By Luz Gonzalez
The horns are blaring and celebrations seem to have started in numerous neighborhoods throughout Miami. It’s 1:41 am and the city is alive in the news of death. Contrarily, I find little joy in the death of Fidel Castro.
Perhaps I’d feel differently if I could bring my parents back from the dead and they could visit their beloved country once again. Perhaps I’d feel differently if I had not sat with my mother as she relived, in her last year of life, through the 28 photo albums my father had recreated of the family, the death of their freedom and their youthful dreams. What started as hopeful goals at the University of Havana School of Law, where they had met, ended as a torturous journey from Cuba escaping certain punishment, imprisonment, or death.
Memories consumed her as she recalled Cuba’s time as a free and prosperous island, then to a Batista goon dictatorship, to finally a Castro murdering communism. In all my years, I had never seen my mother cry, but she cried as she went methodically, page by page, looking through the images documenting her and my father’s life in Cuba and then the United States.
My parents had visited the United States on their honeymoon. As was my father’s wish, they visited colleges and universities as well as catholic churches to get a sense of Americana. On one of their visits, and after a meeting with the President of the university, my father was offered a position to teach, which he took. They stayed for three years — and surprisingly my oldest sibling was born in the United States.
That natural born American citizen was the family’s golden ticket to be granted visas out of Cuba when the revolution demanded exile. As such, we were not granted entry as refugees but as residents.
In all her years in the United States, my mother had never looked through the photo albums without my father by her side. Perhaps she was missing him, after all they had been married for 48 years, had traveled the world together, had suffered together the loss of two children in infancy, and had seen the destruction of their life’s work in Cuba at the hands of two dictators. What motivated her now?
She did not want the truth of Cuba and the Cuban revolution, as she knew it, to be lost. Who would remember their interactions with classmate Rolando Masferer if they did not tell it? Who would remember the meetings and classes at the University of Oriente with the Espin sisters (Nilsa and Vilma) if they did not tell it? Who would remember the family “civil wars” Cuba’s revolution caused if they did not tell it? Who would remember and fight for the truth about the history of Cuba, José Martí, Frank Pais, Enrique Canto, and numerous others if there was no “neighborhood” stories relating to the time of Prío Sacarrás, Batista, and Castro prior to Castro rewriting the history books? She had me write her story addressed to her grandchildren called “Unas Vidas Bien Vividas”.
For her Cuba under Batista and Castro was the “Valle de Lagrimas” — valley of tears. In Search of Cuba Libre. More books than I care to count have been written about Cuba and its War of Independence, the dictatorship of Batista, the Cuban Revolution, America-Cuba relations, Kennedy and the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the long-lasting Castro communist regime. There have even been countless books and stories written about the Cuban exile community in Miami and New Jersey. For such a small island, it has had a profound impact on the geopolitics of not only the Western Hemisphere but Asia and the Middle East.
But my mother’s book was more memoir. It was her and my father’s love story — a narration about the openness, generosity, and mutual respect between Americans and Cubans in the 1950’s, the fun and popularity of the Latin big band era in New York, their anxious return to Cuba, their eventual moves from Havana to Santiago de Cuba to Guantanamo, the danger of the national strike, the murder of their good friend Luis Morales, my father’s employment as Administrator for the Guantanamo Sugar Company, friendships formed at the U.S. Naval base in Guantanamo, the actions of the resistencia civil, the student movement of the Juventud Catolica during the period of the Batista dictatorship and the years of the revolution, and then their final trip around the island before exile. It was deeply personal, deeply detailed, and deeply sentimental. All for the love of family and country.
My father would ask my mother if she would return to Cuba with him when it became free. Their only conversation was how to satisfy the need to be with their children, who were fully American, with their need to return to the land they loved. They were never given a chance or a choice.
I always commented to my brothers, sisters, and cousins that when Cuba finally became free we might have to send our parents to Cuba. To give them, and undoubtedly us, the feeling that we were fulfilling their heartful desire, to return to the land of their chosen birth and first citizenship.
Obviously, if all the descendants of the “original Cubans” decided to relocate their parents to Cuba, about 70% of the cemeteries in Miami would empty in short-order. But, the death of Fidel Castro does not return them or the island to the beauty present in Cuba at the time of their birth. Will Cuba ever be the same or better?
For my parents and all they lost I say “Nuestra Senora Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, rega por nosotros.” Amen. I wish I could give them so much more, but may they rest in peace now. Te amo, ahora y siempre.
We will remember and we will continue to reach for Cuba’s freedom.
Luz de los Angeles