I would love to tell you more about the film.  I would also love for you to see it.  I just posted in the main board the date for the premiere in Havana.  Please check out boxersandballerinas.com for more information on the film.  Or write me here if you have any questions. 

Thanks for story. 
Mike

ps.  what is the name of your book?

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Posted: 25 February 2005 04:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Hey Mike,

I just got your email.  Would love to email you soon.  My email is .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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Posted: 23 June 2005 04:04 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Firstly, Mike, I am a writer living in Ottawa, Canada, and I am desperate to see your film, having viewed the preview online.  There is a film theatre on Rideau St. Ottawa, which generally shows culturally and politically informative films and documentaries; it is called the Bytowne Cinema - I don’t know if any moves have been made there to screen your film, or whether it may have been already, but I’m positive they would welcome it if they haven’t before.  I would be willing to initiate contact if necessary, though they aren’t hard to reach.  The website exists at http://www.bytowne.ca
  Secondly, to both Mike and Jorge, I am currently writing a novel on the Cuban-American relationship, and would be very keen to discuss further with you issues of Cuban socialism, the embargo, Cuban social life, and the defection of, particularly, athletes, and so on, should you be willing.  I am anti-embargo, and believe that if the US government were to lift it, then this would actually allow the occurrence of what they claim to desire - the isolation of Castro’ regime by way of the empowerment of the Cuban people; my novel, which is half-finished, is an attempt to show this through the experience of two boxers who defect during the Mariel boatlift.
  Anything you might have time to discuss with me would be massively appreciated, whether on the forum or by email.
  My email address is .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Wishing you all the best,
Roger Davidson

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